Yeah, it's political, but this has really been bugging me.
I’ve been seeing a lot of complaints about the hijacking of the democratic process in Wisconsin, but here in Utah we’ve been living with it for years. The Utah State Legislature does everything in its power to hide the inner workings of what is going on from the voting public, and on Friday, March 4, they put another nail in the coffin by passing House Bill 477 quickly and quietly in the afternoon before anyone could question them about it.
What is House Bill 477 you might ask? It is a bill that supposedly “corrects” problems with the GRAMA laws in Utah. GRAMA, for those who don’t know, is the Government Records Access and Management Act, whereby the unwashed public (that’s you and me, folks) can request access to state government documents in case they might be wondering about, well, anything done by anyone in the state government. GRAMA laws allow public access to all government records, allowing for anyone, from nosy reporters to the little old grandma down the street to request information about something they might find not-so-right about something going down in the government. And trust me, here in Utah, there’s a lot of not-so-right going down at any given moment.
So how does House Bill 477 “fix” any problems with GRAMA laws? It removes, text messages, e-mails, and any other form of electronic communications from being accessed. At all. Oh, yeah, and it hikes the processing fees for any GRAMA requests sky high. You might say “But if it is their own private e-mails, texts, etc., shouldn’t that be protected? After all, the public has now business checking on that stuff, it’s private.” And you would be correct. Private correspondence that has nothing to do with the government is private. And it is also ALREADY protected by the existing GRAMA laws. House Bill 477 removes ALL public access to electronic communication, even if it is official government stuff sent on government servers to government computers. And jacking the fees doesn’t “fix” anything other than putting the information requests out of the reach of the pocketbooks of the average Joe.
How in the world did legislation like that pass without any voter outcry you might ask? Simple, it was done in secret and passed by the Republican majority who control the state legislature. Who knows when the bill was actually drafted, but it wasn’t put up for public consideration until Tuesday evening. It quietly passed the Senate rules committee on Wednesday and in rapid succession passed a house vote on Thursday and a Senate vote on Friday afternoon. Done deal. That evening, Governor Herbert announced his intention to sign the bill into law as local news media howled about collusion and secrecy. Most laws take months, if not years, to get through the legislature. This bill took three and a half days at the end of the legislative session.
Once the news got out, of course, there was a public outcry, and not just from the media (although they were leading the charge). Suddenly the public woke up and started asking questions like “was this really needed?” and “why did it pass so darn quickly?” And, of course, the backpedaling began immediately. Governor Herbert who, on Friday, was quite willing to sign the bill, suddenly had a change of heart and decided to “carefully consider” signing. The bill, which would have become law, was postponed until July to allow for public comment.
And now the backlash has begun. The talking points on the news were all about protecting the private communications until the reporters pointed out en masse that those communications were already protected under the existing laws. One legislator then announced on a talk radio show that he was pressured into voting on the bill by the Republican majority, especially the Republican leadership. However, he quickly recanted later that day after “discussions” with the House Republican leadership. Others have claimed that they were given “information” sheets on how this bill would fix the (non-existant) holes in the GRAMA laws by protecting the (already protected) private communications and never bothered to check the actual GRAMA laws to see if those holes existed. And it’s become difficult to determine who actually created and wrote the bill, since suddenly everyone had nothing to do with its creation or with the rapid passage through both houses.
“Well, that’s okay then, they’ll reconsider it, won’t they?” No, that’s not what will happen. What will happen is this: they’ll wait for a couple of months for the public outrage to die down, then they’ll quietly have a “public” hearing about it without prior announcement when most people have forgotten. Then Herbert won’t sign it (to keep his hands clean) and it will automatically become law anyway. Done deal. No more transparent government, not that it was all that transparent to begin with here in the Tehran of the west.
Politics as usual you might say, and you would be right, especially here in Utah. What astonishes me the most (and it shouldn’t at my age) is the rampant lying and cheating being done by the Republicans. If you’re not from Utah you might not know this, but the Republican majority that controls the state is overwhelmingly Mormon, God-fearing (supposedly), church-going Mormon. How in the world do they reconcile the constant lies that fall from their lips with their faith? Isn’t there supposed to be something about not lying in the Bible? Isn’t that supposed to be morally wrong? Yet these people constantly claim the moral high ground as they pass things like House Bill 477 and kill things like the anti-discrimination laws. They refuse to tighten up the ethics laws and standards of the legislature while their former House majority leader has to resign due to his shenanigans in a hot tub (when he was 30) with a 15 year old girl (and his giving her lots of money to keep quiet about it). They pass weird and restrictive liquor laws that make Utah a national joke while the Senate majority leader is being pulled over for drunk driving. Moral majority indeed.
Current Mood: depressed
Current Music: "Hurt" by Johnny Cash