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Lawmakers moving to legalize newspaper reporting on politics

The low regard Utah politicians have for newspapers can never be underestimated.

But a state law on the books that makes every newspaper or magazine publisher/owner/editor an outlaw may go too far even for state lawmakers.

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The Government Operations Interim Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of repealing the law.

The law, which has been on the books for years, requires the head honcho of a newspaper or periodical to file a verified financial statement of ownership. That filing must take place before the newspaper prints anything -- news article or editorial -- "that is intended to influence, directly or indirectly, any voting at any election."

Violation is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail.

Mark Thomas, of the Utah Elections Office, told lawmakers no one ever has filed such a report and county clerks don't even maintain forms for such filings.

He expressed his opinion that the law is "obsolete," though he never mentioned its questionable constitutionality.

Frank Pignanelli, a lobbyist for the Utah media coalition, monitored the hearing but decided not to testify when he sensed where it was going. After the hearing, though, he said current law is a clear violation of the First Amendment.

The committee approval means the repeal legislation now goes to the full Legislature in January where its fate is anybody's guess and may depend on whether the media has done anything lately to irritate lawmakers more than usual.

-- Dan Harrie



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