Utah Passes New Records Bill Despite Opposition from Animal Rights Activists

In March, Jeremy Beckham and other animal rights activists in Utah tried to rally support against Utah Senate Bill 179 which would allow universities to restrict release of certain records related to research grants.

Beckham wrote a letter to the sponsor of the bill, Utah State Sen. Gregory Bell that read, in part,

Since August of 2003, I have been actively involved in a dispute with the University of Utah under GRAMA to acquire protocols relating to primate experimentation on campus. I suspect you are aware of the lawsuit, as it has grabbed the local media’s attention and appears to be relevant to your proposed amendment to GRAMA. Certain portions of the lawsuit, including the basic right to public access to these records, have already been won by my organization after following an appeal to the Utah State Records Committee. Other parts of the lawsuit, regarding fees for these records, are still pending further appeal in District Court.

SB179 seems to aim to reverse all progress that has been made during the course of this lawsuit. The bill allows any “person” who sponsors any type of research at public universities to acquire a “Business Confidentiality Claim” exempting all records related to their research from public disclosure. The bill defines “person” in this section to mean any individual or entity, including federal and state governments.

On February 16th, in committee, some senators claimed this bill aimed only to protect private corporations who are not investing in research at universities in Utah because they fear GRAMA requests. But GRAMA 63-2-304(1) already protects such corporations. Indeed, if your intent is only to protect private commerce, why do you include government branches in your definition of “person”? It seems clear that SB179 will affect all research at the University of Utah, including nonproprietary research funded by the taxpayers.

During the course of the dispute, the Utah State Records Committee voted unanimously to release the protocols, the University of Utah campus paper wrote two staff editorials in support of releasing the records, and my organization has received a large volume of emails expressing public support for release of the records.

Our questions are simple. What is the purpose of this bill? How do the citizens and taxpayers of Utah benefit from your proposed legislation? Whose interests does this bill have in mind?

Bell, for his part, maintains the goal of the bill was simply to simplify the research grant process at Utah universities and attract more private research grants. According to Bell, private grant sponsors are wary of funding research in Utah because that state’s Government Records Access and Management Act might force disclosure of trade and business secrets.

Coralie Adler, spokeswoman for the University of Utah, told The Daily Utah Chronicle,

[The University of Utah] instigated the bill because of problems with provisions of GRAMA which have proven unwieldy and cumbersome for large research contracts and grants. The bill seeks to make the process more workable while still providing access to information as appropriate.

Beckham told The Daily Utah Chronicle,

. . .the system is simply corrupt. Even when you play their game and don’t break any laws, they change the rules as soon as you start to win.

Whether the proposed change will affect Beckham’s work or not, the law was approved by both Utah House and Senate and is before the governor to sign or veto. The full text of the bill can be read here.


Letter to Senator Gregory Bell – SB179. Jeremy Beckham, Letter, February 20, 2005.

Beckham continues his pursuit to end animal research and squelch SB 179. Susie Winlow, The Daily Utah Chronicle, March 2, 2005.

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