Legislature Attacks Utah’s Open Records Law

The Utah Legislature is fast-tracking a bill that would reduce transparency in government by restricting Uthan’s access to some government records.

Introduced with just a little more than a week left in the session, HB477 (Government Records Amendments, Rep John Dougall, R-American Fork) would limit information available under the Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA), which spells out the public’s right to view official records ranging from court files to official communications to public salaries. The bill makes a number of changes opponents say will limit the public’s ability to track government records and hold elected officials accountable.

It is scary to see the speed at which this bill is flying through the legislative process. HB477 unanimously sailed through committee Wednesday, then passed the House by a vote of 61 to 12 – less than a day after its first hearing. It is now on its first reading in the Senate. If you want to protect your access to government records, NOW is the time to contact your senator and tell him or her to vote NO on HB477.

HB477 would:

  • Stipulate that the Legislature be exempted from GRAMA and allowed to draft a different set rules for itself.
  • Exempt legislators’ text messages, voice mails and video chats from GRAMA.
  • Government agencies would have the option of charging fees to anyone wanting to view a record (currently, fees can only be charged for copying records, not simply making them available for public review).
  • Tighter restrictions on the release of police reports.
  • Shielding financial data on proposed legislation until the legislation is passed.
  • Shield various records, including communications regarding a legislator’s performance.

The Spectrum spoke to Jeff Hunt, an attorney for Utah news outlets who helped craft the state’s GRAMA in 1992.  Hunt called the speed of HB477’s progress “alarming.”

“This bill is 60 pages long, with 1,800 lines of text,” Hunt said. “It’s not a minor tweak of the statute. It’s a significant re-writing of the statute that would cripple it.”

Limiting transparency and the public scrutiny of government limits the public’s ability to examine our own government and hold our government accountable. Please let your legislators know your opinion on this vital issue.

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3 Responses to Legislature Attacks Utah’s Open Records Law

  1. Dave Duncan says:

    Wow. This has to be stopped. Email your senator now. Email your representative and reprimand him/her for passing it (almost all Republicans voted for it in the house).

    We need more openness and accountability in our elected officials. As our representatives, they should not be able to hide all of their communications. Current laws already protect sensitive conversations. This is unnecessary, and reduces accountability.

    Did our elected officials really read this bill’s 1600 pages in the two days from the publishing of this bill to the third and final vote in the house??

  2. Diane says:

    This has the potential to be one of the most controversial bills of this session. It should have been introduced earlier and looked at much more carefully. Whatever happened to transparency? I just emailed all the senators from Utah County. Boo to HB 477.

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