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A protest Thursday night highlighted (literally, with flashlights) how the high-profile battle about Utah's open-records laws won't be over for months with negotiations, referendum drives and maybe court challenges looming.
More than 200 people with flashlights rallied to "let the light shine in" and reverse changes made by lawmakers to the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) before HB477 takes effect July 1. They also swarmed the Capitol, beating drums, chanting and singing as they called for the law's repeal.
Legislative leaders have vowed to review the measure and possibly hold a special session in June to make changes.
"We consider HB477 to be a full frontal assault on citizen rights. It is almost a spit in the face," said Tim Wagner, a protest organizer.
Meanwhile, a coalition of HB477 opponents launched a drive Thursday to collect signatures to put a referendum on the ballot to overturn the law.
"We are outraged at what it does to government openness," said Steve Maxfield, one of the organizers.
Maxfield was additionally upset that the Lieutenant Governor's Office contends that another measure, SB165 signed Thursday by Gov. Gary Herbert blocks the group from using e-signatures online as part of its petition drive and increases the number of signatures required.
Maxfield contends the Lieutenant Governor's Office is wrong and will challenge it. SB165 requires 97,000 signatures instead of the roughly 65,000 required under the old law.
Lawmakers moved HB477 through the Legislature in just 72 hours from the time its text was unveiled. Leaders said they did that to overcome expected "misinformation" campaigns by the news media.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he expects good changes to be made after the fact. For example, the bill now exempts from release all text messages by lawmakers.
"I don't think that's necessarily the Legislature's intent," Waddoups said, adding changes may allow release of messages dealing with government work.
But Maxfield doubts any real change will come. "It's always better to negotiate," he said, "before a bill is passed."