By Joel Campbell
SPJ Legislative Monitor
While advocates for open government and a free press are likely to breathe a little easier this legislative session, there are still some issues to watch as the Utah Legislature begins Jan. 15.
Gone, it is hoped, are protracted struggles over Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act seen last year.
Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act is likely to gain some attention as two bills have emerged from the legislative interim that would expand the definition of bodies covered by the act and clarify other language. Both bills would be helpful. What may be the downside is the opportunity for amendments as the bills go through the legislative process.
For example, don’t be surprised if Utah’s school districts try to water down a stronger definition of covered bodies in the act. New language added last session makes “advisory” groups covered by the act. Davis School District is still stinging after parents filed suit to stop the closed process to realign school boundaries. The District said that the advisory group should not be covered by the law. School officials across the state say don’t like the new changes in the Open Meetings Act, saying that the new language makes it difficult to form advisory groups include school community councils.
Another open meetings bill would require Internet posting of meeting notices. Currently, public bodies are only urged to post notices online.
Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, will also reintroduce a bill to eliminate Utah’s outdated and unconstitutional criminal libel statute. The bill repeals the criminal libel statute, which was found unconstitutional by the Utah Supreme Court; repeals the definition and presumptions relating to the criminal libel offense; and repeals the Criminal Code offense of slander regarding female chastity. Last year, the Legislature failed to pass a watered-down version of the bill.
Identity theft is also a growing issue affecting records. While most of the proposed bills are palatable, it means restrictions on Social Security numbers released with death certificates and other ways to protect identification. Another bill also protects records when family members or friends tell the state about their concerns about an older driver.
Here’s SPJ’s current watch list of prefiled legislative bills with Web links to the bills:
Bill Request, Local School Board Hearing Requirments, Sen. Jones
Bill Request, Sex Offender Registry Amendments, Rep. Folke
Bill Request, Modification to Campaign Finance Reporting, Rep. Hughes