By a 3-1 vote, with House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, siding with two Republicans, the Legislature’s Record Committee voted to make the state Democratic Party pay just over $9,000 more to get the last two boxes of their 2011 redistricting records request.
Democrats say they won’t pay the money – even though they could – and they say they won’t take up the offer by the Utah Republican Party to pay the $9,000 for them, either.
Instead, the Democrats may go to court to try to get the fee waiver, obtain the documents and make them public.
In any case, the Democrats will use the refusal to bring up the specter of HB477 and the “evil” legislative Republicans who pushed that failed GRAMA rewrite through the 2011 Legislature.
And Democrats will use the 3-1 vote as campaign fodder this year in attempts to get Utahns to split-ticket their ballots.
Democrats know that most Utahns will be voting for Mitt Romney for president – the fellow Mormon and 2002 Winter Games beloved boss.
To avoid a down-ticket landslide, Utah Democrats need voters to cast ballots for Democratic candidates in state, legislative and county races.
Maybe, just maybe, the GRAMA redistricting vote made Monday could help in that effort.
State Democratic Party leaders are hoping for some free media down the road as they try to keep the GRAMA redistricting records’ decisions in the public eye.
A court suit, filed just before the November election (but really going nowhere legally) would be one way to do that.
A Tuesday UPD story details why Litvack and the two GOP leaders – President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville; and House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo; voted the way they did. And why Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, voted to give the state Democrats their fee waiver.
You can read the story here.
One of the complaints GOP legislators made last year in passing HB477 – which made a number of changes to GRAMA and was opposed by good-government and media folks alike – was that with a relatively small staff the Legislature couldn’t meet often broad-based requests for documents.
Indeed, it was brought up again in Monday’s hearing that it took 500 hours of staff time to compile all the redistricting documents the Utah Democratic Party asked for.
Robert Reese, the legislative staff attorney who worked on the request, said that staff leaders underestimated the real cost of the request, and still came up with nearly $15,000 overall.
The Democrats paid $5,000 this spring. But when they came to pick up their request, they were allowed to only pick up the first box of records.
When opened and examined by Democrats, and by a Salt Lake Tribune reporter, it contained emails, maps and other material that had already been made public on the Legislature’s redistricting online site.
The Democrats asked for the other two boxes to be released and for their $5,000 back.
They’ve gotten neither. And it looks like they won’t get the additional records unless they pay the remained of their GRAMA bill.
In addition, two news organizations have filed subsequent GRAMA requests asking for the two remaining boxes – with the argument that because they are not a partisan organization they should get a fee waiver based on public interest.
But they haven’t gotten the final two boxes, either.
And Reese said Monday in his testimony that legislative staffers and the Legislature probably need to make some kind of law/rule on whether to give away, for free, GRAMA-generated material to the media.
Finally – and this was an interesting tidbit to me – the four-member committee swore in the Democrats’ witnesses, and three other folks who wanted to address the committee.
A special note was made that if the sworn person didn’t “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” they could be found guilty of a Class B Misdemeanor.
But the four legislators on the committee weren’t sworn in. And staffer Reese, who also testified before the committee, wasn’t sworn in, either.
So only legislators and their staff were free to lie, if they wanted to.
Utah State Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright was sworn in and preceded to call Democrats about every name in the book and question their motives.
But he wasn’t stopped by Waddoups, who was chairing the meeting.
So it appears that swearing someone in before a legislative committee doesn’t necessarily lead to good manners or accurate statements – all opinions are allowed.
That’s fine, but what’s the point of swearing someone in, other than trying to intimidate them?
In any case, legislative leaders seem determined to make folks pay for large GRAMA requests made of the Legislature.
That could, depending on the individual requests, dampen the public’s right to know what their lawmakers are doing.
And it appears the media – yours truly included – can’t try to game the system by following up with a GRAMA request exactly like the original one to get information for free.
That, likewise, may harm the public’s right to know.
It looks as if the ghost of HB477 still hangs over the Utah Legislature.
As it turns out, there’s still reason for concern about the legislative branch of government’s attitude about open records, their cost and their availability to the public.