Utah Senate easily passes bill subjecting BYU police force to state open-records law

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The police station at Brigham Young University on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

State legislators are pushing forward to dispel ambiguity about whether police forces affiliated with private universities are bound by Utah public-records laws.

On Monday, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill that would declare outright that these agencies — such as Brigham Young University’s police department — must comply with the Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA.

Before the vote, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, told his colleagues that BYU’s general counsel spoke in support of his bill during a committee hearing last week.

But the BYU department has taken issue with various requests for documents made through GRAMA, arguing that it is exempt from transparency requirements because of its affiliation with a private university.

Litigation on the public or private status of the BYU police force is currently pending before the Utah Supreme Court, after BYU lawyers appealed the ruling of a 3rd District judge in a case brought by The Salt Lake Tribune that the university police department is a government entity and must follow the same rules as other police departments.

In contrast to these court battles, Bramble’s bill, SB197, has proceeded through the Legislature without controversy and passed the Senate without debate or even conversation Monday. Even if the legislation does become law, it would not apply retroactively and wouldn’t necessarily settle ongoing litigation involving the BYU police force, Bramble has said.

The move comes amid news that the state intends to decertify the entire BYU police force in September for violations, including failure to investigate misuse of protected police records and failure to respond to subpoenas.

The legislation will now move over to the House.