Arizona Republicans change legislative rules on preserving emails, texts

Jan 27, 2023, 1:00 PM

(Arizona Capitol Museum Photo)...

(Arizona Capitol Museum Photo)

(Arizona Capitol Museum Photo)

PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans in Arizona’s Legislature have voted along party lines to approve new rules that will allow state lawmakers to destroy emails after 90 days and delete text messages as quickly as they arrive.

Democrats have criticized the change, along with a new limit of 30 minutes per bill for debate time among lawmakers on the House floor. The new rules, which were passed Tuesday, say each lawmaker has up to three minutes to explain their vote.

Changing a rule bypasses the need to approve legislation that could be vetoed by new Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

The new rules will allow emails in a House or Senate member’s legislative account to be destroyed 90 days after they are sent or received, reported The Arizona Republic, which fought to obtain access to emails and text messages of legislators involved in a review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County. Calendars, text messages and “communications on online platforms” can be destroyed whenever a lawmaker decides they are no longer needed.

A public records watchdog criticized the rule change, saying the public has a right to know the content of elected lawmakers’ electronic communications.

“The House and the Senate are creating their own rules of operation,” said Gregg P. Leslie, executive director of the First Amendment Clinic at Arizona State University’s law school, “They are treating this as a done deal. It looks final for now.”

Leslie said it is unclear what kind of legal action could be taken against the move.

Republican House Speaker Ben Toma, who represents the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, told The Republic that the House and Senate have worked for months on new records rules that balance disclosure and privacy.

But Democratic Leader Andres Cano, representing Tucson, said the new rules ignore existing public records law.

Former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich in 2017 wrote an opinion saying that public officials’ text messages and social media posts are public records.

Arizona’s Public Records Law states that records must be preserved by “all officers and public bodies” and include all that are “reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate knowledge of their official activities and of any of their activities that are supported by monies from this state or any political subdivision of this state.”

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Arizona Republicans change legislative rules on preserving emails, texts