A subcommittee looking at how to handle the stickiest issues related to Utah's open records act including public officials' privacy, constituent e-mail and whether text messages are records will have to meet a third time to try to reach consensus on any recommendations.
The statutory definitions subcommittee spent 2Â½ hours Tuesday in a circular discussion that revisited many of the concerns lawmakers first raised when they passed and then repealed controversial changes to Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act.
Jeff Hunt, an attorney who often represents the media in records disputes, proposed adding language to the statute clarifying that e-mails, text messages, instant messages and other forms of electronic communication that are retained and reproducible are records. The content of those records would determine whether they were public, private or protected, he said.
Hunt also proposed a revision amplifying language in the law that protects lawmakers' private communications and notes made for personal use from disclosure.
But Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, suggested the best option may be to leave the statute silent on text messages for now. At present, such communications are covered under "electronic data" and are considered records only if they can be reproduced, a capability that varies depending on the cell phone used.
"I don't think there is any appetite on the part of lawmakers to revisit text messages," Bramble said.
Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, reiterated his concerns that the records act does not do enough to protect e-mail communication between constituents and lawmakers.
Other working group members have suggested the state adopt a notification system to alert people that e-mails are public records, but Adams said he fears such notices will only chill interest in sending a written communication to a public official and might even be viewed as interfering in the constitutional right to free speech.
"Some [people] feel very passionately that when they communicate with me it shouldn't be a public record," Adams said. Some of those same people, however, want e-mails from lobbyists to remain public.
Randy Wright, editor of The Daily Herald, said his newspaper is among media that have sought access to e-mails sent to public officials and entities to gauge public sentiment about hot button issues in TheHerald's case, e-mails sent to Utah Valley University after it invited documentary filmmaker Michael Moore to speak on campus.
"It was a fair and important way to see what the public mood was," said Wright, who argued that the public should "get used to the idea of being part of, and in the mix" of the governmental process.
The group also discussed a request from the Utah Attorney General's Office that it consider limiting or prohibiting use of GRAMA to get around rules such as deadlines governing litigation. But subcommittee members said that problem would be better addressed by the judicial council, which sets rules for court actions.
P The GRAMA Working Group has canceled a June 8 meeting to allow more time for the statutory-definitions subcommittee to finish its work.
The subcommittee will meet at 9 a.m. June 16 in the Senate Rules Room at the Capitol.
The working group will meet again on at 9 a.m. June 22 in Room 210 of the Senate Office Building.