The Utah Media Coalition's GRAMA WATCH has issued its first four notes of the 2012 legislative session to rate proposed bills on their adherence to open-government principles. The coalition found that two of the bills would improve citizens' access to their government, one would have little effect and the fourth would be a setback to open government.
SB18 -- Government Records Access and Management Act -- Voter Registration Records
This bill would make voter email addresses private, and the motivation is to keep outside entities from delivering unwanted messages (spam) to voters. The addresses by themselves are not crucial to the public's right to know that an election process has been carried out legitimately. As written, the bill earns a Pale Light from GRAMA Watch, indicating it would have little effect either way on open government. Senators in committee raised
the idea of also closing off voter birth dates from public scrutiny on the belief it would prevent identity theft. That further step would be detrimental to public oversight. The commonness of many names makes it impossible to
legitimately audit the voting process without birth dates. And while it is often raised, there are no examples where identity theft has been traced to names and birth dates alone -- from voter records or any other source. Closing birth dates would earn the legislation a Lights Out from GRAMA Watch, meaning it would be bad for open government.
SB 45 -Open and Public Meetings - Political Caucuses
This bill would open political party caucuses at the legislature. Currently legislators are allowed to meet in closed party caucuses to discuss state business. This bill would require those caucuses to be open if a majority of the party's legislators are meeting to discuss state business during the legislative session. This bill earns a Bright Light for its positive effect on open government.
HB 89 -Open Political Caucus Meetings
This bill also would open political party caucuses of legislators. It differs from SB 45 in that it requires any meeting of a quorum of legislators to be open to the public if legislation is being discussed. This requirement would apply even when the legislature is not in session. This bill earns a Bright Light for its positive effect on open government.
HB 304 - Access to Voter Date of Birth Records
HB 304 would make a voter's month and day of birth, but not the year of birth, a private record. Current law makes the complete birth date (day, month and year) of a registered voter a public record so that the public can use the information to verify that an election process has been carried out legitimately. That verification process is weakened if only one of those three birth fields (day, month, year) is public. With common names, birth year alone is not enough to verify that specific individuals appear only once in a list of voters. The common motivation for closing voter birth dates is fear of identify theft, but there are no examples of such theft happening from names and birth dates alone. This bill earns a Lights Out designation from GRAMA Watch because it would work against open government.
The Utah Media Coalition represents a broad group of Utah news organizations and serves to protect the public's right to open government. The coalition's GRAMA WATCH will rate legislation and other government proposals on their transparency and issue these GRAMA WATCH notes. The coalition encourages Utahns to contact their government representatives to voice their concerns about keeping all levels of government open and accessible.