Utah House Republicans: Repeal HB477

Mar 21 2011 - 5:14pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah House Republicans decided Monday to support the repeal of a new open records law that exempts text messages from public scrutiny and increases the cost of records requests.

The Republicans changed their position less than a month after House Bill 477 was introduced because of steady public outcry, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said.

Since the end of the legislative session, more than a half-dozen Republicans who voted for the bill have said it should be repealed.

"We need to take one step back and help the public be more comfortable," Lockhart said.

Changes are still needed to address "21st century technology" such as text messaging, voice mails and emails, Lockhart said.

The law is effective July 1 unless a special session is called by Gov. Gary Herbert and legislators agree to the repeal.

A special session will happen soon, Herbert said in a statement.

Repealing the bill is necessary to restore "public confidence" in the state's elected officials, Herbert said.

Changes to the law should meet three principles, Herbert said, including protecting the public's right to know, preserving individual privacy and reducing costs for taxpayers.

A working group with members of the Legislature, government officials, citizen activists and representatives from traditional and new media outlets has been appointed to study the existing open records law. They will suggest revisions that the Legislature could consider later this year or during the 2012 legislative session.

The bill drew more criticism than any other bill this session after being passed by the Legislature and signed by Herbert in only a few days and with minimal public input.

Hundreds of people rallied against it during the final night of the session, and a citizen group is gathering signatures for a referendum on the measure. The group includes leaders from across the political spectrum, from Tea Party organizer David Kirkham to former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.

Senate Democrats said the bill was flawed and should have never passed. Instead, the issue of open records in an electronic era should be studied during the interim session, they said.


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