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Repeal of HB477 isn't a given in special session

Published March 22, 2011 9:03 pm

Special session • Even with all Senate Democrats onboard, GOP opposition leaves outcome in doubt.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Several Republican senators are backing a push to quickly repeal a rushed bill to restrict public access to government records. But opposition from Senate leaders and other colleagues leaves the outcome of Friday's vote in doubt.

"I would like to see us repeal [HB477] on Friday," said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem. "There's just got to be a place where you can have a rational discussion, and I'm just not convinced you can in this kind of environment."

Gov. Gary Herbert issued a call for a special session on Friday designed solely to repeal HB477, the revisions to Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) that have sparked public outcry, rallies and a referendum effort aimed at repealing the measure.

But Senate leaders aren't pleased with the governor's decision to call for the quick repeal and are frustrated they weren't consulted.

"The governor hasn't talked to us. He didn't call, other than to say he was going to call the session. I haven't seen a bill yet, so I don't even know what's in it," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City. "It's strange, the way this happened. … They're not coordinating anything here at all. … Man alive, it's kind of beyond me."

A majority of House Republicans, following a closed-door caucus Monday, said they would support a quick repeal. But Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said his caucus favors a slower, more deliberate process to come up with compromise legislation that would immediately replace HB477 if and when it is repealed.

Opposition to immediate repeal, which Jenkins said is shared by other Republican senators, and the anticipated absence of at least three members makes it uncertain that the Senate will get the 15 votes needed to repeal the bill, even with all seven Democrats backing the action.

Senate Republicans are planning to meet in a closed-door caucus beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, with the special session scheduled to begin at noon.

Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said the chips will fall where they may, but added it would be a mischaracterization to suggest there were no discussions with legislative leaders before the governor called the special session.

"We're not going to speculate on what actions the Senate will take," she said. "The governor has done as he committed, and that is to call them into special session."

Valentine said there are real issues with GRAMA, but he fears the legislation that was passed went too far in some areas. He said he will sponsor the bill to repeal HB477 if he is asked.

Another GOP senator on board for repeal is Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful.

"HB477 is not the starting point for the discussion on changes to GRAMA, and I'm in favor of repeal on Friday," Liljenquist said.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, also supports repealing HB477, but he is baffled by the timing of the special session.

The governor struck a deal with lawmakers to delay the implementation of the bill until July 1 and, in the meantime, create a working group to discuss potential changes to GRAMA — a panel that includes Urquhart.

"I think we clearly have to repeal," Urquhart said. "My preference would be to repeal and replace [with a new bill]. We're going to have this working group, [the bill] doesn't take effect for three months. So, for me, I can't understand what the governor is doing."

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, shares that sentiment. He said calling the special session for Friday will cost taxpayers about $30,000 in tight budget times and that the issue could have waited.

"Why are we rushing to do a repeal?" asked Hillyard, who was the Senate sponsor of HB477. "My initial inclination is I would not vote to repeal it immediately."

Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said Democrats all back a repeal.

"By and large, we opposed [HB477] and didn't like the process and didn't like the result, so repeal seems appropriate, particularly in light of the concern from the public and the understanding there is going to be a study of the issue," Romero said.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, who was the only Senate Democrat to back HB477, said he voted for it with a promise from GOP leaders to study the issue.

"If it takes the pressure off everyone to do it without the law in place, then so be it. Let's go for it," Davis said. GRAMA advisory groupto hold its first meeting

A 25-member group of lawmakers, citizens and media representatives will hold its initial meeting Wednesday to begin discussing revisions to Utah's open-records law, the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

The so-called working group was formed in the wake of public furor over the Legislature's rapid passage of HB477, which restricts access to some government records. The group will meet at 9 a.m. in Room 210 of the Senate Building, the east office building behind the state Capitol. The session is open to the public and will be streamed live on the unofficial Senate website, senatesite.com.

Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie is the chairman of the group.