Two years ago, a quickly passed bill that weakened Utah’s open records law led to massive protests and front-page opposition editorials that pressured legislators into repealing the legislation. A much friendlier scene occurred Monday.
News media and legislators joined hands to advance a bill that both say will increase transparency and reduce costs of open records requests as SB94 passed 7-0 in the Senate Business and Labor Committee.
Its sponsor, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said it will allow lawmakers, if they choose, to put selected emails that they send or receive onto a public website. The bill would also clearly make public the signatures on petitions to put referendums or initiatives on ballots.
Bramble said the new bill was prompted by a battle waged by Democrats last year seeking legislators’ emails about redistricting, through a Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) request.
Bramble noted lawmakers had to print out any emails and attachments that possibly mentioned the topic — which led to high costs for Democrats, and duplication of many identical emails among members.
He said most emails had little to do with redistricting — and providing stacks of them led to assertions that lawmakers were trying to run up the cost for the request. He said costs could have been reduced if members simply had been able to forward many of their emails that clearly needed no administrative review to a public website.
"It’s important that we continue our march to more openness and transparency," Bramble said.
Linda Petersen, managing editor of the Valley Journals newspapers, representing the Utah Media Coalition, said the "bill definitely furthers transparency by our government." She said the cost of the current practice of printing out emails and attachments for review and release "can really be prohibitive," and the change could help lower costs.
She also said she supported disclosing to the public who signed petitions for referendums because "if we as a citizenry are going to make law, we need to put our stamp on it and publicly put our name" on it.
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