Lauren Gustus: You should know what the Utah speaker said is wrong

Are state lawmakers reaching enough to comfort the afflicted or reaching too far to comfort the comfortable?

Bigger Boat | Pat Bagley

Someone asked me how many reporters The Salt Lake Tribune has up at the state Capitol during Utah’s 45-day legislative session.

I told them that whatever our head count is on any given day, it’s not enough.

On our best days, the entire Utah press corps is far outnumbered by 104 members of the Legislature, members of their staff and innumerable lobbyists and influencers who have way more access to your legislators than you do. Legislators who, ever more frequently, don’t answer reporters’ questions, making the work we do both more difficult and more important. And more in need of your support.

In 2024, lawmakers introduced more than 700 bills. Too many of them are designed to make it significantly harder for you to see how they do their work. With just one day left in the session, some experts say the number of anti-transparency bills is unprecedented.

Gov. Spencer Cox has already signed legislation making elected officials and lawmakers’ work calendars a secret. Other bills, if signed, will pay for private companies to scrape lawmakers’ public information from the web and mean you won’t know how much water Utah wants to buy from other states and what it will cost taxpayers. I could go on.

But you get the point.

I hope it is of great concern to you, as it is to me.

In Utah and across the United States, we are consistently reminded that we have to work for democracy. It is not a given.

Just as secrecy is increasing, so is hostility toward journalists — one group lawmakers cannot control or influence.

Earlier this month, I wrote a letter to House Speaker Mike Schultz after he mischaracterized Tribune reporting and criticized our reporters during a news conference. The inaccuracies were amplified on social media by House Majority Whip Karianne Lisonbee and others.

He did not respond to my note.

But BYU professor Joel Campbell, an expert in media ethics, did weigh in. He wrote about why government needs the Fourth Estate. You can read his column here.

Even as it’s increasingly difficult for us to report on how Utah lawmakers are serving the people who elected them, I would put this year’s coverage up against any in recent memory when it comes to helping you understand changes big and small. Sometimes, flaws in the bills that were highlighted by our reporting moved lawmakers to amend their legislation.

The Naked Truth | Pat Bagley

For example, reporter Emily Anderson Stern wrote about how the bathroom bill initially put millions in federal funding for domestic violence and rape crisis centers in Utah at risk. It was rewritten after we published our story, so funding would be preserved.

Reporter Bryan Schott wrote how a GOP lawmaker said Utah’s businesses are forcing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices on workers — but could provide zero examples. The bill failed.

Reporter Courtney Tanner wrote about how hundreds of college tuition waivers for Indigenous students in Utah were in danger of disappearing with the passage of the anti-DEI bill. Lawmakers told Courtney they hadn’t considered this impact and changed the language to protect the scholarships.

What we do is possible only with your support.

You may think that Utah lawmakers are doing too much or too little, not reaching enough to comfort the afflicted or reaching too far to comfort the comfortable. Either way, it is crucial that you, the public, be fully and accurately informed as to what is happening in the halls of power.

We’ll continue to share information you need during the legislative session and beyond. I hope you’ll join us in doing the daily work it takes to strengthen your community.