A month ago, the Utah Legislature passed HB 477.
Two weeks ago, the Utah Legislature repealed HB 477.
Yesterday, I finally spoke to a former colleague who now works for the Legislature about HB 477, and I had probably the first truly two-sided conversation about open records laws and what they mean, do and are for society.
He raised some excellent points: why don't we just mic up all the legislators and record everything they say while doing the public's business? How are we supposed to keep track of every single text message and every voice mail recording? Should public officials have zero privacy while on the job? Why isn't the media asking these perfectly legitimate questions instead of shooting straight from the hip at what we perceive is a direct affront to us?
I raised some excellent points: You can argue the definition of a record, but the fact is if you write it down or record it in some way, it's a record. You can argue if it's public or should be legally considered a record, but the reason a text is a record and a conversation isn't is because you recorded it. Plain and simple.
Also, that if people had greater trust in their government officials, there would be less demand to see every single iota of documentation. The way this bill was handled completely dismantled any trust the people may have had, and the bill itself served to deepen that idea.
We both agreed that any changes are going to be off the table for the time being; people are angry and legislators are running scared.
Which makes now the perfect time to really sit down and have a conversation about the philosophical issues of privacy and public access and the purpose of government, a conversation that should include compromise and open-mindedness and a willingness to admit that you might be wrong.