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Senate passes bill blocking public access to many government records

Published: Saturday, March 5 2011 12:48 a.m. MST

"It's not fair to try to embarrass someone because they had a discussion with a family member that was not necessarily related to government business," Waddoups said.

He declined to give an example of when that had happened but said he could think of at least one.

They also said they want to relieve legislative staff who they claim have been inundated by records requests. Senate leaders said requests made during this legislative session alone have involved more than 20,000 pages of documents and 400 staff hours at an estimated cost of $80,000.

With the proposed changes, any member of the public could be forced to pay attorney fees of $200 an hour or more to have a request reviewed, Waddoups said.

Hillyard said legislators plan to meet with representatives of the Utah Press Association after the legislative session is over to discuss rolling back some of the changes to GRAMA.

According to Hunt, the bill would be the first in the country to his knowledge to exempt all text messages from records requests, regardless of their content. He said the proposed changes would take GRAMA from being one of the best open-records laws in the country to one of the worst.

"It sweeps away 20 years of case law and State Records Committee decisions," he said. "The bill is so extreme it really pushes the borderline of how much the government can restrict information."

The bill would require anyone requesting a government record to prove by a "preponderance of evidence" that it should be released. That would overturn the presumption of openness that currently favors disclosure.

Hunt said he and other opponents of the bill are reviewing whether it violates the First Amendment or provisions of the Utah Constitution establishing freedom of the press.

Open-government advocates also weighed in Friday against the bill. The Utah League of Women Voters called it "a frontal assault on the longstanding protections of GRAMA."

In a poll done Thursday for the Deseret News and KSL, over 90 percent of respondents said restricting government records would hurt the public's ability to monitor the legislative process, and 67 percent said there should be more discussion before changes are made.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

E-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com Twitter: pbkdn

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