SALT LAKE CITY -- Legislators have approved changes to the law covering access to government records in what some call record time.
House Bill 477, sponsored by Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, was approved, 21-7, by the Senate following almost an hour of debate Friday.
Changes to the Government Records Access Management Act include:
- exempting electronic communication, such as text messages, e-mails and video chats, as a public record;
- allowing government entities to charge fees and costs for GRAMA requests, including "costs of overhead and administration;"
- allowing government entities longer periods of time to respond to GRAMA requests; and
- opting out the Legislature in several areas.
The bill will become law immediately if Gov. Gary Herbert signs it. If he doesn't sign the bill, it will become law within two months after the session ends because it was approved by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.
"This bill has had two public hearings," Hillyard said. "Our rules say bills need to have only one public hearing."
Ally Isom, deputy chief of staff and spokeswoman for the governor, said Herbert has not taken a position on the bill, but "he is a little uncomfortable with the speed it has navigated the process."
Herbert will read the bill over the weekend, Isom said.
Sen. Benjamin McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, said he never thought he would agree on an issue with Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, but during the Senate debate, he said, "I agree with Senator Buttars."
Both voted against the bill, saying the process was too fast for a bill that makes the type of changes it does.
Bill supporters said GRAMA changes have been discussed for the past three years and it's not unusual for a bill to appear near the end of the session.
The bill was introduced in a House committee Wednesday night. On Thursday, it passed on the House floor. At 3 p.m. Friday, the Senate Rules Committee met to hear testimony on the bill and approved it, 5-2.
The Senate then suspended its rules and placed the bill first on its third calendar right after the committee meeting.
Layton resident Lorna Rosenstein, a clean-water advocate, said the bill concerns her because city, county and state agencies can choose to ignore requests for government documents.
Rosenstein has filed GRAMA requests for the past 10 years with various agencies to learn more about fluoride in the public water systems.
She said if it weren't for the current law, she would never have found out about meetings that had taken place that had no minutes.
Sen. President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said earlier in the day that lawmakers wanted to get the bill voted on so they could focus on other issues over the weekend.
Hillyard said the bill came up because lawmakers had received a number of GRAMA requests since the start of the session that "amounted to fishing expeditions."
Lawmakers have had to trim budgets and cut their staff, so the GRAMA requests are causing backlogs in the legislative process, Hillyard said.
Lawmakers said the change is necessary because methods of communication have changed since GRAMA became law in 1992.
Senate leaders said an interim committee will study the GRAMA law this summer and, if the bill has moved too far the other direction, a bill will be introduced next session to fix any problems.