PRAISING LEGISLATIVE BILLS FOR TRANSPARENCY AND CALLING OUT SECRECY BILLS

UTAH GRAMA WATCH

STATE OF UTAH BILLS

UTAH GRAMA WATCH NOTES

2021 BILLS

House Bill 228 -- Jail Photo Distribution Prohibition (Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem)

This bill would prohibit law enforcement from releasing booking mugshot photos to the public unless the subject of the photo has been convicted or if police decide there is a public need to release it. The intent is to protect people who are booked for a criminal offense but are never convicted, but the practical effect of this bill would be a loss of public oversight of the criminal justice system. For instance, booking photos provide visual confirmation of the race and ethnicity of those who are arrested, vitally important information in this age. They also can provide visual evidence of injuries that occurred during an arrest. Open records and proceedings are a cornerstone of the American judicial system. That is true even when the process doesn’t end in conviction. This bill gets a Lights Out from GRAMA Watch for hiding public records.

2020 BILLS

Senate Bill 30 (Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton)

This bill would, among other things, resurrect the Economic Development Legislative Liaison Committee to give legislative oversight to activities of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. While legislative scrutiny of GOED is laudable, the bill would eliminate any public scrutiny of the Committee’s work by creating a blanket exemption from the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act and denying the public the right to request Committee records under GRAMA. The Committee should not operate in secret, particularly when GOED’s 15-member governing board and 11-member coordinating council have for years discharged their public duties while being fully subject to the Open Meetings Act and GRAMA. GRAMAWatch gives SB30 a “Lights Out” for needlessly hiding the public’s work from the public.

Senate Bill 173 Third Substitute (Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George)

This bill would replace current law that makes it a Class B misdemeanor to “disturb” or “disrupt” a public government meeting with a new version that starts out as a Class C misdemeanor on first offense and elevates to a Class A misdemeanor on third offense. Because the bill does not define what speech or conduct constitutes a disturbance or disruption, it poses a threat of criminal prosecution for speech and expression at the heart of the First Amendment. That vague and overbroad language, combined with the escalation of penalties on second and third offense, produces a chilling effect on legitimate public participation in government. SB171 Third Substitute gets a “Lights Out” from GRAMAWatch.

Senate Bill 185 (Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi)

This bill clarifies that certain records related to policy and procedures at correctional institutions, including audit records, are considered open records under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). SB185 is a win for open government and gets a “Bright Light” from GRAMAWatch.

HB132

This bill appears to be aimed at protecting the free speech rights of college students. That’s a political hot potato, to be sure, but I’m not seeing any impact on open government in this bill.

HB265

This bill requires annual reports on privacy protection from any government agency that handles personal information. It seems like a wasteful requirement to produce these reports annually, but I’m not seeing where the public loses access to any public information.

SB27

This bill requires the attorney general to give reports to legislative committees on constitutional challenges to legislation. I assume these reports would be public, but it doesn’t explicitly say that. I defer to the lawyers as to whether that should be pointed out to the sponsor.

SB64

This bill requires mosquito abatement districts to notify the public before certain treatments. It only requires notification through a website or social media platform. I suppose the Utah Press Association would prefer newspaper public notices, but I’ll defer to FoxPig/Allfrey. Otherwise, I’m not seeing any impact on open government in this bill.

SJR6

This resolution makes some changes to how legislators declare their conflicts of interest and how those declarations get recorded. If anything, this seems to be a win for open government.

SB30

This bill creates (actually it reinstates) the “Economic Development Legislative Liaison Committee.” This is basically the Legislature wanting a role in what the Governer’s Office of Economic Development does. It requires GOED to give lots of detailed reports to the committee of what it’s doing to lure business/make deals, and it makes the committee exempt from the Open Meetings Act. Aside from whatever the constitutionalists want to argue about executive vs. legislative powers (I gotta believe the governor’s office opposes this), I see no reason why everything a legislative committee does should be secret. Make them comply with the existing open meetings requirements, which allows closed meetings under certain conditions. I’d say this is a lights out purely on the blanket closure of meetings.

Utah Media Coalition

WHO WE ARE

The Media Coalition operates GRAMA Watch to identify certain legislative bills as “Bright Lights,” meaning they have a positive effect on open government, or “Lights Out,” meaning the bill would reduce government transparency.

The Utah Media Coalition represents Utah news organizations and the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and it draws on attorneys who are experts in First Amendment law and government access. The coalition encourages Utahns to let their representatives know their thoughts on these bills and on open government in general.

Helpful Tips

1

Follow up! If you haven’t heard back, try another method of communication. Wondering about progress? Check in and find out what action has been taken.

2

Use terms that the legislator or staff member will understand; jargon and acronyms may cloud your message.

3

If you’re referring to legislation, specify the number of the bill or resolution

4

Be courteous and respectful. This is key to effective communication and establishing relationships.

5

If you live in their district and are a constituent, let them know. If you need immediate assistance, let them know so they can respond promptly.

6

Be mindful that legislative staff can be invaluable in helping you with a situation or in delivering your message to the legislator. Consider speaking with them about your issue. Staff often work closely with legislators and may provide some influence

Meaningful citizen participation depends on the public’s ability to access information.  The Utah Media Coalition is committed to preserving your access to that information.

Freedom of Information and access to government records plays an important role in keeping government transparent and accountable.   

We encourage you to contact your Legislator to voice your opinion about this bill.