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Utah's Right to Know
Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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Osmond wants to derail Legislature’s boxcars in name of transparency

As my colleague Robert Gehrke reported, Sen. Aaron Osmond wants lawmakers to put their bills out in the open.

Osmond is introducing a resolution to amend the Legislature’s rules to ban the so-called "boxcar" bills — a blank bill with a vague title — lawmakers use for last-minute lawmaking.

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"My goal is to create an environment where the public and those affected by legislation would have plenty of time to read and respond to legislation before it hits the floor," Osmond told Gehrke.

Osmond’s bill, SJR3, would require lawmakers to file bills with a title and "reasonably specific" description of what it would do at least two weeks before the Legislature begins. A legislator who would want to open a bill file after that time would have to get two-thirds approval of both houses. Budget bills would be exempt.

Joel Campbell, an associate professor of journalism at Brigham Young University and an open-goverment advocate, commended Osmond’s bill.

"Boxcars, along with other measures to get a bill through quickly to distract the ‘competition’ is not good government," Campbell said.

Had Osmond’s plan been in place in 2011, the Legislature may have avoided the whole HB477 debacle. For those of you who forgot, that was when then-Rep. John Dougall sprung a bill gutting the Government Records Access and Management Act in the waning days of the Legislature. The Republican leadership railroaded the bill through the process and to the governor’s desk.

The resulting public outcry, which included rallies on Capitol Hill and an initiative effort to repeal the bill, forced lawmakers into special session to repeal HB477. The bill also earned Utah the first-ever national Black Hole award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Interestingly, Osmond was appointed to fill the vacancy created with Sen. Chris Buttars’ resignation. Buttars was the only Republican legislator to vote against HB477.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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