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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What the media hasn’t told you about the GRAMA Task Force

David L. Thomas
Senator, District 18 , and
Co-chair of the GRAMA Task Force

Notwithstanding my best efforts, I have been unable to convince the news media to write about the actual public policy considerations on GRAMA. Instead they just offer scathing articles and self-serving propaganda.

There is, however, one notable exception. Scott Schwebke wrote a fair story in the Ogden Standard Examiner about the public policy issues facing the Task Force. Although the editorial board blasted the Task Force, I applaud them for their even-handed treatment, as I believe the issues are important for all Utahns to consider.

Here is what most media outlets have not told you:

Public Policy Issue #1:

Should the original intent of GRAMA (embodied in UCA 63-2-101) be changed?

The Task Force says no- while the media says yes.

The intent language of the statute allows access to information “concerning the conduct of the public’s business.” The Task Force wants to keep that provision and place it into the body of the statute, while the media wants it stricken. The media tends to offer a one-sided report, saying the Task Force is adding this provision as a restriction on access when just the opposite is true.

Public Policy Issue #2:

Should citizens of the State of Utah continue to have the constitutional right to petition their elected officials on personal and confidential matters without losing their right to privacy?

The Task Force says yes. The media says no.

This is where e-mails, correspondence and other means of communicating with elected officials come into play. The media believes that all citizen correspondence should be open for media inspection. The Task Force believes that citizens have a right of privacy in personal and confidential correspondence and that without such, their constitutional right to petition their government would be negatively impacted. No right to privacy means no whistleblowers. It appears strange that the media would oppose this public policy at the exact same time they are advocating for a media shield law in order to protect their sources of information. The Task Force wants citizens to feel secure in contacting their elected representatives without the fear that someone is spying on them.

Public Policy #3:

Should legislators be able to have candid and confidential discussions with their staffs on legislative matters?

The Task Force says yes, while the media says no.

We have an open, public process for legislation. However, the vast majority of states, as well as the federal government, recognize that the system works better when legislator/staff discussions have some form of protection.

Public Policy #4:

Should parties to GRAMA disputes be allowed to forum shop (i.e. shop around to a judge they think would be favorable to their claims) or should parties be required to present their disputes to a seasoned panel of unbiased experts on GRAMA (the State Records Committee) before going to court?

The Task Force advocates the panel of experts at the State Records Committee, while the media advocates forum shopping. I think this speaks for itself.

Public Policy #5:

Should the citizens of the State of Utah subsidize private business in the compilation of commercial data bases from the public record?

The Task Force says no, while the media says yes.

If government requires its citizens to produce personal data, why should private industry get the benefit of that information without paying a fair price for it? The Task Force believes that the citizens should benefit from the use of their information.

I hope that this brings some sense of balance to the ongoing debate. I believe it is important for Utah citizens to know what is at stake. Most people I have talked to about this have sided with the Task Force once they understood the public policy choices.
I would call upon the media to allow the public to see the full debate so that they can give input to their legislators on these important policy issues.


Blogger Reach Upward said...

It's nice to hear the other side of the story. You can always tell that there is a lot more to a story when one party hysterically attacks something.

1/05/2006 7:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Public Policy issue #1:

Co-chair Rep. Aagard used the specific phrase "change the presumption" in regards to the additional language in the last meeting of the GRAMA task force laying to bare the lack of frankness by Sen Thomas. The media has argued, and discussions during the task force meetings made no debate about the fact that this represents a "change in presumption". That is, in current GRAMA law all records are presumed public unless proven otherwise, but that the additional language's intent at least calls this presumption into question, and at worst does as Rep. Aagard stated, changes the presumption that communication is private unless the petitioner proves that they conern the conduct of the public's business.

Shouldn't greater than 99% of communication records maintained by the government be in the conduct of the public's interest? Who are these officials that are conducting "personal" business on public computers? Unless there is more personal communication going on than public, I don't see how effeciency will be served by switching the presumption.

Public Policy Issue #2:

Since GRAMA was enacted, constituents have had to communicate with their representatives under the possibility that that communication might be made public. We have not seen, nor have no reason to believe we will begin to see, wanton abuse of this privilege and thus a chilling effect.

However, this overbroad provision - which makes private all communication with an elected official by a citizen of Utah unless either party elects otherwise - seriously hampers the ability of the public to hold public officials accountable. The true intent of this provision is to convenience lobbyists and insiders by providing them with a curtain to hide all their nastiness that they rightfully believe can and does disgust the public when revealed.

Public Policy #3:

I have no problem with this item. I would hate to believe that all first-drafts of mine are accessible to the public. Officials have a right to carefully craft bills before their contents are made public.

Public Policy #4:

I don't have a problem with this provision either. Although, it is unfortunate that there is only one representative of the press that sits on the dozen-member records committee.

Public Policy #5:

I don't have a problem with this item either.

1/10/2006 3:06 PM  

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