By Michael Todd
Proponents of House Bill 34 are seeking to legalize closed meetings for the Child Welfare Oversight Panel.
The bill would keep sensitive information about Utah”s families, which is discussed before the oversight panel, from the public.
“There was controversy around this bill because people did not understand what it was doing,” said Rep. Michael Morley, R-Spanish Fork, the bill”s sponsor.
Current legislation allows the panel to hold private meetings; however, there isn”t any legislation that regulates the way a private meeting should be held, or what the panel can or can”t discuss during a private meeting.
House Bill 34 clarifies the wording of the current law by changing private meetings to closed meetings.
“Right now, there is no provision in law for a private meeting,” said Morley. “A private meeting is basically on shaky ground.”
The 1994 Open and Public Meetings Act requires all meetings to be open or closed. According to the act, private meetings are not to be held, Morley said.
The proposed legislation changes the panel?s meetings from private to closed making the meetings legal under the Open and Public Meetings Act, he said.
Morley said the panel has to stipulate before the meeting exactly what they will be doing in closed meetings. They cannot deviate from that, he said.
The primary function of the panel is to oversee the child welfare system.
The oversight panel consists of three state representatives and two senators.
The panel convenes when there is a problem with the system, not individual cases.
Minority Whip Rep. Brad King, D-Price, said he agrees with the proposed legislation.
“It”s kind of interesting because normally our caucus is strict about keeping as much open as we can,” King said. “Child welfare is an area that we agree we need to keep closed. Most of the child welfare cases deal with abuse and juvenile criminal records.”
The Division of Child and Family Services supports the bill under certain conditions, said Adam Trupp, administrator of policy and planning for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.
“We support it only to the extent that we”re talking about specific facts of cases that are not to be discussed in a public forum,” Trupp said.
The Division of Child and Family Services is not normally in favor of closing people out of discussions, Trupp said, but, it is acceptable in order to protect the privacy of Utah families.
Trupp said it is possible that the panel would discuss business it shouldn”t in the closed meetings, but, it was unlikely. He said he might be concerned if it were different people.
“That panel has been very interested in having meetings open,” Trupp said. “They”ve demonstrated that over the past couple of years.”
They want people to be involved, he said.