Both Republican-led chambers of the Arizona Legislature voted last week to prevent the state’s open-records law from applying to them, NBC News reported.
The legislators also changed their internal rules to block access to emails and, in the case of the Arizona House, allow immediate deletion of text messages.
Both chambers authorized destruction of all emails received by legislators and staffs after 90 days. The House added the ability to destroy texts and legislative calendars “after reference value has been served.” The Senate also exempted texts on “non-governmental devices,” which means senators can use personal mobile phones without worrying about disclosure.
The rule changes on the handling of public records were adopted along party lines, and because they are rules and not laws, do not require approval of Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. Legislators reportedly leveraged a loophole in state law created by a recent Arizona Supreme Court decision that said the courts can’t enforce the state’s open-meetings law with the Legislature.
Majority leaders said the move was made to protect privacy. Democrats and watchdog groups quickly attacked the measure as an effort to shield activities from public scrutiny, noting that many of the investigations into how some Arizona legislators tried to overturn the state results of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election wouldn’t have been possible without access to such records.
Thousands of such records were recently released, detailing extensive efforts to undermine Biden’s victory in Arizona. That included the failed use of the firm “Cyber Ninjas” to audit and discredit the 2020 results.
Arizona isn’t unique. Many state legislatures around the country have carved out exceptions to the open records and open meetings laws in their states that apply to everyone else or simply agreed that the state laws don’t apply to them.