Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, says he voted to gut the state's open records law "based on incorrect information," and showed our reporter, Loretta Park, a sheet of paper he was given that highlighted supposed problems with the state's old GRAMA law.
One claim was that electronic communications with lawmakers were not protected. "As I got into it, I found out that was not exactly true," Pitcher said.
Not exactly? The old law clearly exempts personal communications. House Bill 477's authors had to know that. If they didn't, they had no business writing HB 477.
Or maybe they did know and didn't want Pitcher to notice. That would explain why they rushed the bill.
Legislative leadership pulled a classic scam on Pitcher with HB 477. They wanted him to vote to restrict public access to the public's government and didn't want him to read the small print.
So they rushed the bill, timing the final vote for a Friday afternoon so Pitcher wouldn't have his mind changed over the weekend by any annoying facts or that pesky public.
The public, seeing itself cut out, is outraged. Thousands from all political stripes have signed petitions, written lawmakers and held protests. The lawmakers did call the bill back, but only changed its effective date from immediately to July 1.
Now we have to take the word of the legislative leaders who pulled the scam that they'll work with the public to fix the bill. Believe that?
Many don't. A petition for a referendum has been filed by a group of Republicans, no less. Lawsuits are inevitable.
This mess did not have to be.
The Utah Senate has 29 members. There are two bankers, seven lawyers, five business owners, two dentists, two homemakers, three who deal in real estate and eight who are farmers or professional workers. The House has a similar mix.
These are smart people. They did great work on many things, such as budgets, in this session when they took time. If they were told, in their private lives, to "buy this old house right now, don't worry, that leak in the basement is easy to fix!" none would.
Realtors, especially, know that scam.
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, is a Realtor. Froerer is still stinging over the bill that was slammed through the 2007 Legislature that allowed the owners of Powder Mountain Ski Resort to create their own city against the wishes of people roped into the city.
The bill was passed quickly. Despite subsequent years of work, expensive litigation and revision of the original bill, its damage lingers in Froerer's district
And yet Froerer voted for HB 477.
Senate President Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, is also a Realtor. I hope he'd never advise a client to buy a house without looking at the foundation and testing the pipes. Yet, he is now claiming he is sorry for how fast HB 477 sailed through under his guiding hand and is acting surprised its basement is full of rats.
Waddoups and the rest of the leadership engineered this scam because they hate public oversight, especially by news media.
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.
Gov. Gary Herbert was sanity's last hope. Presented with a contract to buy a house with a cracked foundation, leaking roof and code violations, he looked back on his own two decades as a real estate broker, pondered smiling assurances that the problems would be easy to fix and signed.
No wonder Forbes Magazine calls Utah the "No. 1 state in the nation to do business." These rubes will buy anything.
Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can call him at 801-625-4232 or e-mail email@example.com. He also blogs at www.standard.net.