The United Utah Party pushes for all legislative bills to be made public

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) New Senate President Stuart Adams conducts business in the Utah Senate on the first day of the 2019 legislative session at the Utah Capitol, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

The United Utah Party is calling for Utah lawmakers to put an end to a policy that allows bills to be secret until sponsors OK their public release.

Richard Davis, the party’s chair, said that as his organization reviewed bills to decide which to oppose or support during the last legislative session, members felt “stymied” because of the lack of public disclosure. “We don’t believe this is the way that it ought to operate. If a bill is filed, its content should be public,” he said in an interview.

This year, “legislators have opened files for over 1,200 bills, but only about a fourth of them have been made available to any member of the public,” Davis said in a prepared statement on the opening day of the 2019 Legislature. Such secrecy, he added, “does not inspire confidence in the process.”

The United Utah Party started off as a political action committee that attracted Democratic and Republican members alienated by the extreme views of their major party leaders. After successfully petitioning to become a certified party, the United Utah Party fielded candidate Jim Bennett in 2017′s special congressional election, drawing 9 percent of the vote. It put forward multiple candidates last year. None won, but Eric Eliason drew more than 29,000 votes in the 1st Congressional District, accounting for 11.6 percent of all votes cast. Incumbent Rep. Rob Bishop R-Utah, won re-election with 61.6 percent and Democrat Lee Castillo finished with 25 percent.

Davis says party representatives attended Monday’s opening day of the legislative session and they plan to keep an ongoing presence on Utah’s Capitol Hill to put pressure on lawmakers to prohibit — by law or policy — the filing of a bill before it is fully drafted and available for public inspection.

The party is not opposed to amendments being filed later on in the session, but believes that the current process “allows the Legislature to work on a bill without telling the public what is going on,” Davis said.

While United Utah doesn’t expect immediate results, its members hope that by raising awareness of the issue, they can “change the mentality” of lawmakers over time, he said.