Division of Archives and Records Service

Event Recap: “Sunshine Laws in Utah Government”

Joseph Sharp
April 27, 2011

Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.
— Abraham Lincoln

On Thursday April 21, 2011, BYU Professor Joel Campbell presented at the Utah State Archives RIMM Brown Bag lunch event. Mr. Campbell addressed “Sunshine Laws in Utah Government.” Below are some highlights from his presentation.

”Sunshine law” is the term given to open records laws in the United States that have been modeled after the 1966 federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The first known FOIA law, the Ordinance on Freedom of Writing and of the Press, was passed in the Kingdom of Sweden in 1766 by Anders Chydenius. Since 1766, more than 67 countries have enacted open records laws.

Freedom of Information is an internationally recognized right. Both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide that every person shall have the right to seek and impart information.

FOIA was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966, and each of the 50 states subsequently has enacted an open records law.

Freedom of Information legislation often seeks to address seven main goals.
1. Increase transparency and openness
2. Increase accountability and decrease corruption
3. Improve the quality of government decision-making
4. Improve public understanding of decision-making
5. Increase public participation
6. Increase public trust
7. Increase security
Source; Stated goals of the UK FOIA 2000, National Security Archive

In 2010, 597,415 records requests were submitted to the federal government. More than half of these requests, 227,227, were granted in full. Of the requests made in 2010, 29,872 were denied in full. To date, 69,526 requests remain unanswered. Currently, there is no centralized system for tracking statewide records requests in Utah.

Utah’s sunshine law: the 20-year-old Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) earned news headlines in March when the state legislature passed, the Governor signed, then the legislature repealed, HB477. HB 477 was a controversial law that sought to change key components of GRAMA including removing the law’s intent language and changing the state’s definition of a record. Enacted in 1991, GRAMA has been updated nearly every year since its passage.

Mr. Campbell referenced several records access cases that were brought before the Utah State Record’s Committee and successfully resolved citing GRAMA. In 2001, the Associated Press came before the State Records Committee to appeal a records denial by the State Attorney General for “information gathered by the Attorney General during an investigation of the bidding for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.” The State Records Committee ruled that “Under the specific facts of this case, the Record Committee is persuaded that the public interest favoring access outweighs the interests favoring restriction of access.” To read the official decision, click here.

Mr. Campbell has made his presentation available for public viewing. You may view his presentation here: Sunshine Laws in Utah Government