As it has for the past two years, the Utah Media Coalition is again reviewing Utah legislative bills for their impact on open government.
The coalition, made up of broadcast and print news organizations and the Utah Headliners chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, issues GRAMA Watch notes on certain bills, designating them as "bright lights" if they have a positive effect on open government, "pale lights" if they have a neutral effect or "lights out" if they work against open government.
Here are the first five GRAMA Watch notes of 2014:
• House Resolution 1 (Rep. Kraig Powell) This would modify House rules to prohibit the House from passing legislation that hasn’t been heard by a standing committee (with some exceptions). The intent is to avoid passing bills that haven’t received sufficient scrutiny from legislators and the public, and that makes HR 1 a win for open government. The resolution gets a "bright light" from GRAMA Watch.
• House Bill 227 (Rep. Kraig Powell) This bill would make public the forms that legislators file to direct staff to prepare specific bills. The forms identify the legislator making the request, the date of the request and the short title assigned to the requested legislation. Those forms currently are not public, and bringing them to light allows the public earlier access to the legislative process. The bill gets a "bright light" from GRAMA Watch.
• House Bill 242 (Rep. Brian King) This bill modifies the Government Records Access and Management Act to require government entities to provide free access to government information when releasing that information benefits the public. Current law allows cities, counties, etc., to charge requesters of public documents for the time it takes to satisfy their requests, but current law also allows those entities to waive those fees when there is a public interest. This bill would change that optional waiver to a mandatory one, and it therefore earns a "bright light" from GRAMA Watch for improving open government.
• Senate Bill 36 (Sen. Karen Mayne) This bill would limit disclosure of voter information. Utah historically has kept names, addresses and birth dates of registered voters public. This allows members of the public to independently verify that all people listed as registered voters in an area are residents of that area, which helps maintain the integrity of elections. The voter information was recently obtained and posted on a web site, leading to concerns about privacy and identity theft. But no cases of identity theft have ever been traced to voter records. This bill is unnecessary and could serve to undermine confidence in elections. It earns a "lights out" from GRAMA Watch.
• Senate Bill 114 (Sen. Gene Davis) This bill would require canal company operators to regularly assess the safety and stability of their canals. Those canals at highest risk would be put on a "canal action list" and the company would be required to file a remediation plan with the state. But the bill would classify the remediation plans as protected records, meaning that people who live near the canals would not have access to the plans. That classification works against open government, and it earns the bill a "lights out" designation from GRAMA Watch.
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