Utah Media Coalition ranks legislation's impact on transparency

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 31 2012 10:39 p.m. MST

The Utah Media Coalition is ranking selected legislation and government actions during the 2012 Legislature when it comes to openness and accessibility.

Steve Greenwood

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SALT LAKE CITY  — The Utah Media Coalition is ranking selected legislation and government actions during the 2012 Legislature when it comes to openness and accessibility.

The GRAMA Watch rating system is the result of the 2011 session's unsuccessful efforts to radically change the state's open records law, or Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), that would have restricted the public's access to government records.

"Transparency consistently nudges good government closer to better government. We formed this media coalition to help enhance that transparency," said Rick Hall, editor/Utah edition of the Deseret News, who expressed appreciation to lawmakers and others "who do so much to make our government work."

Under the ratings system, the worst offenders, will get the "lights out" award for actions or measures that run afoul of open government and access, while those bills and actions that promote transparency will receive the "bright light" award. There are other ratings in between.

A week into the 2012 session, the coalition has rated four bills:

SB45 and HB89 would open political party caucuses at the Legislature, under various circumstances. Currently legislators are allowed to meet in closed party caucuses to discuss state business. Both bills earned a "Bright Light" rating for the positive effect they would have on open government.

HB304 would make a voter's month and day of birth, but not the year of birth, a private record. Current law makes the complete birth date of a registered voter a public record to verify that an election process has been carried out legitimately. The common motive for this change is the prevent identity theft, although there are no examples of that happening, according to a GRAMA Watch assessment, which gave the bill a "Lights Out" rating.

SB18 would make voter email addresses private to keep outside entities from delivering unwanted messages to voters. "The addresses by themselves are not crucial to the public's right to know that an election process has been carried out legitimately," according to the GRAMA Watch assessment. "As written, the bill earns a Pale Light from GRAMA Watch, indicating it would have little effect either way on open government."

The coalition said it hopes to be a resource for residents and state officials by keeping them informed of how actions would or could affect the people’s right to know government is conducting their business. In addition, the coalition is encouraging the public to stay in touch with representatives at all levels of government to voice opinions and concerns.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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