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SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill that cripples the state's open record laws is expected to hit the governor's desk for his signature.
We've reported on how the measure will remove all voicemails and text messages from public oversight --- the first state in the country to do so. But what we haven't told you is what's in the rest of the bill.
Last year, KSL spent days auditing expense reports at the Kearns Improvement District. We discovered hundreds of dollars spent on greens fees -- registration fees for spouses to attend conferences.
This is like taking a meat cleaver to a problem that really requires a scalpel. When you're dealing with the public's right to know and the key document that enshrines that in Utah, you should use a scalpel. You shouldn't use a meat cleaver and that's the main problem with the bill.
We also found that employees were staying at fancy hotels like the Ritz Carlton when traveling out of state. We showed the state auditor what we found -- he called it "poor money management."
Under HB477, the fees that can now be tacked on to just looking at government records can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars. That's because the public may now have to pay for attorneys' fees or other "overhead costs" to look at public documents.
"It would be a giant rollback on access in Utah," said Jeff Hunt with the Utah Media Coalition.
Another so-called rollback?
In August 2009, KSL sent out more than 200 GRAMA requests wanting to know which sheriff's and police chiefs were retired in place. That means they retire, stay on the job get their pension, a full paycheck and a hefty 401(k) -- all funded by the taxpayer.
The problem was, no one tracked that information. So we did -- sending out hundreds of GRAMA requests. A majority of agencies responded immediately, while some never did.
HB477 may give those agencies who don't respond to GRAMA requests a good excuse. It expands the amount of time an agency can respond -- and in some cases gives government an indefinite period of time.
Ultimately this could result in a wait time of months or even years.
"This is like taking a meat cleaver to a problem that really requires a scalpel," said Hunt. "When you're dealing with the public's right to know and the key document that enshrines that in Utah, you should use a scalpel. You shouldn't use a meat cleaver and that's the main problem with the bill."
Sunday night, a national expert on government access weighed in on this bill -- calling it an "anti-democratic, arrogant, condescending act by the Utah Legislature." But Senate President Michael Waddoups has said that this bill is intended to stop media "fishing expeditions."
This bill has passed both chambers of the Legislature and is now waiting for Gov. Herbert's signature.