Facebook Twitter

Lawmakers move to ease record access

SHARE Lawmakers move to ease record access

Citizens shouldn't get the runaround when they call City Hall and request names, addresses and telephone numbers for members of the local city council.

Anyone should be able to call his or her school district office and get the home telephone number to use to contact any publicly elected school board member.And if the State Records Committee orders a state department to cough up a document, that state department should do it.

But some agencies tell the committee to "drop dead." And some city and school district officials have taken advantage of a process that allows citizens access to public documents.

Lawmakers asked the State Records Committee Monday to find some way to penalize agencies that don't comply with orders issued through Utah's Government Records Access Management Act, commonly known as GRAMA.

Toughen up, lawmakers told Max Evans, chairman of the State Records Committee that implements state law that allows access to most state records.

"The whole integrity of our records system is dependent on how this committee works," said Rep. Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, co-chairman of the legislative Administrative Rules Review Committee.

If the committee asks for documents - as it is allowed to do under the law - and agencies ignore it, "there is no validity to the process," Stephens said.

Under GRAMA, the State Records Committee can order someone to come before the committee if citizens say they haven't been allowed access to documents that should be public.

The committee can order an agency to turn over records, explained Evans.

"But what if they tell you to drop dead?" asked Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas.

That seemed to be lawmakers' greatest concern.

Evans said agencies don't ignore the committee, and added state law says "any public employee who intentionally refuses to release a record," under GRAMA, is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

"How that would be enforced is another matter," Evans said.

And the committee does not follow up to see if records are given, Evans said.

Lawmakers want that to change.

Evans agreed that within nine months, the committee will draw up language about how it will follow up on orders to release documents.

Lawmakers seemed to be spurred to action by the case of Sally Fink, a single, truck-driving mom who ran into endless problems tracking down records about circumstances surrounding a 1994 beating her son took in Provo's Utah State Hospital.

Fink recently took her case to the records committee. Under GRAMA, the hospital was ordered to produce the documents or formally appeal the decision.

Evans said hospital officials maintain they never got the notification.

Lawmakers indicated they will pay greater attention to the state records issue.

Stephens told Evans to evaluate whether the committee needs more staff or more funding.

And Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, of the legislative committee, said he's heard complaints from citizens who want access to the school board and city council members.

"Even though it's sitting there on the desk, they're told to fill out a (GRAMA) form and wait," he said. "GRAMA is being misused as a shield.

"There is no penalty for giving people the runaround," Stephenson said. "Since they can do it, they do."