House committee says no to mandatory fee waivers for records requests

By  Bryan Pearson

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would modify costs associated with requesting public records did not pass in committee, but supporters hope that revisions may still give it a chance to become law.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, failed to get HB242 through the House Political Subdivisions Standing committee on Tuesday, Feb. 4,  after Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, challenged key components of the bill.

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Photo credit: Aaron Butler

Dunnigan’s challanged a provision in the bill that would put in place a cap on fee waivers given to records requesters by the Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA.  Lawmakers passed GRAMA to allows residents to request public records from state and local government agencies.

King’s proposed changes would require government agencies to fulfill a records request without being charge. Currently, agencies may grant fee waivers,  Waiving charges for records requests would only apply if the agency granting the fee wavier determines that the request would primarily benefit the public, and if the cost of producing the documents is less than $1,000.

If a request would incur fees greater than $1,000, the person requesting the records must pay the associated fees.

Citizens use public records request to gain information about proceedings of government, and they often serve as a medium for transparency in government affairs.

“What is to prevent somebody from farcing or dividing their requests into multiple requests?”  said Dunnigan.

Dunnigan’s question was a key point in why HB242 stalled in committee, as he believed that $1000 is too high a cap to set.

Linda Peterson, president of the Utah Foundation For Open Government, said, “All three groups that I represent strongly support this and urge you not to get so bogged down in the money. We deserve to know how we are governed, we deserve to know that you are doing a good job.”

Sheryl Worsley,  news director at KSL radio, said, “it’s the smaller publications, that when they make requests are sometimes stymied by high fees they are now being charged … there are publications being resourced out of business. The fewer voices you have re-establishing … trust in government, the worse it is for government.”

“Reasonable fees lead to reasonable requests,” said Gary Williams, city Attorney for Ogden City in opposition of the bill.

King said, “I’m going to talk with [Rep. Dunnigan], I’ll talk with folks at the League of Cities and Towns, I’ll talk with people at the media to come up with [an amendment] that addresses the points that were raised here.”

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Categories: Utah Legislature, Utah News

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