House approves bill that could make it more costly to request public records
HB96 passed with little opposition as Legislature targets ‘vexatious requests’ for government records
The Utah House has passed a bill that would limit “vexatious requests” for government documents, potentially making requests more costly for some who frequently ask for records.
Under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA, processing fees can be waived for the first 15 minutes of work spent fulfilling a request. HB96 would change that, allowing government entities to charge for the initial 15 minutes if the requester has filed a separate request in the previous 10 days.
Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, said the bill wouldn’t seek to label anyone as a frequent or “vexatious requester,” after the term made headlines following a House Government Operations Committee meeting last week.
During that meeting, Cache County Clerk/Auditor Jess Bradfield spoke in support of the bill, saying it wouldn’t limit the number of requests someone could file, but instead would limit the requests eligible for a fee waiver for 15 minutes of work.
“Unfortunately, vexatious and serial requesters have learned that they’re allowed to submit an unlimited number of small requests each day to an entity,” he said to the committee.
“I’m intrigued because I would love to label the Salt Lake Tribune as a vexatious requester,” Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said during the hearing.
Johnson told the House on Tuesday that he doesn’t intend to target any specific entity with the bill and pointed out that only 1% of GRAMA requests in Cache County come from media entities. He argued that the 10 days between fee waivers would give the government more time to process the requests.
He doesn’t believe the fees would be prohibitive for the public because they are assessed based on the lowest wage of anyone working in a given government office.
“This is a very simple, straightforward bill. ... We’re not trying to label you,” Johnson said.
Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, spoke in opposition to the bill in the committee hearing last week, arguing that it sends a bad message to the public.
“When you put in a new fee like this, it sends a strong message that, you know, the government is in charge of this and they’re not going to be controlled by the people,” he said. “And I think the people want to send a strong message to the government that the people are in charge of it, they’re not going to be controlled by the government.”
The bill passed the House 60-13 on Tuesday, with no one speaking against the bill on the floor. Nine Democrats and four Republicans voted against the bill, which will now head to the Senate for consideration.