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Cap Times: Az legislators stonewall on releasing text messages

Arizona lawmakers are improperly redacting, delaying and denying the release of text messages they've used to conduct legislative business, in violation of state public records laws, the Arizona Capitol Times reported after a four-month investigation.

From the Phoenix political publication's report by Rachel Leingang and Hank Stephenson:

Under the state public records laws, we requested electronic messages sent among top state elected officials of both parties and their top staff. The request covered only communications about state business, and only during a period of about a month, from when lawmakers debated and approved the state budget to the close of the 2015 regular legislative session.

As it turned out, lawmakers use text messages and third-party messengers to talk to each other about state business all the time.

But getting access to those messages, which most experts and public officials agree are covered under the state public records laws, can be extremely difficult.

It took the Capitol Times months of relentless reminders to get ahold of even the most trivial of those texts – such as a message revealing that Republican Rep. Justin Olson likely ate a turkey sandwich for lunch on March 3.

Legislative Democrats and the Governor’s Office have largely provided the records, with some exceptions and many redactions.

But after four months, House Republican leadership has only provided a fraction of the requested messages, and only after dozens of follow-up emails, many phone calls and discussions of legal action.

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And Senate President Andy Biggs has rejected the request altogether.

The Cap Times reported that “The Republican leadership in the Senate is, frankly, just daring you to sue them,” according to First Amendment attorney Dan Barr.

“If they’re dragging their heels, they’re breaking the law,” said David Cuillier, director of the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona and a public records law expert. “Our lawmakers are breaking the law, which is ironic.”

Read the entire in-depth report: Stonewalled: Legislature redacts, delays and denies access to messages

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courtesy Arizona Capitol Times

One set of records, from the House Republicans, included photos of a cracked phone screen.