What are Utah Politicians Trying to Hide with HB477?

09 Mar

Not every politician is a crook, not every cop is on a power trip, not every guy is a cheater and a liar, not every girl is after your money— and not every journalist is just after sensationalism instead of the truth. But that is a convenient excuse for Utah politicians lately.

But HB477 has nothing to do with journalists, I’m sure.

There are reporters out there who give the rest of us a bad name. Reporters who hunt down sources just to quote them inaccurately, who waste hours of police officers’ time just to never end up printing the story anyway, who want a bigger headline than their competitor so they make small stories sound horrific. I wish those journalists would lose their jobs and find different careers. But I have no control over that unless they work for me – and I have never kept a writer who plagiarized, sensationalized, misquoted intentionally or continuously, or committed any other unethical act on the job.

But it’s easy to blame reporters for the drafting of a bill that blocks public information – after all how many people trust reporters these days thanks to those that have given journalists a bad name?

Several months ago I spoke at a local rotary meeting where I explained that the purpose of journalism is to be a watchdog for government. How many stories have good journalists broke because they investigated the truth? How much crime would have been swept under the rug had a journalist not followed their instinct? I could count hundreds over the last decade, many of them local or involving politicians even.

For those of you wondering what HB477 is, read this portion of an article from BYU: “HB 477 will place new restrictions on Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), which has been in place for several years.

“Some of the changes to GRAMA include omitting text messages, instant messages and some e-mails from public access through a records request. It will also allow the state to charge citizens for records requests. In theory, legislators could then charge high amounts for the requests, potentially too expensive for Utah residents to afford.

Many legislators who had previously supported the bill switched sides in reaction to the large amounts of protests.”

Yes I’m aware that Gov. Gary Herbert and Rep. Dave Clark are on a PR campaign right now. That doesn’t change the fact that the bill was signed. Good thing it isn’t an election year – and I’m sure that was intentional, as well.

Or this from ABC: “However, the governor is making concessions telling the public he delayed the bill from becoming law until July, which he says gives the public time to give their input.”

The public gave their input before the signing, and the Governor ignored the public outcry and signed the bill anyway. Want to see for yourself? Check out the many Facebook and Twitter comments going around on HB477. Did I mention that in one article by the Salt Lake Tribune, they told the community the bill is because they are slammed by GRAMA requests from journalists? Is that why they decided to start hiding their communication from the public? Because journalists want to ensure our government is being honest?

My question to the Utah legislature who voted for this bill is: What do you have to hide? Now my journalistic instincts are going into overdrive.

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Posted by on March 9, 2011 in In Jen's Opinion, Politics


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