Herbert signs records bill HB477 after rally for veto

Published: Tuesday, March 8 2011 8:59 p.m. MST

Democratic members of the Utah State Legislature opposed to HB477 speak at a rally at the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, March 8, 2011. Senator Ben McAdams holds up his cell phone inviting everyone to read its contents. Standing with McAdams are Rep. Patrice Arent, Rep. Christine Watkins, Rep. Joel Briscoe, and (not in the photo) Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Opponents of a bill that would restrict access to government records came to the Capitol Tuesday to say reworking the measure is not enough: They want it killed.

More than 100 people gathered near the steps leading up to the House chamber to demand a veto from Gov. Gary Herbert as lawmakers — who passed an amended HB477 Monday delaying its effective date until July 1 — looked down from the corridors above.

But an 8 p.m. news release from the governor's office said he signed the bill along with 18 other measures that have passed the 2011 Legislature.

“With HB477 now amended, the delayed implementation date allows us to have an open public process with robust, deliberate engagement by the public, the media and lawmakers,” Herbert said. “Our goal is open and transparent government. This bill provides a way to find the right balance between the public's right to know and the personal privacy of both constituents and policymakers, while protecting taxpayer dollars.”

At the rally, several speakers recited a list of their complaints about the bill, which would make sweeping changes to the Government Records Access and Management Act: largely exempting the Legislature and several forms of electronic communication from the act, increasing fees for records requests and removing language favoring openness.

"This bill threatens open government in Utah," said Sherilyn Bennion, of the League of Women Voters of Utah.

Under pressure from Herbert, legislators promised Monday to set up a working group including members of the media and the public to study GRAMA in anticipation of a special session where further changes could be passed in June. HB477 first passed the House and Senate last week just two days after it was introduced.

"What we have on the books now needs to be brought into the modern era," Herbert said Tuesday. "Let's work together for the good of everybody and have the right piece of legislation."

But many opponents are suspicious that taking more time doesn't mean they'll like the final product.

"Extending the effective date is not the answer," said Kim Burningham, of Utahns for Ethical Government. He compared the amended bill to a pacifier given to a baby to make it quiet.

"We do not need a pacifier," he said. "We need a veto."

Although many legislators justified their votes as a defense against what they called costly and invasive "fishing expeditions" by the press, protesters said Tuesday the changes would hurt the average citizen.

Tuesday's rally was fueled by social media in a manner reminiscent of Utah Eagle Forum phone-tree mobilizations, as knowledge of HB477's contents spread late last week over Twitter and Facebook. Herbert and legislators said Monday they had received hundreds of calls and e-mails over the weekend.

The rally's organizer, Bob Aagard, said he didn't even know who started the anti-HB477 Facebook page he used to publicize it.

"In three days, social media has made its statement," Lorna Rosenstein, of Waterwatch of Utah, told protesters.

Several speakers noted aspects of the bill that have received little mention, including a restriction on access to some records of the state auditor and legislative auditor general. It would also make it more difficult to obtain documents used to write fiscal notes to legislation and any records prepared in anticipation of litigation.

Several Democratic legislators spoke at the rally, including Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, who held up his state-issued phone.

"You guys are paying for this," he said. "You're more than welcome to read it."

E-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com

Twitter: pbkdn

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