Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#GRAMA and New Media: A (Too) Simple Solution?

One of the challenges for the GRAMA working group has been how to handle "new media" like Facebook and Twitter in the confines and principles of a sound open records law.

Using Facebook as the central point for understanding the question, here are some examples of the challenges that I think illustrate both the complexity of new media, as well as the (possibly) obvious simple solutions that don't take the teeth out of transparency policies.

  • Interactive posting.
  • Archival process.
  • Private messaging options.
Interactive posting. Most Utah lawmaker and city pages are interactive (i.e. anyone can comment or post to the page wall, not just the page owner). Are all comments and even wall posts from the public considered a record?  A simple solution would be to disable the interactivity, but does that defeat the purpose of elected officials and government agencies using Facebook in the first place? 

Archival process.  For the most part, archiving is not up to the state of Utah, or any governing body.  Even if Facebook functioned in a way today (it doesn't) that made automated archiving possible, that could change tomorrow, and those decisions will be made by Facebook with business factors in mind, not government transparency concerns.  It wouldn't be much to ask that -- on a regular basis -- cities, lawmakers, and agencies simply cut an paste wall/comment content into an email for archiving, but what about private messages and Facebook chats, which aren't logged by Facebook indefinitely?

Private messaging.  Direct messages on Twitter, one-to-one Facebook messages, and chats, again, could easily be manually archived, but that process would be widely unreliable, and is, again, dependent on what these third party companies decide to do going forward.  We could develop an intricate procedure today, and next week, Twitter could make a change that renders any automated state process unusable.  An obvious solution here would be a "best practices" policy (i.e. "Hey Senator... Don't private message"), but checks would be "on your honor," so not much different than the situation now, without addressing new media specifically within the GRAMA law itself.

With these three challenges in mind what is the solution?  Considering that any constraints must also be weighed against discouraging agencies and lawmakers from using new media entirely -- something I believe would be a detriment to access in exchange for no significant guarantee of transparency -- how does Utah embrace new communication and interactive tools and still ensure a valuable level of public confidence in a transparent process?

What if the solution is as simple as accepting that when it comes to new media, no open records law -- no matter how aggressive -- is going to ensure everything is on record?  The law could simply require agencies and elected officials to use a dedicated, already archived and recorded email address (.gov) as the contact on any Facebook or Twitter account activity, which would give you an automated record of at least one side of the conversations, and organizations from the legislature to city offices could institute a "best practices" training for officials on a regular basis.  Maybe even throw in a "disclaimer" of sorts that reads: "Anything you do on Facebook or Twitter is fair game.  Anything retrieved by the media/public isn't protected as private under this law"?

In short, new media will always offer an option for private, undocumented exchanges (I have 11 apps on my phone that would allow me to do that right now).  Is it worth banning the use of such media for lawmakers to do away with the risk?  I say no.

But there are simple steps that can be taken to keep their use as transparent as possible, without taking new media completely off the table as either completely private, or completely unused by state government.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hand Over Your Medicare, or the Government Gets It!

Crossposted at MyDD.

As both parties have fingers in the wind for a sign of who might own a potential shutdown, I can't think of anything more tone deaf than releasing, simultaneously, a budget proposal phasing out Medicare, and shifting the marginal tax rate burden further onto the middle class.

But that's just what Republicans have done.  Ed Kilgore:

So TV viewers tonight are going to see Republicans ecstatic about Ryan's radical budget and Tea Partiers--despite the tips-from-the-coach offered by Bachmann--chanting for a government shutdown. Sure, most rank-and-file Republicans will see nothing wrong with this scenario, but elsewhere, the public is likely to deduce that the "savings" congressional GOPers are demanding are about something more fundamental than subsidies for Big Bird or the exact level of cuts.
Ryan's proposal got the go ahead from leadership because it was red meat for the teabaggers.  I'd bet they thought, just like in Ryan's first whack at screwing the middle class via "serious proposal" a year ago, they could stir up the Randian base, and wave it off in front of saner voters as just a discussion of ideas, a pondering of options, a party searching for it's identity.

But by wasting their first few months as a governing majority with a predictable attack on NPR funding, anti-choice posturing, and training the freshmen not to sound like secessionists on CNN, they've staved off any real discussion around policy withing their own ranks.  And when they finally have it, they ensure that the "budget" showdown and Rep. Paul Ryan's "budget" proposal get simultaneous headlines, and connection in the public mind as one "budget" fight.

As in: We'll shut this whole thing down -- closing your parks, furloughing public workers, and delaying tax return checks -- unless you hand over your Medicare!

This genius strategy had every Democrat within sprinting distance of a microphone or camera rushing to comment in a rare display of messaging control.

Considering the buyers' remorse already hanging over Republican governors settling in in the midwest, and most of the freshmen Republicans campaigning in 2010 on defending Medicare against Obama's health care reform, I don't see how they reel this albatross back in.

Welcome to the 2012 campaign, folks.  Entertainment provided by John Boehner's House.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Redistricting Committee Announced

April 6, 2011


SALT LAKE CITY -- Today, the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate announced the makeup of Utah's Redistricting Committee.

House members on the committee will include:

* Chairman Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork
* Rep. Curt Webb, R-Logan
* Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville
* Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville
* Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City
* Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City
* Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy
* Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan
* Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville
* Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo
* Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Spanish Fork
* Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price
* Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George

Senate members on the committee will include:

* Chairman Senator Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe
* Senator Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City
* Senator Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City
* Senator Stuart Reid, R-Ogden
* Senator Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal
* President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville

The committee will start work this month. They will draw maps and host a series of public hearings statewide in the months that follow. We anticipate that the Governor will call a special session in late summer or fall to allow the full Legislature to consider the new state maps.

The redistricting committee will draw boundaries for the State Board of Education, Utah House of Representatives, Utah State Senate, and the Utah congressional delegation, which now includes -- 10 years late -- our fourth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the last decade, Utah's population grew from 2,233,169 to 2,763,885. In 2001 the ideal population of a Utah House District was 29,776 (total population divided by 75). The ideal population of a senate district was 77,006 (total population divided by 29). To adhere to the principle of equal representation, and given the new population numbers, the boundaries now need to be adjusted so house districts include 36,852 people and senate districts include 95,306.

The public is encouraged to get involved in the process by participating in public hearings and using online technology - soon to be accessible on the legislative website - that wasn't widely available a decade ago. Interested citizens will be able to listen in, work on their own map proposals, and track the progress of the committee's work at www.le.utah.gov.

# # #


1. You can see the exact numbers by which each Utah House and Senate district needs to expand or contract in the PDF files, attached.

2. You can find information on the RFP for an Internet Based Redistricting Solution here: http://le.utah.gov/lrgc/rfp.internetbasedredistricting.html

3. A plethora of information from the 2001 redistricting process is archived here:

4. Senate Leadership discussed redistricting with the press in late February. Listen to the audio clips here: http://www.senatesite.com/home/redistricting/

5. The State Board of Education recently posted redistricting info here: http://utahpubliceducation.org/2011/03/23/redistricting-will-redraw-utah-state-board-of-education-districts/


Joe Pyrah
Chief Deputy of the House

Ric Cantrell
Chief Deputy of the Senate