The redistricting process is a complicated endeavor. Creating legislative districts that have an equal number of citizens has never been an easy task and, because lawmakers are choosing who will vote for them, is rife with possible gaming of the system. This gaming, known as gerrymandering, is the source of heartburn for minority parties and, if severe enough, can catch the eye of federal courts.
The redistricting process that took place in 2011 was the first to take place in a digital era where everyone was expected to communicate via email, large documents could easily be shared, and text messages could be retrieved. No longer were conversations taking place in back rooms and via phone calls, for the first time, the logic behind the redistricting process was documented with a high amount of detail.
Utah Democrats, suspecting that the process was specifically designed to undervalue Democratic voters while overvaluing Republican voters, made a Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA) request for all of the documents related to the once-every-decade redistricting process to see if any information could be discovered that specifically showed that Republican lawmakers, who had the ultimate say in how the redistricting process would turn out, were using their power to influence elections.
Eventually, over 10,000 pages of documents were produced and a price tag of nearly $15,000 was presented to the Utah Democratic Party for the fees related to the request. Democrats, as well as many in the media, were shocked by the price tag, arguing that the information gathered in the request was designed to benefit the people and, because these were government documents compiled by government employees, the information already belonged to the people in the first place. After a court battle, the Democrats eventually prevailed and the state was forced to turn over the documents involved in the request and pay for the legal fees associated with the case.
Last year, Democratic Lawmaker Brian King (Salt Lake) attempted to negate this problem with HB 122 – Fees for Government Records Requests. If that title sounds familiar, it is because this year, Representative King is proposing HB 242 – Fees for Government Records Requests.
Just like a repeat of the title, 2014’s HB 242 is an exact copy of 2013’s HB 122 and changes two lines of Utah Code. HB 242 simply states that “a governmental agency shall fulfill a record request without charge” so long as it meets various criteria. Right now, the law states that “a government agency may fulfill a record request without charge.”
The simple act of changing “may” to “shall” was estimated to cost the state $125,000 annually according to the fiscal note attached to HB 122 last year and ensure that government records could be accessed by those with legitimate purposes, free of charge.
HB 122 unanimously passed out of the House Political Subdivisions Committee last year, but die on the floor, never receiving debate. It is unclear if the lawsuit and subsequent loss on the part of the state will push HB 242 further along the process.
To contact Representative King, click here or call 801-583-5464.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker