Utah Freedom of Information Act
What is the Utah Freedom of Information Act?
The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that permits any individual to obtain federal agency records except records or parts of records protected from disclosure by one or more of the nine exemptions stipulated in the act. Utah's equivalent of the federal FOIA is the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). Utah's GRAMA is codified under Sections 63G-2-101 et. seq. of the Utah Code. GRAMA affords any person the right to inspect and copy any public record of governmental entities in the state except for records classified as controlled, protected, or private under state or federal law.
Enacted in 1991 and effective from July 1992, GRAMA replaced the Information Practices Act and the Public and Private Writing Act, which governed access to government records till then. In enacting GRAMA, Utah's legislature recognized the public's right to access information concerning the conduct of the public's business and the right to privacy pertaining to personal data obtained by governmental entities.
Utah's GRAMA was enacted to:
- Promote the right of the people to access public records
- Define the circumstances under which public interest in allowing restrictions on access to records outweighs the public interest in access
- Prohibit governmental bodies from abusing confidentiality by allowing confidential handling of records only as specified within GRAMA statutes
- Establish regulations for both disclosure and restrictions on access to government records that are compatible with national standards of information practices and are based on an equal weighting of relevant interests
- Favor public access where conflicting interests are equivalent in weight in the implementation of the act
- Adopt reasonable and fair policies and procedures for the maintenance of documents.
What is Covered Under the Utah Freedom of Information Act?
The Utah GRAMA covers all records prepared, maintained, or controlled by governmental bodies at all levels and its subsidiaries except for controlled, protected, or private records. The state defines a record as a book, document, map, paper, letter, plan, film, photograph, card, electronic data, tape, recording, or other documentary material regardless of physical form. Personal notes or personal communication prepared or received by employees of governmental entities unrelated to the conduct of the public's business are not covered under Utah's definition of a record.
Per Section 63G-2-103 of the Utah Code, a governmental entity includes:
- Executive department agencies of Utah, the office of governor, office of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer, state auditor, the Board of Pardons and Parole, Board of Examiners, the National Guard, Utah Board of Higher Education, Utah Archives, and Utah Board of Education
- Offices of the legislative auditor general, office of the legislative fiscal analyst, the legislature, legislative committees, and office of legislative research and general counsel
- Courts, the judicial council, or the administrative office of the courts (AOC)
- State-funded institutions of higher education or public education
- Any political subdivision of the state
- Any office, board, advisory board, bureau, committee, department, or commission of an entity listed in Section 63G-2-103(11)(a) of the Utah Code
- An interlocal entity, joint, or cooperative undertaking as defined under Section 11-13-103
- A governmental nonprofit corporation as defined under Section 11-13a-102
- An association as defined under Section 53G-7-1101
- Utah Independent Redistricting Commission
- A law enforcement agency under Section 53-1-102, employing one or more law enforcement officers, as stipulated under Section 53-13-103
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Utah?
In Utah, records exempted from public disclosure are itemized in multiple statutes of the GRAMA, such as Sections 63G-2-302, 63G-2-303, 63G-2-304, 63G-2-305, and 63G-2-106 of the Utah Code. The following are examples of records exempted from public disclosure:
- Records relating to security measures designed to protect property or persons, such as passes and keys, security procedures, security plans, security codes and combinations and passwords, and building and public works designs.
- Records relating to a person's eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits, social services, and welfare benefits
- Records containing information on publicly funded libraries
- Mental health records, diagnosis, treatment, and evaluation information
- Records generated or received by the Independent Legislative Ethics Commission or for a senate confirmation committee relating to an individual’s competence, character, or physical or mental health
- Employment records of a former or current employee of a governmental body disclosing the employee's home address, telephone number, social security number, marital status, payroll deductions, and insurance coverage
- Criminal background check or credit history information conducted pursuant to Section 63A-3-201 of the Utah Code
- Taxpayer's record establishing an individuals’ eligibility for an exemption, abatement, deferral, or relief
- Video and audio records created by a body-worn camera under Section 77-7a-103
- Private information concerning persons such as peace officers, state or federal judges, federal prosecutors, law enforcement officials, or their family members
- Trade secrets
- Records that, if disclosed, might cause a commercial project company economic harm or provide a prospective or present rival a competitive advantage
- Test questions and answers for future licensure, certification, registration, job, or academic exams
- Records whose publication would jeopardize federal procurement processes or offer any party intending to enter into a contract or agreement with a governmental institution an unfair advantage
- Records identifying real property or the assessment or anticipated worth of real or personal property, including intellectual property, under consideration for public purchase prior to the acquisition of any rights to the property
- Records whose disclosure might threaten an individual's life or safety
- Records whose disclosure would jeopardize the security of governmental property, programs, or recordkeeping systems from damage, theft, or unlawful appropriation or use in violation of law or public policy
- Records relating to incarceration, treatment, probation, or parole that would interfere with the control and supervision of an offender's incarceration, treatment, probation, or parole if disclosed
- Records that are subject to attorney-client privilege
- Records that disclose the location of historic, prehistoric, paleontological, or biological resources whose discovery would compromise the security of such resources or vital historical, scientific, educational, or cultural information
- The name of a donor or potential contributor to a public agency, especially a higher education institution under the state system
How Do I File a Utah Freedom of Information Act Request?
In order to file a GRAMA request in Utah, you must first identify the agency maintaining the record you want to inspect or copy. Subsequently, you need to familiarize yourself with the agency’s rules and procedures for requesting public records. Per Section 63G-2-204(2)(d) of the Utah Code, a government entity may make rules outlining where and to whom a record request may be directed. You can find the contact information of the officer or the unit designated as the custodian of public records by visiting the agency's website. Note that in accordance with Section 63G-2-204 (1) of the Utah Code, an individual requesting access to a record must provide the government entity with a written request. No statement of purpose is required in requesting access to records, and no restrictions are placed on the use of public records in Utah.
Written requests, in accordance with Section 63-2-204 of the Utah Code, for public records must furnish the governmental entity with information such as the name of the requester, daytime telephone number, mailing address, and a detailed description of the record that reasonably identifies the information sought. Many governmental entities also permit public record requesters to make online GRAMA requests or mail completed GRAMA forms downloaded on their websites to the relevant addresses .
The following are examples of filing GRAMA requests in Utah:
The Utah Attorney General: You may complete GRAMA requests to the Utah Attorney General’s Office by completing its GRAMA Request Form. Written requests may be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or:
By Snail Mail:
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 140860
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-0860
Office of the Attorney General
Utah State Capitol Complex
350 North State Street, Suite 230
Salt Lake City, UT
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality: You can find some records for free by using the self-service Easy Records Search or Interactive Map. Otherwise, complete a GRAMA Request Form for the department or a GRAMA request form for a specific division of the Utah DEQ.
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Utah?
Pursuant to Section 63G-2-203(1) of the Utah Code, a governmental entity is authorized to charge a fair fee to cover the actual cost of providing a record. Other authorized fees that may be charged for public records include costs incurred in compiling a record in a form other than the form in which the record is held by the agency. Hence an agency may charge for staff time for search and retrieval of records. Note that according to Section 63G-2-203(5) of the Utah Code, a governmental entity may not charge a fee for:
- Retrieving a record to determine whether the agency may disclose it
- Inspecting a record
Per Section 63G-2-203(4)(a), governmental entities are permitted to grant fee waivers if the disclosure of a record primarily benefits the public rather than a person, such as when news media make requests for public records. Other instances where a governmental entity is allowed to grant a fee waiver include:
- When a requester or the legal guardian of the requester is the subject of the record requested
- The information contained in the record directly implicates the requester's legal rights
- The requester is impecunious
If a public record requester has a history of having not paid fees from a previous request or the estimated fees exceed $50, a government entity may require payment of past fees and future estimated fees before proceeding to grant a GRAMA request.
- $0.40 per page for standard size color copies, including staff time to copy
- $0.25 per page for standard size non-color white copies, including staff time to copy
- $1 per page for 11x17 copies, which includes staff time to copy
- Actual costs for other odd-sized copies
- $1 per page plus telephone charges for long-distance over 10 pages, including staff time to fax.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Utah?
Per Section 63G-2-204 of the Utah Code, governmental entities must respond to public record requests within 10 business days for non-expedited requests and 5 business days for expedited requests. Expedited treatment are requests meant to benefit the general public, while requests made for individual purposes are referred to as non-expedited requests. Within the prescribed time limits, a governmental entity must respond to a written request in the following way:
- Approve the request and produce the requested record
- Deny the request
- Notify the requester that the entity does not maintain the record and provide if known, the address and name of the governmental entity maintaining the record
- Notify the requester that due to an extraordinary circumstance, it cannot immediately approve or deny the written request
An extraordinary circumstance as defined under Section 63G-2-204 of the Utah Code may occur when:
- Another governmental body is using the record as part of an audit or other business action, and returning the record before finishing would impair the audit process
- The request involves a substantial number of records
- The request involves unresolved legal issues
- The segregation of records requires extensive editing
- The segregation of records computer programming
Pursuant to Section 3G-2-205(2) of the Utah Code, a notification of denial to a GRAMA request must include:
- A description of the record;
- Citations to the GRAMA statutes exempting the record from disclosure;
- A statement affirming that the requester has a right to appeal the denial; and
- Timeline for filing an appeal and the name and address of the chief administrative officer of the governmental entity to which an appeal may be made
According to Section 63G-2-204(8) of the Utah Code, a public record requester may consider the governmental entity's failure in providing access to the requested record or notification of denial within the stipulated time limits as equivalent to a denial of access.
If an agency denies access to a record, you may proceed to file a notice of appeal with the chief administrative officer (CAO) of the governmental entity pursuant to Section 63G-2-401(1) of the Utah Code. The CAO must decide on the appeal within 5 business days or if a business confidentiality claim is at issue, within 12 business days of receiving the appeal notice.
An appeal of the CAO's case determination may be filed with the State Records Committee. Utah requires that the notice of appeal be filed with the executive secretary within 30 days of the CAO's final decision or within 45 days of the original GRAMA request if the CAO fails to make a determination. The State Records Committee must, within 3 days of receiving the appeal notice, schedule a hearing to hold no sooner than 16 days and no later than 64 calendar days after the filing date. The committee must make a final determination and issue a signed order within 7 business days of the hearing.
Section 63G-2-701(4)(a) of the Utah Code permits a political subdivision to establish a separate appeal process for public record requesters. The subdivision must provide for an appeals board, two of whom must be members of the public. Per Section 63G-2-701(6), decisions of the appeals board may be appealed to the district court.