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State upholds $300 fee for GRAMA U. data access

SHARE State upholds $300 fee for GRAMA U. data access

Members of a state committee on public records have ruled that the University of Utah can charge a biology student $300 for information on primates that he sought under the state's open records law.

Advocates for open government records say the decision by the State Records Committee could set a dangerous precedent in an already vague part of the law.

Student Jeremy Beckham had filed a request under GRAMA, or the Government Records Access and Management Act, for records regarding the protocols used in the study of primates. University officials argued that the documents included "proprietary" information and that such information would have to be redacted.

Given the time and staff resources required to organize the information and redact certain sections, the U. would have to charge Beckham $300 for the documents, said U. representative Phyllis Vetter during a hearing last week. Under GRAMA, a government agency may charge "reasonable" fees but may waive fees also.

Committee members pointed out that certain provisions of GRAMA were vague and did not require a detailed explanation of fees. Committee member LuAnn Adams said she did not have enough information to determine if the U.'s $300 fee was reasonable. Committee member Betsy Ross noted that GRAMA was not clear on what is deemed reasonable for fees.

Nevertheless, committee chairwoman Patricia Smith-Mansfield made a motion to deny the request, which passed three to two.

Local freedom of information attorney Jeff Hunt said the State Records Committee's ruling illustrates a definite problem with the GRAMA law. "Three hundred dollars may not seem like a lot of money to most people," Hunt said, "but to a student, that could be prohibitive."

Hunt said there is a danger in having government agencies hide information behind large fees to keep the public from accessing it. "It can create a barrier to access of public information," Hunt said. He added it is an issue that the Legislature needs to look at.

Beckham pointed out that even if he spent $300 for the documents, the U. would redact 79 out of some 139 pages.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com