SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah lawmakers will once again look to change Utah's public records law during the 2012 session but this time the work is being done in the open.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, has spent a good portion of his time during the session, and in weeks leading up to the session, meeting with stakeholders about GRAMA in an attempt to build a bill that updates Utah's government record law, but does not seek to alter the law to the extent House Bill 477 did in the 2011 session.
"We are working hard to have this be a consensus bill," he said.
The bill will be made available next week. Bramble wanted to make one thing clear with lawmakers and with the public about this bill though; he wants everyone to know this bill will not look to shield emails or text messages of legislators from the public.
"Text messages and email are subject to GRAMA today and it will continue that way under this bill," Bramble said. "We aren't amending the current provisions with text messages and email."
The bill does look to change the law to ensure the intent language and statute of the bill are consistent. In 2008, the Utah Supreme Court found that the Deseret News could receive records of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by a employee in the Salt Lake County clerk's office; it also pointed out a discrepancy in the intent language and the actual language of the bill. Since then, the intent language has been used to justify certain GRAMA requests. Bramble said his bill will look to align the statute with the ruling of the Supreme Court and the intent language.
The bill also calls for a public records ombudsman position to be created in the state government. The ombudsman would act as an intermediary between the state and those in the public requesting government records. The hope is to eliminate GRAMA requests taking up government staffers' time away from getting their other tasks completed.
Gov. Gary Herbert said he supports the idea of an ombudsman and said if the Legislature fails to create the position for an ombudsman that he would do so by executive order.
"I think having an ombudsman will help. We'll then have a facilitator as people make requests for the government records that we have up here," Herbert said. "I think they will have a traffic cop ability."
Bramble noted that he has worked with representatives from Utah's media coalition and attorneys that represent the various media outlets in crafting the new bill to ensure that the bill is met with approval by the media, a group that regularly uses GRAMA.
Utah's open records law came into the spotlight in the final weeks of the 2011 legislative session when Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, introduced H.B. 477. The bill looked to block emails and text messages from being subject to GRAMA requests. The bill passed the Legislature and Herbert signed it, but days after the session ended, Herbert called the Legislature back into session to repeal the law after public outcry demanded the bill be undone.
Under Herbert's direction the Legislature then created a working group that consisted of media members, lawmaker and public representatives to give suggestions to the legislature on how the 20-year-old open records law could be updated. Bramble said his bill will contain many of those suggestions.
Senate Bill 177, Government Records Access and Management Act Amendments
Sponsor: Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo
This bill would align the GRAMA statute language with the bill's legislative intent language, among other changes.