Some Utah legislators begin posting email to public portal

Jan 10 2014 - 12:13pm

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A move to make emails to state legislators more public has been slow to catch on among Top of Utah lawmakers.

New guidelines for transparency of electronic messages to state lawmakers went into effect Jan. 1. The new rules allow local lawmakers to put some email communications from groups and constituents on a state website, where they can be viewed by the public. To date only nine of the state's 104 elected lawmakers have opted to post any emails on the site. Four of those lawmakers are from the Top of Utah.

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, have moved some emails to the site. The emails can be viewed on the Legislature's website via the publications tab at http://le.utah.gov/publicweb/menu.jsp.

Not all correspondence has to be made public, under provisions of the transparency bill sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. He said it was his intention for legislators to move some emails to the public viewing file but have discretion to keep some private. He claims his bill was the result of the 2011 redistricting process, where the state Democratic Party made an open records request for all of the Legislature's documents used in the reapportionment. He claims it would have simply been easier for state lawmakers to post all of their emails on the subject to a public website for review and scrutiny.

Froerer has made two emails public since the first of the year and Perry has moved 12 emails to the public folder since the first of the year, as of Thursday, including six that deal with Weber State granting same-sex benefits.

Perry said it is his intent to share more with the public and to let people see how lawmakers get correspondence from both sides of issues.

"I've got nothing to hide. I want them to see the communications we're getting," Perry said of the new tool. He said he will opt to keep private some communications that could be potentially embarrassing to the person initiating the e-mail private, but he said most of the 20-30 emails he gets in a given day will be moved to the file. He said he will also move some old correspondence to the file. He estimates he currently has a log of 15,000 emails from his time in office.

Weiler and Jenkins have been less guarded about their electronic correspondence.  Weiler has moved communications dating back to August 2013 to the file and Jenkins has moved correspondence starting in December 2013 to the public folder on the legislative website.

Jenkins thinks most of the emails he receives will be sent to the public folder.  

"I want people to see what we're getting. You can see a lot of it so far is junk. I think more of us need to say, 'We don't have anything to hide' and just turn this loose," Jenkins said.

Weiler said he expects the process will pick up steam later in the month, when lawmakers have interns to do some of their day-to-day tasks. 

"This is brand new. I'm trying to be transparent and figure out what works best for me," Weiler said. He predicted the process will evolve with time.

"The difference between now and March (end of session) will be huge. This is kind of an experiment," Weiler said.

Experiment or not, the Davis County senator said he has already been criticized for putting emails in his folder, which include the addresses of people initiating the contact. He said all he has the ability to do at this point is drag emails from his existing database to the new site.  

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