Twenty years ago, the state Legislature passed Utah's GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management Act). Its proper focus was government transparency and accountability, but it did not and could not anticipate our world of new media.
A public's right to have access to government records, processes and officials is the hallmark of a modern republic — and a principle I have consistently advocated. Not only have I responded to scores of GRAMA requests in my public career, I support this process as a private citizen. In fact, I care so much about the process in making policy because the right process yields the right outcomes.
During the recent legislative session, the public hearing process for HB477 did not meet the standard of openness and public dialog such legislation warranted. The bill passed after limited deliberation with veto-proof margins.
I considered a veto. Indeed, a veto would have had symbolic value. Yet the risk of HB477 becoming law immediately upon the Legislature's veto-override was too great. Instead, I asked legislative leadership to recall and amend the bill to provide three things: 1) a delayed implementation date, 2) a process for meaningful public and stakeholder input, whereby a replacement bill could be crafted, and 3) to reflect my commitment to call a special legislative session to repeal and replace HB477.
It is now clear to me that HB477, both in process and substance, has resulted in a loss of public confidence. The Utah State Legislature now has the opportunity to work with the media and the public to restore that confidence by forming a working group to create a replacement for HB477. This group should consist of legislators, new and traditional media representatives, and members of the general public.
I expect all stakeholders to engage as honest brokers in good faith — putting aside personal bias and cynicism — for deliberative, open discussion. The media has committed to finding the right outcome. The Legislature has committed to the same. I expect the public to engage and protect their rights.
Any modifications to GRAMA must meet three principles. First, they must protect the public's right to know, as transparent and accountable government is essential. Second, they must protect every individual's legitimate right to privacy. Third, they must protect taxpayers against the cost of overreaching "fishing expeditions."
Let me be clear: I will soon call the Legislature into special session. That was my commitment when I signed the bill, and it is my commitment now. I expect — and the people expect — that the Utah Legislature will repeal and replace HB477. This will assure that whatever the outcome for Utah's GRAMA, there will have been an open process for transparent and accountable government.
Gary Herbert, a Republican, is governor of Utah.
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