SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. David Clark, Utah's former House speaker, said Friday his successor delayed legislation he sponsored after he changed his vote to oppose HB477, the bill critics say guts the state's open records law.
The Santa Clara Republican said he voted for the bill the first time, despite "concerns with the language of the bill," after being told by House leadership that changes would be made in the Senate, which would send the bill back to the House for an opportunity to make amendments.
But no changes were made in the Senate and the bill instead went straight to Gov. Gary Herbert. The governor agreed to sign it if leadership would agree to push the effective date to July 1, allowing time for more public input and a special session to make changes to the bill. They agreed and the bill was recalled for that amendment.
But Clark said he still didn't like the bill and voted against it.
After that vote, Clark said, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, held back Clark's top priority bill, HB84, aimed at creating an inspector general to oversee abuses in Medicaid, for three days.
"I went and I spoke with the speaker, asked her why she'd done that," said Clark. "I was told that I was not being as supportive as she thought it needed to be."
HB84 eventually passed on the last day after he asked the governor to intervene, Clark said.
But Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said he had problems with Clark's bill and it wasn't until those issues were addressed that the bill passed. "The representation that that bill was somehow being held hostage is not accurate," he said.
Clark is the latest in a growing number of GOP lawmakers who are regretting their vote on HB477 and the process by which it was passed. On Friday, southern Utah GOP Reps. Brad Last, Hurricane, Evan Vickers, Cedar City, Don Ipson, St. George, joined Clark in calling for a repeal of HB477 and a new bill.
In a survey of House Republicans, the Deseret News found also Reps. Steve Handy R-Layton, and Lynn Hemingway, D-Holladay, regretted their support for the bill, and they along with Reps. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, and Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, now question the process. Click here for the votes of all House members.
"I think this was an orchestrated, blitz approach to try and get this through the Legislature," Clark said. "The manner in which this bill was introduced I thought was appalling."
The bill was introduced on a Wednesday and was on Herbert's desk by the end of Friday, with just four working days left in the session. In two committee hearings, public testimony was overwhelmingly against the measure, which largely exempts the Legislature and several forms of electronic communication from the Government Records Access and Management Act, increases fees for records requests and removes language favoring openness.
Clark said though the process met all procedural requirements, "to have it show up so late in the session, I think should create and I think has generated a lot of concerns for a lot of individuals around the state, and I'm certainly expressing those today."
A new Dan Jones & Associates poll shows an overwhelming 89 percent of Utahns found the fast-tracked process by which the bill was passed inappropriate. The poll of 432 Utahns has a 4.75 percent margin of error.
One legislative source, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid getting in the middle of a disagreement between the former and current speakers, said, "I think there's been an undercurrent of David Clark undermining the speaker" and dismissed Clark's complaints as "sour grapes from the speaker race."
Clark, who lost the speakership to Lockhart in a tight vote, denied any bad blood from the race, saying he sought a "statesman like" approach the entire session.
Requests for an interview with Lockhart were referred to House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden. He couldn't speak to Clark's conversation with Lockhart, and declined to say the process was fast-tracked, saying "some bills are done that way."
Lockhart has also defended the legislative process in the aftermath of HB477's passage.
A statement from Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said the governor shares concerns about the "process and the substance" of HB477. "That is why he has consistently called for the Legislature to address this issue and to follow a process to repeal and replace HB477."
Clark wants that to happen at the Legislature's first opportunity.
"I think the first interim we have here in April would be an excellent opportunity for the Legislature … to have the governor have a special session," Clark said. "Repeal 477. Create within that legislation a task force to begin working on the things that need to be worked on."
But Clark may be at odds again with leadership on that approach.
Dee doesn't think HB477 should be repealed, but "it should be superseded by better legislation that's a compromise."
Contributing: Spencer Garn