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Letters to the editor: Reasons for HB 477 bill

By Jim Darter
Spring Glen


Recently I sent an email to my representative at the legislature, Patrick Painter. Here is what I said and what his reply was.

I"ve been watching in the Tribune the discussion with respect to the Government Records Access bill. I don"t know what your position on this question is. I"m sure you have debated and discussed this issue and have insight that you wouldn"t have time to go into in an email. I just wanted to throw out a thought in this area.

In the Presidential election 2008 I was asked who I was going to vote for. I replied "Sarah Palin and that clown she"s running with". Unfortunately after she didn"t win and then some time later she resigned from the Governorship of Alaska, I was perplexed and surprised, somewhat disappointed. For the life of me I couldn"t understand why she would quit. In her autobiography, Going Rogue, she explained that her resignation was due to frivolous lawsuits that she was personally having to pay to defend. A large chunk of personal and state expense was having to respond to government records, emails, letters, etcetera.

Example? Husband, Todd Palin, races in the Alaska Iron Dog snowmobile race, having been a past winner. His snowmobile sponsor has been Arctic Cat. Arctic Cat, as a promotional favor for winning, gave Todd and Sarah matching winter coats. I don"t specifically remember the exact time frame but this was years before becoming governor. Being a basically frugal person she wasn"t going to throw away a perfectly good coat. She wore her "old used coat"while governor. She was, in due course, sued ...for the state of Alaska improperly endorsing Arctic Cat snowmobiles ...because the governor wears an Arctic Cat coat... Sarah had to pay for her own legal defense. The state of Alaska had to pay thousands of dollars in staff time and copying to over and over look up records for nonsense like this. Most of the records, staff time, ended up being wasted, because after the requestor would receive the records they would drop the pending lawsuit. Ultimately Sarah"s lawyer advised her to quit as her legal bills were going to be upwards of $250,000 to a half a million from her personally.

I don"t think a "free"access to records is appropriate especially in light of what Sarah wrote in her book. I"m not particularly impressed with the way the Tribune has biased and slanted their reporting or what they are "conveying as news". This is an area that does need visited and discussed/looked into. Likewise I"m not happy about how activists stop everything from the Legacy Highway to the Lila Canyon Mine costing millions of dollars and delay after delay with no consequence for the activists. I understand there is a bill addressing this area and I hope this goes forward.

This correspondence was sent after 9 p.m. the Thursday before the end of the current session that was going to vote on HB477.

Here is Mr. Painter"s reply.

The initial response to the GRAMA change is that the press has hamstrung our Legislative Council with never ending requests that do nothing more than provide them fodder to sell newspapers with. We have 17 excellent attorneys that are asked to draft over 1200 bills and are left doing nothing more than being expensive clerks to do research for the press free of charge to them.

An email exchange or text message exchange with a constituent should have the same privacy as a phone conversation. I have had numerous conversations with constituents in emails and texts that contain private info regarding something very personal to that constituent such as a handicapped child or a child in peril with substance abuse or such. The press would love to air those types of conversations just to get anything salacious to sell a newspaper.

We didn"t repeal GRAMA, just brought it up to date to reflect all of the new forms of electronic communication that should remain private.

That was the end of his email to me.

As of this writing this past Friday the legislature has met in special session at the behest Governor Herbert and has repealed HB477. My first impression is, ...they caved. They caved to the Sun Advocate, The Salt Lake Tribune, and the rest of the press and media. Nowhere have I seen anything close to an honest discussion, but rather a vicious verbal and written crucifixion. The press is going to have to get real with their demands for information, i.e. records and is going to have to approach the actual costs.

The rhetoric I"ve been hearing is that the state of Utah provides a laptop and a Blackberry phone to each legislator. Simplistically, anything that goes across these devices should be available, right? Let"s take this line of thinking a step further. Most legislators have their own personal laptops and cell phones. Being their own personal devices and are not provided by the state of Utah, anything texted or emailed to and from and to them is now exempt from GRAMA requests, right? Well if the first premise is true, then the second must be true. Not so fast. Returning from Utah County, the radio was interviewing legislators coming out of the special session. Senator Hillyard from Logan was saying that he, as a working lawyer, would have clients email him details concerning their situations. Being the legislature was in session some of his clients would email him via the legislature"s published email address, and state provided laptop. He would receive/read the email and this being private and under attorney-client privilege would delete the email.

But according to premise one, anything coming across the state provided laptop or Blackberry is subject to GRAMA. Mr. Hillyard would then email his clients to not contact him concerning their legal problems on the state laptop. Likewise, citizens knowing his personal email account, and/or through his employer, would email him details, concerning legislation that was currently being evaluated, directly to his personal laptop. These kinds of emails should definitely be subject to GRAMA. Mr. Hillyard, being on the budget committee in the Senate, has had GRAMA requests "concerning anything to do with budget allocations: emails, texts, pins, and letters since July 10, 2010". Mr. Hillyard then stated he estimated three days of his time to go through each and every communication he had received since July to evaluate whether the communication concerns state budgeting, or is personal. His point, who pays? Should his employer pay for his time to review his communications? Should his client(s) pay for his time? Should his family pay for his time, in the loss of earnings, while he complies with the GRAMA request? His point became that through GRAMA requests you are ultimately raising the bar as to who will be your legislator. (Do you want only independently wealthy (dilettantes) running the state?) Mr. Hillyard went on to state that HB477 was to not kill GRAMA, but to identify the bar as to what is private and what is public, "If we know where the bar is, we will know how to comply with it."

Another area of HB477 that was mentioned had to do with Medical Research. The personal names and addresses of people involved would be exempt from GRAMA requests. I would think that if a medical researcher announced a breakthrough and gave his name and contact info that is okay. I don"t see any need for the newspaper(s) to get, via a GRAMA request, all the names and addresses of patients and maybe even unsuccessful patients, i.e. the flops and failures, that typically lead/precede new innovations, especially beloved friends and family, some who may be dead. However as that may be, HB477 is now repealed. The door is reopened for the newspapers and media to go get that type of info and salaciously sell more papers.

I can definitely see problems with this subject and I"m sure the public eye will be turned once again to this area. I think it is ironic that the immigration question, the schooling question, state finances and spending have not created nearly the fuss that this one bill has.

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