Utah passes bills to alter GRAMA


    By Nick Nelson

    ?Sunshine Week,? seven days dedicated to promoting the public?s right to access government information, began Sunday with the theme, ?Your Right to Know.?

    The weeklong observance grew from ?Sunshine Sunday,? a tradition started by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors to push for greater access in the state. The event generated editorials, viewpoints and editorial cartoons that advocated greater access to government records. About 300 exemptions to open government laws were struck down in the legislative sessions that followed the three Sunshine Sundays in Florida, the FSNE estimates.

    The 2005 legislative session in Utah saw two bills aimed at modifying the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA.

    A bill sponsored by Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, called for various technical changes to GRAMA that Walker said were intended to spare small communities from ?nuisance? requests for voluminous amounts of records.

    Walker said one case involved a man with a vendetta against Alta, a small town near Park City. She said the man requested a ?voluminous? amount of records from the town?s government to clog its operations. He subsequently sent his wife to request the same records, though in a slightly different format, Walker said.

    ?When Alta was unable to comply in what he thought was a timely way, he sued the town under GRAMA,? Walker said. ?This was not the intent of the GRAMA as it was originally created.?

    Walker she said she was careful in crafting the bill not to include language that would handicap the media in accessing government records.

    ?We wanted the media to feel comfortable with it so we gave them access to the original bill,? She said. ?They made minor changes, none of which negated the substance of the bill.?

    Another bill passed in the 2005 session, House Bill 75, calls for a task force of legislators to study GRAMA and to recommend possible changes before next year?s legislative session.

    The bill?s sponsor, Rep. Doug Aagard, R-Kaysville, said concerns ranging from nuisance requests to identity theft prompted him to sponsor the bill. He said the GRAMA task force will hear from all sides to come to a decision that is ?finely balanced.?

    ?We need to have the players at the table who are going to be affected by this to give their input,? he said. ?I don?t want to cut the press off to a legitimate need to obtain information. The press has got to know what government is doing; on the other hand, people have the right to privacy, too.?

    Aagard said one of the task force?s priorities will be to determine how GRAMA applies to digital media, such as e-mails and data stored by private companies for government agencies.

    He said the task force has been approved but its members have yet to be designated.

    ?Once that?s established,? he said, ?the press will be contacted. The intent is these players will have a forum where they can give their input.?

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