Many lawmakers have argued that HB 477 is needed because the public expects that their e-mails to lawmakers are private and thus Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA, must be changed. This false talking point begins by stating that members of the public may not realize that Legislators' e-mails are normally public record and would be released to anybody who requests them. Those members of the public may regrettably share with their lawmaker a mental health diagnosis or a recent bankruptcy, for example, and we wouldn't want that potentially embarrassing information to be released to the general public, the false talking point concludes. HB 477 allegedly alleviates this problem, but the problem doesn't exist. Private communications—or even just portions of e-mails or letters that may contain private information--are not subject to GRAMA, just ask The Salt Lake Tribune's Robert Gehrke.
When Gehrke used GRAMA last year to request text messages that a UDOT employee sent and received on her state-issued cell phone from a representative of a state contractor, Gehrke received only one text message from UDOT along with a note that there were other text messages between the UDOT employee and the contractor but that UDOT would not release them on the grounds that all the other messages were private messages unrelated to the UDOT employee's official duties. Gehrke appealed, but the State Records Committee privately reviewed the text messages and upheld UDOT's decision citing 63G-2-103(22)(b)(i), which makes private communications not subject to GRAMA. If anyone shares personal information in one paragraph of an e-mail to a government employee or legislator and later in the same e-mail asks for an official action or favor, like sponsoring legislation, then under current law the private paragraph should be covered in black marker and the paragraph related to official duties should be released to the person who requested it.
Said text message exchange involved an extra-marital affair between the UDOT employee and the state contractor's representative. While the state contractor was bidding on a UDOT project. And said state contractor just happened to be the winning bidder. In a bid process so flawed that UDOT paid the losing bidder $13,000,000 of hush money to keep them from suing us for more money or turning to the media.
And, we only found out about it because of GRAMA. And we won't find these things out any more.