Lawmakers considered a number of bills this session that would have put new restrictions on access to public information, but those considered the worst by a coalition of Utah media outlets were stopped.
"We are pleased and relieved at the final result," Jeff Hunt, an attorney representing the coalition, said of the efforts to amend the 15-year-old Government Records Access and Management Act known as GRAMA.
As the 2006 Legislature wound to a close, Hunt said, "GRAMA emerged a bit bruised and bloodied, but she's still alive and kicking. The worst of these proposals to reduce the public's access to government records were defeated or withdrawn."
Perhaps the most controversial GRAMA bill, HB12, was amended to take out language that opponents feared would make secret e-mails and other communication by public officials. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. had threatened to veto the bill in that form.
The amended version, which still contains what supporters said were important provisions including protecting discussions between lawmakers and their staffs on legislative matters, passed both the House and the Senate.
Sen. Dave Thomas, R-South Weber, who carried that and other GRAMA bills in the Senate as the co-chairman of a task force on the access law, said the issue of protecting the privacy of constituents who contact their lawmakers will likely be back before a future Legislature.
"Something needs to be done to protect citizens," Thomas said, especially whistle-blowers and constituents who bring personal problems to their representatives, "things that are not really the business of anyone else."
Still, Thomas said that overall, he believed the amended bill and other less controversial pieces of legislation on GRAMA that have passed have been helpful even though provisions are missing "specifically protecting the privacy of Utah citizens when they want to have a private communication with an elected official over a private matter."
The bills brought together newspapers and broadcasters from throughout the state, including the Deseret Morning News, to form the Utah Media Coalition to fight the changes. The coalition also retained two professional lobbyists during the legislative session.