The Senate gave final approval on Monday to a proposal that will make it easier to keep public records private if they are part of an ongoing investigation or if there is a chance they will be used in a pending lawsuit.
HB122, sponsored by Rep. Douglas Aagard, R-Kaysville, makes changes to the simple "balancing test" provision for eight of the 56 types of records covered under the Government Records Access and Management Act that deal with police investigations and legal proceedings.
The biggest change applies to just one type of record request. If the life or safety of someone involved in an investigation might be jeopardized by the release of information related to that investigation, the individual or organization making the request will now be required to show "clear and convincing" evidence that the need for the information outweighs the need to keep it private. The other seven changes related to investigations and lawsuits raise the standard to a "preponderance" of the evidence.
The bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, said the proposal was the result of lengthy negotiations between representatives from the attorney general's office, which pushed for the changes, and media representatives including Nancy Conway from the Salt Lake Tribune and Joseph Cannon from the Deseret News. The Deseret News, as part of the Utah Media Coalition, has also retained lobbyists to fight the bill.
Bramble said when negotiation began "the media wanted no standards and the attorney general wanted no access."
"That's where we started," Bramble said. "This is one of those unique situations where all the parties came forward and were honest brokers representing their points of view."
During a committee hearing on the bill two weeks ago, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he was happy with the bill that emerged.
"This compromise is one that increases protections not only for the public ability to access critical records but also gives some protection now … to information where there may be someone's life or safety at stake," Shurtleff said.
During preliminary debate on the bill, Bramble told lawmakers the changes were necessary because groups and individuals were increasingly using GRAMA provisions to "circumvent well established rules of discovery."
"The people's right to know is absolute," Bramble said. "This is not an attempt to diminish that."
The bill met some resistance in the House last month but ultimately passed with a comfortable 16-vote margin. It is now waiting a final vote in the House, which must approve the amendments made in the Senate.
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