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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

GRAMA Task Force

By Dave Thomas
District 18 Senator and Chair of the GRAMA Task Force

There appears to be some confusion about the work of the Government Records Access and Management (GRAMA) Task Force. To help clear the air, let me offer the following:

1. The Task Force was directed to do a thorough review of Utah's GRAMA law, which has not seen a comprehensive review in almost 15 years. Our purpose was not to just tinker with few items and move on. A legislator can do that with a simple bill. A task force carries a larger scope and responsibility.

2. Current legislative counsel’s interpretation of GRAMA is that E-mail messages, unless printed, are not “records” and are not subject to GRAMA. That is the current law. The GRAMA Task Force has proposed changing the law by OPENING most E-mail up to GRAMA requests, with the exceptions of E-mail between legislators and their staff, and E-mail between legislators and their constituents. This provision would apply not just to the Utah State Legislature, but to all local legislative bodies. There are two reasons for proposing these exceptions. First, we want to encourage open discussion between legislators and their staff. Second, we want to encourage public contact with their legislator without the fear that a citizen’s privacy will be invaded.

3. A grand total of three GRAMA cases have been decided in our appellate courts. Consequently, GRAMA law is not well developed in Utah. Why? Partly because everyone can forum shop their GRAMA questions, picking the court in which to file or whether to go to the State Records Committee. We need to bring some order to the chaos. One way to do this is to centralize all appeals and allow that appellate authority to develop a consistent body of law in this area. A leading proposal is that we direct all GRAMA disputes to the State Records Committee.

4. Finally, there is an undefined area in GRAMA with respect to the compilation of data and charging fees. Some jurisdictions refuse to make compilations, others make compilations and charge costs, and still others provide compilations and charge fair market value. The Task Force appears to be leaning in the direction of making compilations optional and allowing reasonable fees so long as government is not directly competing with private business.

The GRAMA Task Force will meet one more time in November. We welcome any and all public input.


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