Most lawmakers already refuse to treat their emails as public records. But this year, Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, launched himself at GRAMA–the Government Records Access and Management Act–aiming at lawmaker's voice mails, instant messages and text messages preserved on their taxpayer-financed landlines, cell phones and computers. Quickly and quietly, behind closed doors, legislators passed Dougall's proposed law that blocked public access to their electronic records and jacked up fees for records requests. Utah's elected representatives introduced, debated and passed the bill in just three days. Gov. Herbert declined to veto it. The outraged public immediately squawked, rallied and protested at the Capitol until lawmakers were shamed into a hasty (and costly) special session to repeal it two weeks later. And, although Senate President Michael Waddoups blustered about biased press coverage and media lobbying, Sen. Stephen Urquhart admitted, "We messed up. It's nobody's fault but ours." And at nobody's cost but the Utah taxpayer.
Here's the debacle by the numbers:
Once it was introduced, the legislature spent just 72 hours discussing and voting on HB477. Why the rush?
To avoid media opposition. Legislators and their attorneys claimed state staff spent 400 hours in 2010 searching for legislative records requested by the public and media.
But according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis, from Jan. 1, 2010 to March 4, 2011, legislative staff spent just 61 documented hours searching for the 10 legislative records requested in that period.
Four records requests were denied by legislative staff because the records did not exist, so the number of actual records requests legislative staff worked on came to a grand total of six.
The cost of the special session to repeal the ill-conceived bill? $30,000
Totally worth it!