watchers holding their breath as open records bills
head toward a vote
By Marie MacKay
February 24, 2006 | Imagine having only one
phone number available to the public to contact
the hundreds of faculty members at Utah State
That could be one of many changes to Utah's
open records that may occur in just five days,
when legislators make their final decisions on
several bills amending the Government Records
Access Management Act (GRAMA), officials say.
"I think we'd be safe to say that we felt the
state's open records law was under siege this
session," said Joel Campbell, legislative monitor
for the Utah Press Association.
"We hope we've worked out some agreements with
some legislators that some of these bills will
not come forward."
But Rep. Fred Hunsaker, who was a member of
the GRAMA task force that created these pieces
of legislation this summer, said people needs
to research the bills and form their own opinions.
"Don't just rely on somebody else's interpretation,"
he said. "I think there can be a lot of misinterpretation."
One of the bills that many lobbyists and newspaper
outlets are concerned about is HB 258.
It began when a Salt Lake Tribune reporter
requested a list of the lawmakers' phone numbers.
issues before the Legislature
H.B. 258: (substitute bill approved by both Houses,
signed by Huntsman) Limits closed access to mobile
communications and allows government agencies
to identify only one single number for all their
HB 12: (passed House and Senate Committee and
pending on Senate floor) Would make secret all
communications between any elected official and
any other person
HB 281: (passed Committee but is stuck in House
Rules Committee) Closes access to a minor's name,
age, address, phone number or Social Security
SB 77: (held in Committee) Closes access to
government inspection records unless a business
was fined or sanctioned.
SB 190: (passed the Senate and a House Committee
and pending now on the House floor) Involves shared
records and requires the originating agency that
has classified a record as non-public (rather
than the agency with whom the record has been
shared) to defend and bear the costs of any GRAMA
appeals of that determination. Substitute HB 28
(passed House and a Senate Committee and pending
Senate floor) Protects Utahns' home addresses
and phone numbers and cell phone numbers if the
information is required on government records.
SB 15 (passed Senate and a House Committee,
pending now in House Rules Committee) Required
all records request denial appeals to be heard
by the State Records Committee unless both the
government records manager and the requester agree
to go to court. Allows records manager to direct
request for records to already-existing publications.
SB 110 (withdrawn) Closes access to judge addresses
and voting information.
Source: Mike O'Brien, attorney for the Utah
In response, the Legislature passed a bill that not
only puts the lawmaker's "Blackberry" numbers off limits,
but could allow government entities to make public only
one phone number, address and e-mail address for an
entire agency, school or city government, Campbell said.
"It's like attacking a mosquito with an atomic bomb,"
"[The bill] has unattended consequences where they're
trying to fix a problem and went too far."
However, Hunsaker said when GRAMA was first passed
in the early '90s, certain forms of communication, such
as e-mail, were not a big issue. The question was how
to handle e-mail when the majority of written contact
between the government and public was by e-mail. The
bill was passed and signed into law by Huntsman in addition
to another substitute bill, HB 188, limits closed access
solely to mobile communication. But HB 188 still will
not solve the problem of allowing government agencies
to identify only one single number for all their employees,
said Mike O'Brien, attorney for the Utah Media Coalition.
Another bill that is causing concern is HB12, sponsored
by Rep. Douglas Aagard, R-Kaysville, which would make
secret all communications between any elected official
and any other person.
"This completely reverses the way it has been under
GRAMA during the past 15 years," said . "We think that's
a terrible closure of what's a very vital part of government."
If the bill is passed, the worst case scenario resulting
from the change would be for example, a waste contractor
having secret negotiations with a government elected
official, O'Brien said.
"There's a way in GRAMA to protect privacy without
taking this sweeping secrecy," he said.
The bill is pending on the Senate floor and members
of the coalition are working with Senate President John
Valentine and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to fight the issue.
Since the coalition became involved, many of the members'
concerns have been resolved, but despite all their work,
they won't know if it paid off until March 2, O'Brien
said. "It's hard to get the average citizen upset about
these issues," he said.
"[The passing of all these bills] would have amounted
to death by a thousand cuts; that's why the media took
the issue so seriously." In the beginning when the bills
were being drafted, Hunsaker said many members of the
task force wondered why they were making these changes
in the first place.
"I think one of the first hurdles was to learn what
was working and what wasn't," Hunsaker said. During
the several months it took to decide on the proposed
changes, more than a hundred people testified before
the task force that something needed to be done.
"In the final analysis, it wasn't a partisan issue,
all the Democrats and Republicans supported the bills
equally," Hunsaker said. "I'm not sure just how it will
turn out but I'm not unhappy about the amendments."