Presumptive 2012 congressional candidate Rep. Carl Wimmer has officially taken a stand against HB 477, perhaps the Legislature's most reviled legislation of 2011, which guts Utah's open-records law and creates government secrecy unprecedented in the past 20 years.---
HB 477 makes Utah the most secretive state government in the nation, national transparency experts say. The Society of Professional Journalists' Freedom of Information Committee Chairman David Cuillier says Utah's laws on July 1, when the law is scheduled to take effect, would make Utah more secretive than the governments of Mexico and Estonia, though slightly better than Kazakhstan. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and the Republican-controlled Legislature received SPJ's first ever national Black Hole "Award" yesterday for contributions to government secrecy.
Wimmer was already on a list of lawmakers who have publicly expressed their regrets in voting for HB 477 (17 members of the House voted for the bill once, but voted against it a few days later after public outcry). He's the most prominent member of the Legislature to call for full repeal of the law.
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"GRAMA [Government Records Access and Management Act] has enhanced the relationship between the citizens and the state government. In addition to elections, GRAMA provides an important check and balance," Wimmer wrote in a message to the media sent Wednesday evening. "HB 477 is the wholesale slaughter of this important benefit to the public. Therefore, I hereby request of Legislative Leadership, my legislative colleagues, and Gov. Herbert to join with me to request a special session to repeal HB 477."
Wimmer's announcement has been met with both praise and derision. Tweeted Jeff Bell (@jmbell), "YOU CO-SPONSORED THE BILL! You loved it so much you had to have your name on it."
Applause erupted, however, at an anti-HB 477 organizing meeting held at the Salt Lake City Main Library when it was announced to the approximately 100 people in attendance that Wimmer's statement had just been released. Linda Peterson, with the Utah Foundation for Open Government, asked attendees to thank Wimmer for his change in position.
Wimmer's call for full repeal--not just changes--to HB 477 is the strongest sign yet that HB 477 may never actually go into effect and GRAMA could be saved. On March 7, both Wimmer and another possible congressional candidate, Republican Sen. Dan Liljenquist of Bountiful shocked everyone when they each suddenly Tweeted their regrets about voting for HB 477.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, said this week he felt implicit threats that if he didn't vote for HB 477 that bills important to his region would not be considered by legislative leadership. Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, said lawmakers were given incorrect information about HB 477 and GRAMA before voting on it. Senate president Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, has apologize for the lack of notice to stake holders and the tremendous speed with which it passed both chambers. The bill was was signed into law by the governor just seven days after its language was released. Sens. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, and John Valentine, R-Orem, have each criticized HB 477 despite voting in favor of it, as have Reps. Holly Richardson, R-Pleasant Grove, and Mark Wheatley, D-Murray.
Standard-Examiner columnist Charlie Trentleman has written that lawmakers who voted for the bill are either stupid or spineless. "I also don't buy the buyer's remorse some lawmakers now profess. Pitcher has a master's degree in political science. He should have seen the scam. So should every legislator who claims he or she is not stupid. Either they're not smart or they lack the spine to stand up to leadership."
A special session of the legislature is expected to address concerns with HB 477. Likewise, Republican activists have organized a citizen-lead referendum campaign to repeal the law by a vote of the people. They have only 40 days to gather 90,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot and even minor changes to HB 477 during an interim would make the effort moot. Organizers say, however, that their resolve to do what may appear to be impossible demonstrates their anger at the bill and is one of the reasons lawmakers are now back peddling.
To sign up to volunteer or donate to the referendum campaign, go to SaveGRAMA.org
(photo by Erik Daenitz)