GRAMA-restricting H.B. 122 counter to gov’t transparency

By By Jeffrey Jenkins

By Jeffrey Jenkins

The political word of the day is transparency. Lately, the federal government has finally gotten an idea of what a transparent government is supposed to do and has taken steps to increase its transparency. With the passing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a $787 billion stimulus package, the federal government has created www.recovery.gov, a Web site devoted to informing taxpayers where and for what taxpayer dollars are being spent. It is a welcome and much-needed step in keeping the public informed on our current economic uncertainties.

However, in our state, some representatives are attempting to do just the opposite. Rep. Douglas Aagard, R-Kaysville, has introduced House Bill 122, which is intended to make restrictive amendments to the Government Records Access and Management Act originally passed 1992. In a nutshell, passing H.B. 122 is like allowing government offices with windows that are normally open and transparent to the public to install shades that can be pulled at will to cloak potential unsavory activities.

The GRAMA act states, “Every person has the right to inspect a public record free of charge.” It also states, “All records are public unless otherwise expressly provided by statute.” This means that in order for a record to be classified as private or controlled, a written law has to be passed specifying that a particular record is not for public consumption. GRAMA keeps government officials honest and provides the media and citizens with a check on elected officials.

H.B. 122, or the Government Records Access and Management Act Amendments, is attempting to limit the public’s access to government records. H.B. 122 states that “records may be classified as protected if they are prepared in anticipation of litigation.” Jeff Hunt, an adjunct professor of law at the U and practicing First Amendment and media lawyer said the bill “would make it much more difficult for public to get access to the records, particularly law enforcement and auditing records.” Hunt further said that the public has a vital interest in these records and that this bill would tip the scale of public interest and disclosure toward non-disclosure.

For a hypothetical example, imagine that you, as a journalist or a concerned citizen, want to review the IRS audit records of your elected official. Under the current GRAMA regulations, you would be able to examine those records unless, of course, there was a written law passed constituting them as private. Under the proposed amendments of H.B. 122, the government would have another counter option that would allow it to classify the information as private by claiming that it is being prepared in “anticipation of litigation.” Ambiguous enough for you?

If the public record request is rejected on these grounds, you would be left only knowing one of two things. One, that your elected official is going to court based on a tax audit, or two, that he has something to hide and anticipates that he will have to go to court as a result of a tax audit.

The purpose of the bill remains a mystery, as there has never been an incident in which GRAMA was abused by the public or media or was detrimental to the government8212;unless you consider blowing the whistle on corruption detrimental to the government’s function.

Our “open book” policy-touting attorney general also supports and co-wrote the bill, which is incredibly ironic given his policy of government business being conducted in public. H.B. 122 would serve only the interest of the government by allowing it to be easier to cover up the trail of corruption. Do not allow the Legislature to chain down the watchdog of government offices and officials. Tell you representative how you feel about H.B. 122.

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Jeffrey Jenkins