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A lot of ideas are still in flux, but one has gained consensus: More education would help requesters, responders and government officials alike understand how Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act works.

Two different subcommittees of the GRAMA Working Group are recommending that lawmakers require record officers and other employees who handle requests to go through an annual certification program about the law's provisions.

That training, said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, would ensure legislators "have information about how GRAMA, as it currently exists, works."

Likewise, it might reassure records officers and others who routinely handle requests that they are making the right decisions, group members said.

There also needs to be a better way to educate the public about what records are available, what limitations there is on information and how to access records, said Mark Johnson, director of management services for Ogden and a working group member.

The GRAMA Working Group, appointed by legislative leadership, is reviewing ways to improve the state's open records law following a public uproar over now-repealed HB 477.

The group has divided philosophically into two camps on the issues of classifying records and providing access to them.

In one camp: technocrats and media who want up-front decisions about what's public and all those records made available online, at no charge; in the other, government officials who are concerned about the practicality and cost of putting all public records online, especially when so few records routinely attract public interest.

"A broad swath of information should be available to the public," said Phil Windley, founder of Kynetx and a member of the emerging technology subcommittee. "If we make the data available, people will find a lot of interesting things to do with it."

The opposing view: "I see this as absolutely enormous, and consuming a significant part of my job," said Laura Lockhart, an assistant attorney general.

The subcommittees also are at odds over how to handle text messages. One subcommittee is still wrestling with whether to define a text message as a record; another wants to leave text messages unaddressed in GRAMA until the technology evolves more.

As for training, currently the Utah Attorney General's Office and the State Archives offer programs for state entities. Different organizations, such as the Utah League of Cities and Towns, also offer training programs for members. But the content of those presentations varies, and participation is hit and miss.

Of Utah's 29 counties, just six have a designated records officer: Davis, Weber, Salt Lake, Utah, Uintah and Washington. Some state agencies and divisions have records officers, but that varies, too.

For example, within the Division of Child and Family Services, only the Salt Lake Valley Region has a designated records officer; in the other four regional offices, managers and case workers respond to requests.

A subcommittee looking at cost and timeliness issues suggested mandatory training be provided through the State Archives, though that would not preclude other organizations from continuing their programs.

That subcommittee also recommended the state appoint an "Open Records Ombudsman," who would be housed in the State Archives' offices, to oversee that training and provide "help desk" type services to records requesters and responders. Currently, the archives' executive secretary does that informally.

"I have been in favor of the concept of an ombudsman," Betsy Ross, chair of the State Records Committee told the working group. "It would surely be helpful to have someone else involved prior to coming to the State Records Committee, not of an obligatory nature, but just informational."

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What's next

The GRAMA Working Group, appointed by legislative leadership, is reviewing ways to improve the state's open-records law after a public uproar over the now-repealed HB477.

It will tentatively meet again at 9 a.m. June 1 in Room 250 of the Senate Office Building. Before then, its four subcommittees will meet and try to refine ideas to forward to the Legislature.

The statutory definitions subcommittee will meet at 9 a.m. May 19 in Room 350 at the State Capitol.