Louisiana makes it a crime to name concealed-weapons permit holders

26 06 2013

Louisiana recently made Utah’s restriction on access to concealed-carry permit information look benign by comparison.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reported that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed two bills into law that make it a crime to disclose the name or address of a concealed gun permit holder. Those who do face six months in jail and or a fine of up to $1,000.

In contrast, Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act labels concealed-carry permit information as protected information, meaning the state Bureau of Criminal Identification cannot release the information, nor even confirm if someone has a permit or has lost one.

The only penalty it prescribes is for state workers who disclose such information, and it is a class A misdemeanor. But there is no penalty if, for example, one were to point out, through other sources, that Sens. Howard A. Stephenson, R-Draper, and Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, and Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, all carry concealed weapons. 

But Louisiana’s laws, passed in response to a New York newspaper’s publication of a list of handgun-permit holders, only carves out an exemption for reporting that a permit was revoked after its holder was convicted of a gun-related felony.

“There are limitations on First Amendment rights,” said Republican state Rep. Jeff Thompson, the bills’ sponsor.  “You have to balance those.”

But media advocates say the move amounts to censorship by punishing journalists for publishing information they obtained from other sources.

“The Second Amendment relates to your right to own firearms,” Louisiana media lawyer Loretta Mince said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with whether other people are permitted to know that you own firearms.”





Gov. Gary Herbert still mulling choices for State Records Committee vacancy

25 06 2013

Gov. Gary Herbert expects to nominate someone to fill the newly created public-member’s seat on the State Records Committee by next week.

Nate McDonald, a Herbert public information officer, said the governor is still awaiting recommendations on the people who have applied for the job.

Four people applied for the position, and the records committee offered a “soft recommendation” for seating Marie Cornwall on the committee. Cornwall, according to her résumé, is an emeritus sociology professor at Brigham Young University who lives in Bountiful.

Committee Chairman Lex Hemphill said the board couldn’t make a stronger recommendation because it was only going on applications and did not interview any of the candidates.

The other applicants were Sarra McGillis, a corrections specialist with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office; James Weightman, director of internal audits at the Salt Lake County Auditor’s Office; and Sheri Bernard, a consultant who had works in health-care information management.

The applicants’ information was obtained through a Government Records Access and Management Act request to the committee. Patricia Smith-Mansfield, the governor’s representative on the committee, did not include the applications in the board’s agenda packet for its June 13 meeting.

“I did not want it to become a public record,” Smith-Mansfield said.

The position was created as part of SB94, Sen. Curt Bramble’s bill that amended the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). The bill also removed the state auditor’s seat on the body that hears GRAMA appeals and replaced it with a second slot for a member of the public.

Bramble said the change was made at the request of State Auditor John Dougall, who wanted to avoid any conflicts of interest if his office were to audit the committee. Dougall — who as a legislator authored HB477, the bill that gutted GRAMA and was repealed after public outcry in 2011 — fired the auditor’s representative on the committee, Betsy Ross.

Herbert’s previous appointment to the board was Holly Richardson, a conservative blogger and former legislator who supported HB477, as a public member.





Betsy Ross, Chris Burbank win Utah Sunshine Awards, UTA gets a Black Hole

21 06 2013

Betsy Ross, former chairwoman of the State Records Committee was honored for her 18 years of advocating for open government.

The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists gave Ross one of its annual Sunshine Awards at a ceremony in Fort Douglas’ Officers’ Club Thursday.

Ross served on the board, which hears appeals under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), since its creation. She first served as the board’s legal counsel and then as the state auditor’s representative on the board. She did three stints as chairwoman.

During her tenure on the board, Ross was regarded as its institutional memory and conscience, always ensuring that those who appeared before the board received a fair hearing. She also used the position to push for greater access to public records.

When the Legislature railroaded through HB477, the 2011 bill that gutted GRAMA, Ross stood on the side of open-government advocates. In an op-ed column in The Salt Lake Tribune, Ross pointed out the ignorance that drove the bill, sponsored by then-Rep. John Dougall. She also invited lawmakers to come to a records committee hearing to see that their concerns about GRAMA were unwarranted.

No legislators ever took her up on the invitation.

Ross left the committee at the end of 2012, when she was fired by Dougall, the incoming auditor. Dougall claimed that she was let go because she was not spending enough time with legislators as the auditor’s director of legal affairs.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank also received a Sunshine Award for making the department’s daily watch logs available online. Previously, the logs would state that no significant events occurred, even on the night officers responded to the home of Uta von Schwedler, a University of Utah researcher who was found dead in her bathtub.

Von Schwedler, John Wall, has since been charged with her murder.

SPJ also awarded a Black Hole award to the Utah Transit Authority for its refusal to release information about former UTA CEO John Inglish’s retirement package. The Black Hole Award recognizes entities that egregiously block access to public information.

Eventually, UTA released the information, showing that Inglish’s pension was higher than what former U.S. presidents are paid.

The Utah SPJ chapter also noted that UTA continues to withhold crime data from The Salt Lake Tribune, despite a November 2012 order from the Records Committee to provide the information. The UTA appealed the committee’s ruling to 3rd District Court.

“Both of these instances reflect what seems to be UTA’s general stance that if they stonewall long enough when information is requested that they don’t want to share, the media will just move on,” Linda Petersen, Utah Headliners FOI chair said. “But this is information the public has a right to know. The media should not have to fight for it on the public’s behalf. UTA’s Black Hole Award is well-deserved.”





Colorado city wants to ban people taking pictures of public records

13 06 2013

Durango, Colo., officials are trying to close what they see as a public-records loophole that is costing them money.

The Durango Herald reports that the city is proposing an ordinance that would ban people from photographing public records they request. It seems people are using their cellphones and tablet computers to get around photocopying fees by taking pictures of the documents.

The city charges 25 cents per page after the first 10 pages, whether the information is photocopied or scanned for emailing, along with billing for the employee’s time to prepare the files. Colorado’s records law, like Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, allow people to inspect public documents for free.

So far in Utah, it’s perfectly legal to take pictures of the documents without having to pay a fee. Even HB477 didn’t try to outlaw that practice.

City Clerk Amy Phillips told the paper that city workers will consolidate documents for a records request, and expect the person to come in and pick which ones should be copied.

“[B]ut we’re finding out now that people are able to come in with a phone and just (photograph) the copies,” Phillips said. “Then we don’t retrieve the money we spent.”

Along with a photo ban, the city is also proposing a $30-per-hour fee to for gathering the documents.

The proposal goes to a City Council vote on Tuesday.





Unified Fire Authority, Utah Tax Commission coming before State Records Committee

12 06 2013

A Sandy man wants the State Records Committee to help him find out who accused him of illegal burning.

Larry Hartlerode had filed a request under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) for reports from the Unified Fire Authority related to its response to complaints that he was illegally burning in his Sandy yard. Hartlerode’s request was partially granted, with the name of the person who filed the complaint with the department being removed from the record.

“This information should be provided as per the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, specifically the right to confronted with witnesses against him,” Hartlerode wrote in his appeal.

The department said the name could not be released because GRAMA declares people’s addresses and phone numbers as private if the person reasonably expects the information to be kept in confidence. Department officials, in their response, said the person who filed the complaint requested anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

The committee is also hearing another appeal Thursday from Harshad Desai, who asked for copies of personal property audits done in Garfield County between 2001 and 2012, along with the auditors’ names.

The commission said Desai had received some information, such as the number of audits performed, but denied other parts of his request. The commission argued that audit reports are protected information because they involve commercial property.

The commission also argued that its work records are protected, and that it cannot give out auditors’ names in connection to the audits they worked on.

The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtyard Meeting Room at the Utah State Archives. 346 S. Rio Grande St. in Salt Lake City.





Connecticut lawmakers pass bill to keep murder records secret

7 06 2013

This may sound familiar to Utahns: A bill drastically changing government-records laws is secretly drafted and rushed through with little time for public comment.

In a scenario reminiscent of the HB477 debacle, Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill that makes records of murder cases private. The bill, which was drafted in secret by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s staff, the state’s top prosecutor and leaders in the legislature, was a response to the Sandy Hook shootings, where a gunman killed 20 students and six teachers before committing suicide.

The bill, which did not go through the public hearing process and was passed at the end of the legislature’s session, exempts photos, film or digital images depicting homicide victims, as well as 911 calls describing the condition of a victim. It also shifts the burden of proof from the state to the requester, who has to make the case why a record should be released.

Malloy said the purpose of the bill was to protect the families from seeing the crime photos on the Internet. Some of the victims’ families support the move.

“I’m fully supportive of an open and transparent government, but I can’t understand how distributing graphic photos of murdered teachers and children serves any purpose other than causing our families more pain,” Dean Pinto, whose 6-year-old son, Jack, was killed in the school shooting, was quoted in reports as saying.

The law initially only dealt with the Sandy Hook case, but was expanded to cover all homicides in the Nutmeg State, which sets a bad precedent, critics warn.

“What they’re doing here is protecting the family … but it becomes a slippery slope,” said David Cuillier, president-elect of the Society of Professional Journalists. “Anything that makes someone uncomfortable, the government can make secret.”

H/t to the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press.