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Gov. explains decision to sign controversial HB477

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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday he signed the amended version of HB477 — a bill restricting access to many government records — to allow more time to discuss further changes.

The House and Senate voted Monday to delay the bill's effective date until July 1. The original version, passed quickly last week, would have gone into effect immediately with the governor's signature.

On Tuesday, protesters at the Capitol said they were not satisfied with the delay and wanted Herbert to veto HB477, which makes sweeping changes to the Government Records Access and Management Act.

But the governor says his action has created time for an open dialogue that he believes will produce a better bill.

"The easy thing for me would've been to veto it and wash my hands of it," Herbert told KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright. "I'm concerned that we get the right outcome and have a process where everyone can come to the table."

Legislators have promised to set up a working group, including the press and members of the public, to study the GRAMA amendments after the legislative session ends this week. That group would make recommendations to interim study committees, which would draft a new version in time for a special session in June.

"We did a good thing in the early ‘90s for openness and transparency, for access to public records for the public," Herbert said. "Let's see how it squares today with today's modern technology, and let's see if we can maintain that same openness and transparency."

Herbert said he expects the bill to look different by the time it goes into effect July 1. Asked why he signed it instead of letting it become law 20 days after the session, as it would have without any action from him, he said, "It deserves some certainty so we can start working on a solution."

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Critics are unhappy that the current provisions of the bill would be the starting point for those discussions. In its present form, HB477 largely exempts the Legislature and several forms of electronic communication from GRAMA, increases fees for records requests and removes language favoring openness.

Legislators have said the bill is needed to modernize GRAMA, since many private or informal discussions now take place through text messaging.

Now, the Utah Senate's top leader admits lawmakers pushed the bill through too rapidly.

"I apologize if it went fast," said Senate President Michael Waddoups. "As a result we're making amendments and we're making sure that the public will have chance."

It's a sentiment now echoed by other lawmakers.

Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, said "It just happened way, way too quickly, and I believe the public was pretty much shut out of the process."

"I think it should have been slower," said Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo. "Yes, there was going to be a tremendous amount of pressure on that. There's things I think we needed to change with GRAMA, but I don't think the process was good.

The governor's decision to sign the bill is winning praise from some, but opponents say the bill could still end up restricting the public's access to government records and should never have been signed.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake, was among the group protesting HB477 on Tuesday, and he's encouraging people to continue to make their voices heard on the topic.

"I'm very concerned about the possible significant increase in fees to access records. People should continue to express whatever point of view they have by continuing to call the governor's office," said Briscoe. "I didn't vote for (HB477) and I would not have signed it."

Briscoe says the upcoming debates on HB477 this spring should make for what he calls "very interesting meetings."

Opponents to HB477 are planning a rally at the state Capitol building steps Thursday at 6 p.m.


Written by Paul Koepp with contributions from Randall Jeppesen and John Daley.

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