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Protect the public's right to know

Protect the public's right to know

By Con Psarras | Posted - Mar. 9, 2011 at 5:12 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Now that Governor Gary Herbert signed into law the Legislature's drive-by dismembering of the state's public records laws, the clock has started ticking on the future of open government in Utah.

The Governor showed bold leadership when he stepped in and acted to stop the law from taking immediate effect.

Now, we trust he will live up to his pledge to help engineer a thorough review and reassessment of HB477 before it takes effect this summer.

That effort must be thorough and transparent, and we have reasons to be optimistic it will be both.

One reason is the example set by the Governor and Legislative leadership on the subject of unlawful immigration. The governor set forth certain principles to frame an approach to reform, and the lawmakers fashioned measures after a great deal of open and collaborative debate, and came up with a comprehensive bill worthy of praise, if not for what it does, for how it came to be.

Likewise, Gov. Herbert has set forth principles for the open records discussion. He cites the need to find the proper balance between privacy and the public's right to know. He agrees there should be a thorough procedural assessment of how to best manage the costs that government agencies incur by complying with records requests. But most importantly, the Governor has spoken to what all parties should agree is the over-arching and overriding principle in the discussion, in the Governor's words, the need for "open and transparent government."

Another reason for optimism is the extreme outpouring of public sentiment on the issue, also resoundingly in support of openness and transparency. Failure to amend the law in a way that reflects that sentiment could very well lead to serious political consequences for lawmakers who balk at that principle.

As the process of deliberation unfolds, we are hopeful that appropriate answers will be found to the privacy and cost questions. What is likely to be more problematic is the rewinding of the Legislature's action to eliminate the so-called "intent language" if the law - the statement that spelled out what the legislature had in mind when it created GRAMA two decades ago.

That language has served in court hearings to affirm the basic premise of the law is the presumption that all records are public, unless they are exempt by statute or adjudication.

HB477 threatens to undermine that critical underpinning of GRAMA, which has made it a model for similar laws around the country

We are hopeful that Governor Herbert will remain steadfast in his commitment to see this process through to a conclusion that addresses all legitimate concerns about the law, and retains its very critical protection of the public's right to know.


Con Psarras


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