In our opinion: Gov. Herbert's welcome influence

Published: Tuesday, March 8 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah Governor Gary Herbert's influence led state lawmakers to recall a bill that would have limited access to state records.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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Thank you Gov. Gary Herbert for reminding us that one of the great values of our legislative process is deliberation.

On Monday, Herbert urged legislators to recall HB477, a hastily passed bill that would significantly alter Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) — the act that governs how the public gets access to government records.

HB477, introduced by Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, passed in just over two days. Although the public testimony overwhelmingly opposed the bill, it passed the House and Senate by more than two-thirds margins.

Herbert — unlike the legislators who voted so quickly on the bill — had the benefit of listening to the significant concerns of constituents.

Consequently, Herbert recognized that haste is not a virtue when altering something as important as how to ensure transparency and accountability in state government.

On a motion from Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, the Utah Senate recalled HB477, a rarely invoked procedure.

This will, however, not be the last word on this bill. HB477 first passed by wide enough margins to suggest that the Legislature has significant concerns about GRAMA.

The two issues that seem most salient for discussion are how to address technological change and how to cover the costs of compliance.

Although GRAMA was prescient in its scope when drafted and passed in 1991, over the last 20 years technology has significantly altered how individuals communicate. Getting greater clarity on what constitutes a record in a digital environment seems worthwhile.

Undoubtedly, compliance with GRAMA costs precious time and money. It hasn't helped that some parties have used the provisions excessively. Clarifying how to cover the costs of compliance with GRAMA requests may also merit deliberation.

But the current law's strong presumption in favor of transparency, openness and accountability from those who have been entrusted by the public to do their business needs no clarification or amendment. That presumption is the bedrock on which any meaningful access to records law must rest.

Herbert is creating for himself a legacy of listening carefully to the state-wide constituency that he represents, recognizing when there is dissonance over important issues and then bringing together stakeholders on the issue. He has been deft at facilitating open, accessible and transparent dialogue. In doing so, he is helping to create broad based solutions to what had sometimes looked like intractable problems.

By successfully urging the Legislature to reconsider its expedited approach to amending GRAMA, Herbert will have an opportunity to further burnish this legacy, this time on the fundamental principles of government transparency, accountability and trust.

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