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Utah bill to lower costs for records requests stalls

Published February 4, 2014 3:47 pm

GRAMA • Cities block change to make them cover more of the initial tab.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Opposition from cities stalled a bill Tuesday that would require local governments to cover the first $1,000 in costs for records requests whenever they are ruled to be primarily in the public interest.

The House Political Subdivisions Committee declined to vote on HB242 by Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, to give him time to try to work out a compromise and bring it back.

King argued that state and local governments now often refuse to waive fees to release documents that clearly are in the public interest and use high fees as an obstacle to prevent release of documents.

But Lincoln Shurtz, legislative director for the League of Cities and Towns, said many smaller cities worry that forcing them to cover the costs of the first $1,000 for requests the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) could devastate their budgets.

"Reasonable fees lead to reasonable requests," said Ogden City Attorney Gary Williams, adding that some cranks request huge amounts of records on fishing expeditions, and it could worsen if they do not need to worry about costs.

Ken Cromar, with Cedar Hills Citizens for Responsible Government, said his group is sometimes considered such a crank organization, but noted it helped uncover problems that led to defeat or even charges against some local officials. He said the city is trying currently to charge his group $900 to see emails among officials and sees that tab as an attempt to prevent release of public information.

"Journalists and sometimes citizens alike are being priced out of the ability to check on government," said Sheryl Worsley, president of the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

King originally proposed requiring governments to provide for free documents whose release is in the public interest, but offered the $1,000 cap as a compromise. He said he will seek further compromise, including perhaps a smaller cap and preventing people from splitting requests to lower costs.