Utahns weigh in on changes to open-records law
After signing a controversial bill restricting public access to government records, Gov. Gary Herbert was deluged by e-mail from angry constituents, outraged that he hadn't vetoed the measure.
In nearly 600 pages of e-mails sent to the Governor's Office obtained through an open-records request Utahns bash the Legislature, disparage the quick process used to vet HB477, and voice their bitter disappointment that Herbert didn't just veto the bill.
"If it needs work as you say, you should have vetoed it. Period," wrote Aaron Bickers in an e-mail. "Don't sign something into law and then work on it. That is a pathetic excuse for forcing laws down our throats that I believe you know we would not pass."
Herbert cut a deal with the Legislature to amend the bill to postpone implementation until July 1. In the meantime, a task force will study the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) so changes could be made in a special session in June.
If it were to take effect, the law would exempt all communications via text message, instant message or video chat from public access. It imposes new fees for obtaining information and ends a long-standing presumption that government records are public.
"This is a major cop-out from you and I believe gives us a picture of your true character political expediency over principle," wrote Kip Egan, of Alpine. "Democracy took a step backward today with you."
One mother, identifying herself as Abigail Anderson, said she was "heartbroken" and "betrayed" that the governor signed the bill.
"If my daughter wanted me to pay for her cell phone, you'd better believe I would be entitled to see her text messages," she wrote. "And if a boy comes over to study with her, he's not allowed in her bedroom, ESPECIALLY with the door shut! I'm not going to leave my legislator in her bedroom with lobbyists with the door shut either!"
The documents indicate that Herbert's office appears to not have been closely involved in the development of the bill, but his general counsel, John Pearce, was given two drafts of the bill, labeled "Version 6" and "Version 9."
Both drafts were exempt from GRAMA and not released because the sponsor, Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, designated it as protected.
"Obviously, we'd appreciate the bill's contents and existence to remain confidential until the bill is publicly released in a final form," wrote deputy legislative general counsel Eric Weeks. "Thanks for your input."
Pearce received the first draft on Feb. 25, the day Herbert said in an interview that he first learned from legislative leaders that they planned to explore changes to the public-records law.
Pearce recommended a change to the draft of the bill, the correspondence shows.
Herbert said he believed that legislative leaders had decided not to pursue the change until the bill was publicly released three days before it passed the Legislature.
Public reaction to changes to open-records law
Hundreds of pages of e-mails to the Governor's Office show the opposition and anger of residents to a fast-tracked bill that shields some public records from public access. One woman compared it to her daughter attempting to keep her text messages private on a cell phone paid for by the mother.
See the e-mails
O Read letters sent to Gov. Gary Herbert about GRAMA.