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Media should ignore ‘work product’

Two bills being considered by the Wyoming Legislature that would prevent public access to government e-mail received unanimous endorsement from the Senate Rules Committee. One bill involves exemption of draft legislation and communications between lawmakers and their constituents from public release under the Wyoming’s public record statutes, it also intends to exempt communications between lawmakers and legislative staff workers who draft legislation. The other bill is a measure that would allow legislators, and other government employees to delete nonessential e-mails. The legislation also specifies communications between legislators; state contractors and constituents would not be subject to release to the public.

The director of the Legislative Service Office Dan Pauli pointed out: “More than 30 other states already specify that communications between lawmakers and their staffs are confidential.” As well they should be, the crafting of policy is an exercise of construction, often requiring many re-dos by the constructors.

Jim Angell, director of the Wyoming Press Association has criticized both pieces of legislation. He has argued e-mails should be the same as other public records are. Jim Angell as a representative for the press shares the belief of many in the press that the public has a right to know anything and everything about public figures. The recent egocentric outrage of the Whitehouse press corps is the most recent example. In a December Jackson Hole News and Guide editorial “Secrecy bills bad for state” JHN&G states: in a democracy all correspondence should be public.

Legislative Service Office lawyer Dave Gruver said: “The office believes that lawmakers already have the right to keep their draft legislation and communications secret under common law.”

Senator E. Jayne Mockler, D-Cheyenne, said: “Reporting what she's considering too early in the legislative process will feed ammunition to political opponents.” She went on: "We're trying to maintain privacy with our constituents, not secrecy." On point one Mockler rightly believes legislators shouldn’t be judged on what is known a “Work Product” (a work in progress), as by definition it is neither ready for analysis nor finished. On point two I would argue that privacy is secrecy and this is splitting the hairs of our lexicon but privacy is valued and secrecy is feared therefore still a valid point.

Marguerite Herman of the League of Women Voters says: "If things are being drafted in my name, as a constituent, I'd like to know about it myself." Marguerite Herman and every other constituent in the USA has elected someone to represent them, is it fair of us to backseat drive as legislators craft policy?

Committee chair, Senate President Grant Larson’s presented a cogent hypothetical example saying: “that some headline writer who's nothing but a snake-oil salesman, is likely to write that Larson supports whatever measures are spelled out in draft legislation Larson has requested even if he actually doesn't. Larson said any later effort to correct the record in the press would certainly be buried in the back pages.” His cautionary hypothetical is well founded by hundreds of years of this practice by the press.

The Equality State Policy Center’s Dan Neal questioned what legislators are trying to hide in specifying that draft legislation remain confidential unless a lawmaker releases it. If I were a legislator I would respond to Mr. Neal that I am hiding half-baked ideas that need the bugs worked out of them because embarrassingly not all of my ideas are prefect right out of the gate and consequently need consultation and refinement before I want anyone to judge me by them.

Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, responded that until a bill is hammered into its final form, "it isn't diddly squat." Senator Schiffer’s less than eloquent but poignant statement is dead on point.

It is believed by most legislators that e-mail now has taken on the role that telephone calls have historically played. Grant Larson R-Jackson said: he doesn't believe that people want “everyone to be wiretapped, or have their phone calls monitored, if you will." Did Mr. Larson mistakenly believed the recent wiretapping faux outrage by the media?

Gov. Dave Freudenthal has said he opposes legislation to allow government deletion of nonessential e-mails.

What a nit picking world we have created where we feel the need to read the mail of others, shame on us for depriving our representatives of the simple joy’s of funny but politically incorrect correspondence among friends, shame on us for adding one more layer intrusive bull hockey on those that do our bidding.

“Work Product” and many of the vehicles like e-mails; phone conversations, private meetings, and expert consultation that bring “Work Product” to legislative fruition should remain in the dominion of the creator until the creator announces completion of a wholly formed idea.

If we think that our legislators are so untrustworthy that we need to read their correspondence we better bug their offices as well but such reasoning undercuts the principles of democracy and will further undermine a citizens will to serve his increasingly hostile fellow man.