If you texted something about a bill or a legislative issue, I would assume it would be open for public scrutiny. —Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City
SALT LAKE CITY — Interns at the Utah Legislature often use personal cellphones while working for lawmakers, creating potential access and privacy problems a legislative committee tried to tackle Tuesday.
Every year, 57 to 70 interns work in the Legislature, and although they are not required to use or give their personal cellphone numbers to lawmakers, most do. For those who don't, however, it can create problems when lawmakers try to contact them when they're out of the office.
"This is a problem we've dealt with for a long time," said Jerry Howe, legislative policyanalyst. "This Legislature-intern communication on such a large campus has been a problem."
Howe said when an intern doesn't want to use their private cellphone, all a lawmaker can do is "plead," and during the most recent session, about 10 refused to divulge their private cell phone number. Many interns were worried about their numbers getting into the hands of lobbyists or political operatives, Howe said.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said his interns "spend an enormous amount of time on a cellphone," and he often gives them his cellphone to handle calls when he is in committee meetings.
Another concern some members of the committee had with personal cellphone use among interns was that information sent over their phones would be subject to the Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA, which allows access to public information. But that information on an intern's personal phone may not be accessible.
"If you texted something about a bill or a legislative issue, I would assume it would be open for public scrutiny," said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City. "It could be subject to GRAMA."
Arent said if interns move out of state or cancel their cellphone service, it could be difficult to get that information.
"You're working for public officials, you're working for the public good," said Joe Pyrah, chief deputy of the House. "Your phone is subject to GRAMA."
The legislative information technology steering committee decided to look into two solutions. One option was to purchase cellphones specifically for interns. It was estimated it could cost anywhere from $1,200 to $7,000 to purchase and activate 70 cellphones, depending on the service provider. The other option was to use a service that allows interns to get calls forwarded to their personal phones from a phone number set up for intern use that could be deactivated when the session was over.
Ric Cantrell, chief deputy of the Senate, said for about three years, Senate interns were given phones they could use, but most opted to use their own instead.
"It worked out great for those who used them," he said. "It just became more and more prevalent that interns had their own cellphones. It became money not well spent."
Cantrell said the phones, inexpensive flip phones, were used until 2009.
"Maybe times have changed, but everybody prefers to use their own phones," he said.