Utah officials want to hide their calendars from the public. A new bill will do just that.

SB240, which would exempt official calendars from Utah’s public records law, comes days before a judge is due to hear arguments over access to Utah A.G. Sean Reyes’ official calendar.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. A revised bill in the Legislature would allow elected officials to keep their calendars from the public.

Days before media attorneys and the Utah attorney general’s office are set to argue before a judge about whether Attorney General Sean Reyes’ official calendar should be made public, a bill is advancing in the Legislature to make all elected officials’ calendars secret by exempting them from Utah’s public records law.

Sen. Curt Bramble’s bill, SB240, would explicitly make any daily calendar off-limits under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, whether it belonged to a state, county or local government employee, or any elected official, from the governor down to a city recorder. The bill was made public Tuesday morning and won unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee at a hearing Tuesday evening, moving to the full Senate for consideration.

“The longstanding practice is that daily calendars are not a record that has to be disclosed,” the Provo Republican told the committee. “For those who believe we’re somehow changing the law, I would proffer to the committee this is clarifying what the longstanding practice and interpretation of the law has been.”

In fact, official calendars have regularly been deemed subject to GRAMA, dating back to the scandal involving former Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow more than a decade ago.

“Public officials do the public’s business, and their daily calendars are the most basic record of how and whether they are doing their jobs,” said Dave Reymann, an attorney for the Utah Media Coalition. “Making all daily calendars secret, as this bill would do, means government would be less transparent and less accountable to the people these officials are supposed to serve.”

Reymann is representing KSL and is scheduled to argue a case involving the attorney general’s office next Monday over the office’s refusal to release Reyes’ official calendar. KSL reporter Annie Knox requested the calendar last year and the office refused to release it, arguing it is not a public record. She appealed to the State Records Committee, which ruled it was a public record and ordered it released, but the attorney general’s office is now suing the records committee, asking the court to overrule the committee.

The Tribune, which has also requested several years of Reyes’ calendar, has filed a brief supporting Knox and KSL, arguing an official’s calendar is vital to understanding how elected officials spend their time.

The Tribune also requested House Speaker Mike Schultz’s official calendar after Schultz spoke to a group with Christian nationalist ties. While the Utah House of Representative staff first claimed Schultz’s calendar is not a public record, their later responses to a public records request said the elected lawmaker’s calendar doesn’t exist.

Bramble’s bill would not impact the case involving Reyes’ calendar, since it would not take effect until May 1. But it would prevent the public from gaining access to any future official meetings of any government employee or elected official.

As it is currently written, the law says that a “daily calendar or other personal note” is not subject to the records law, but that was interpreted by the records committee to mean that personal entries on calendars can be withheld. Bramble’s bill separates the section before the word “or,” meaning all daily calendars would now be exempt — whether they show personal or official meetings.

Bramble had said Tuesday morning that his “intent was not to exempt official calendars,” but that private appointments should not be subject to GRAMA. In his presentation to the committee Tuesday evening, he expressed the exact opposite position.

“When our attorneys say there has never been a request for a calendar under GRAMA,” he said, “then the records committee makes a determination differently, then its incumbent on us to clarify.”

The bill is not the first time that lawmakers have tried to make official calendars private.

In 2011, lawmakers passed HB477, which aimed to dismantle large portions of the state’s open records law, including enabling elected officials to keep their calendars secret. But amid public backlash, including raucous protests at the Capitol, lawmakers backed off and repealed HB477. Instead, they held a series of working groups involving the public and other stakeholders and eventually passed a bill that restored public access to official calendars, although personal notes and information could be blacked out.

Bramble sponsored the bill that restored that language and implemented the GRAMA working group’s compromise.