Black Hole Award for Utah’s dark age of government secrecy

It was a well-planned and swiftly executed mob hit. But just enough light remained at the scene of the crime to illuminate the perpetrators of House Bill 477, an instrument that leaves Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act dead on the floor.

Utah’s legislative leaders got what they wanted in the bushwhacking: a broad new cloak of secrecy for government operations in the state, and a satisfying smackdown of news media pests and citizens groups who lawmakers said have incessantly tormented government with requests for records.

But the overreaching arrogance and the disdain for citizens, democracy and transparency in government has drawn an unprecedented blowback for the House and Senate powers (and for their willing sidekick, Gov. Gary Herbert, who signed the bill into law). For starters, some back-bench House Republicans have broken ranks to complain publicly how the bill was rushed and how, they said, they had no choice but to go along for fear of leadership reprisals.

The gut-GRAMA law is viewed as so egregious that a voter referendum campaign already has sprung up. Backers hope to take the issue to an election so Utah voters can blot out HB 477.

And on Tuesday, the Society of Professional Journalists bestowed its national Black Hole Award on Herbert and the Legislature, saying, “This is by far the most anti-democratic secrecy legislation we have ever seen in the United States.”

I’m guessing this award won’t be included in the state’s business development and tourism brochures.

SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee chairman, David Cuillier, said he compared HB 477 with laws from other nations. Not good. He came to the awful conclusion that “Utah will be more backward than most other countries, including Mexico and former Soviet republics Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan.”

Critics of HB 477 also have zeroed in on not only the chilling substance of the bill, but also on the leadership’s weak or overblown arguments for the legislation. The leaders cited privacy fears and the costs of handling “fishing expedition” records requests. Locking up texts, e-mails and other electronic records was justified as controlling the effects of technology progress. They ignored the truth of the matter, that the original GRAMA law explicitly took into account privacy issues and technology changes and established procedures for weighing all requests.

It will be interesting to see how the creators of HB 477 will react when the law supposedly will come up for review in a June special session. Will they back away from their repugnant secrecy vessel and allow it to be killed? Or will they dig in and preserve it to take effect July 1?

I expect them to fight back from the putrid corner they’ve legislated themselves into. They’ll lash out at their imagined tormentors and keep GRAMA in the casket. After the reprehensible gangster act of the past two weeks, why imagine it will be otherwise?

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3 Responses to Black Hole Award for Utah’s dark age of government secrecy

  1. Bob Becker says:

    We could hope, I suppose, that Speaker Lockhart and Sen. Waddoups and House Majority Leader “Free Lunch for Me” Dee will recognize that they’ve screwed the pooch on this one, and figure out that the best damage control they could do at this point is to have the special committee appointed to hold the hearings that should have been held before the bill passed so amendments can be suggested to the Special Session that Gov. “Spineless” Herbert said would be necessary to fix the bill he signed on the very day he signed it, recommend repeal of HB 477. Just repeal the damned thing.

    Then reforming GRAMA [if it needs it] could be addressed by the legislature in the usual way: interim joint committee to gather evidence, testimony, opinion on the way to submitting legislation at the start of the next session, permitting time for committee hearings, debate during the regular session. I doubt anything short of that has a prayer of winning public confidence in a GRAMA reform bill, however the Speaker’s Pet Committee might try to tweak it this summer. I mean, it’s not like the legislators have invested a whole lot of work in the bill as it stands.

    Just repeal the damn thing and start over, and do it the right way. The main co-conspirators [Lockhart, Waddoups and Free Lunch Dee] might salvage something out of the mess if they did that.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  2. Doug Gibson says:

    Herbert’s cynicism merited the award. The Legislature’s leaders we expect this nonsense from, but he should have vetoed it, and I’m sure he knows that.

  3. Mike bardale says:

    This bill is only a means to an end. It is rumored that this is a result of something very very large in white collar crime. The theory is that the means will justify the end. To what end? This very well could be a temporary cover-up and an attempt to hide a large money laundering action that is now occurring at the highest levels of our state government. They know the great opposition they will deal with will over turn this law in time. But that very well could the the smoke and mirrors show these law makers may be bringing to you at your expense.

    So what is the show known as station lack hole really thought to be? It just may come riding on a dark horse that looks and rides like an unaccounted sum of tax dollars. Dollars that might be overlooked or ignored due to a future overturn or victory of HB477.

    The point? Don’t be surprised if HB477 is overturned this summer in a special session this year. If this victory seems to come with expected resistance and not much more, let’s demand to carefully examine the trail of tax money before this happens.

    What is going on now with tax dollars now must be totally under the radar and illegal. Why not mark the days before HB477 and examine the trail of money to date.

    Who knows where it will take us.

    No pun intended…

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