Two local lawmakers to help deal with GRAMA changes

Mar 21 2011 - 11:37pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Two local lawmakers have been assigned to the working group that will deal with changes to the Government Records Access Management Act.

The group meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

On Friday, lawmakers will convene at noon to repeal HB 477, the controversial bill that does not go into effect until July. The bill exempts text messages from public scrutiny and increases the cost of records requests.

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who is one of eight lawmakers who will serve on the working group, said the special session will cost taxpayers $30,000.

The working group is charged with bringing Utah's open records law into the 21st century, according to a news release. Also assigned to the working group are members from the governor's office, attorney general's office, the community and the media.

Adams said if lawmakers waited until May when they are scheduled to convene for an interim session to deal with HB 477, it would have saved the state $30,000.

"But if the governor calls a special session, he's going to be criticized, and if he doesn't, he's going to be criticized," Adams said. "I don't know what pressure has come down on him."

A news release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah earlier Monday announced it planned to go forward with a lawsuit concerning HB 477, "unless immediate assurances are given that HB 477 will be repealed as soon as possible."

House Republicans changed their position on HB 477 on Monday, following a meeting that lasted more than three hours. Since the end of the legislative session, more than six Republicans who voted for the bill have said it should be repealed.

Adams said, "Everyone is in agreement; GRAMA needs to be changed or repealed," but what the exact changes will be are uncertain.

Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, has also been assigned to the working group.

He said the discussions in the closed House Republican caucus meeting Monday morning were good and the direction lawmakers are going "is the only course we can go."

He said the public needs the opportunity to discuss changes in "an open and rational process" before any changes are made to the 20-year-old open records law.

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, attended the Republican caucus. He said he still believes HB 477 was "correct" but understands why the bill should be repealed, so the public has time to give input.

Majority Leader Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said the working group will be able to look at what needs to be private and what should be public.

"There's a lot of passion (concerning HB 477)," Dee said.

"I don't think anyone is disagreeing that the public has the right to know," Dee said.

Majority Assistant Whip Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, said repealing HB 477 is the right thing to do because of the "public's perception" of how the bill went through the legislative process.

But even once the bill is repealed, Menlove said, lawmakers need to continue to work on changing the open records law to protect what should be private, such as constituents' e-mail.

"I hope the public understands how serious the problems are and will help us find solutions," Menlove said.

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