Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
The Utah State Capitol, Jan. 23, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — A state senator vows that proposed changes to Utah's open records law this year won't be controversial.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said Friday that he intends to release his Government Records Access and Management Act bill in the next week or so. But it likely won't cause anywhere near the outrage HB477 did last year.

Unlike its predecessor, the ironically numbered SB177 won't touch emails, text messages and voice mails. Bramble said they will remain subject to disclosure.

"It will be 300 times more popular than 477," he said of the new bill.

Bramble said the bill covers areas where the various stakeholders, including the Utah Media Coalition, found common ground after several months of meetings.

"This bill intentionally will not be controversial because it's being built on a foundation of agreement with the various stakeholders including the media coalition," he said. "I think the intent of the bill is to reassure the public that we are committed to open government, we are committed to disclosure of public records. But there will have to be appropriate protections when those records should not be disclosed."

Last year, lawmakers passed and then repealed sweeping changes to GRAMA after the media and the public rallied against the bill.

Gov. Gary Herbert and GOP leaders agreed to appoint a working group made up of government, media and public representatives, including lawyers and technology experts, that spent three months examining ways to improve the act, which is two decades old.

The group's recommendations include making public records available for free online; establishing standard fees for determining which portions of private or protected records can be released; and creating a state ombudsman to help records requesters.

There was disagreement over whether administrative and overhead costs should be included in the fees charged for fulfilling document requests.

Bramble said he, the media coalition and others continued to meet after the working group finished and used its recommendations to determine which of them protect the public's right to know, provide transparency and remove ambiguities in areas where records should be protected.

Herbert said this week he would create the ombudsman position by executive order if the Legislature doesn't approve it in the bill. He said the state could absorb the costs in the archives office.

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