When the Bush administration isn’t cutting taxpayer-funded checks to right-wing media pundits who support his policies, it routinely invokes terrorism in Bush’s quest to manipulate information or hide it from the American public. By one estimate, the federal government now classifies a staggering 125 documents per minute.
Here in Utah, State Sen. David Thomas, R-South Weber, and Rep. Doug Aagard, R-Kaysville, don’t bother invoking terrorism in their quest to hide information from the public. Apparently, they’re far more concerned with the welfare of government workers forced to retrieve information from such bothersome people as attorneys and everyday citizens. They’re also offended that anyone would want internal communications between government officials and citizens deemed irrelevant to establishing government policy, guidelines or procedures.
But deemed irrelevant by whom? That, it seems, is for Thomas and Aagard to know, and for us to find out. If, that is, Thomas and Aagard will even give us the chance.
As co-chairmen of the Government Records Access and Management Act Task Force, Thomas and Aagard have recently and, more importantly, successfully sold three draft bills limiting government information available not just to the ever-unpopular professions of law and journalism but to basically everyone outside the corridors of government power. The first bill is by far the worst of the three. It’s insulting enough that this bill exempts from disclosure all internal communications between government officials and citizens'a provision that could effectively hide a local government’s possibly anemic response to important public concerns. Its worst feature is that, as mentioned above, it lets government tell us what a government record is and what it isn’t. Grant government that power, and it will tell you only what it wants you to hear. For those of us outraged over government actions at the local or federal level'admittedly, our numbers dwindle almost daily'this should induce grave concern.
Thomas’ and Aagard’s second bill piles on government’s prerogative to deny you information as it sees fit. Under this proposal, if a government entity views your request as unreasonable or too expensive, it can simply say “No.” For anyone who’s ever paid 50 cents per copy at the courthouse, this seems galling almost beyond belief. Their third bill is more innocuous but still troubling. Thomas and Aagard market this bill as their way of protecting address and phone number records from pesky companies. To discourage this, they want to charge money for this information. But there are already two sections of GRAMA law protecting certain records as private. More troublesome, the proposed law could be used to argue that journalists and newspapers “resell” information in the fashion of a company when they request it for a story.
The American public has been amazingly lax in granting wide license of powers to government agencies and elected officials ever since Sept. 11. As pop star Britney Spears said in one of the most memorable clips from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, “I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that.”
Remarkably, all three draft bills have passed muster to make it to next year’s legislative session. What’s a “recordâ€? What’s a “reasonable” request for information? Thomas and Aagard no doubt hope the Utah public will emulate Spears’ cloying level of trust'some would call it gullibility'next legislative session.