Media group says canal and voter registration bills hurt “right to know”


By Collin Smith

SALT LAKE CITY—The Utah Media Coalition has analyzed a handful of government record and meeting bills introduced during the 2014 Legislature and has given two a “lights out” for government transparency — including one dealing with canal safety and another which would restrict access to voter registration records.

The Coalition issued its first ratings of the 2014 session rating how the public’s Right to Know would fare if a bill were to pass. SB114, drafted by Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City,  focuses on how canal companies maintain the safety and stability of canals and also directs companies to create remediation plans. The Utah Media Coalition notes that these remediation plans would be protected records, not available to the public.

The law Davis seeks to amend was first enacted in 2010 after a canal in Logan failed and the ensuing flood and landslide crashed into a home, killing a mom and two children inside. The original law called for voluntary compliance and reporting, but kept records off-limits to the public.

“This bill forces the canal companies to assess the safety of their canals,” Davis said. He stated that although the bill will protect the plans submitted by the companies and close them to the public, this is not making government more closed at all. It is simply allowing the companies to privately make modifications to increase the safety of the canals. A full video of Capital West News’ interview can be found by clicking here. 

Jeffrey Hunt, an attorney with the Utah Media Coalition, explained why the bill was flagged “lights out.”

“People who live near these canals would have an interest in what the remediation plans are,” Hunt said.

Hunt said that the intent of the bill was good. To hold these companies responsible for the safety of their canals is very important. However, Hunt said believe there might be a way to make the records public and not change the intent or purpose of the bill. The Media Coalition  members are anxious to hold talks with Davis about amending the bill.

The second bill labeled “lights out” is SB36, a bill that would limit the disclosure of voter registration records. This bill was given a “lights out” rating because, according to the Media Coalition, this bill could undermine confidence in elections. Senator Karen Mayne, the drafter for the bill, was unavailable for comment, but earlier told Utah Policy Daily that she had introduced the bill after someone had obtained a copy of the Utah voter registration records and then posted them online.

“This is very damaging,” Mayne told Utah Policy Daily. “We’ve created four categories of people who should be able to access that list – scholarly, government, journalistic and political. Those  four entities use it for good. My legislation makes it so you cannot buy the voter list for commercial gain.” See a video of her interview with Utah Policy Daily here.

In a new release, the Utah Media Coalition said it that their notes  that will make the government more open and encourage legislators to vote against the bills that would make the government more closed. In fact in most cases, the coalition’s recommendations have been accepted and the Legislature has voted based on the notes presented for each bill. The coalition is hoping that this will also be the case during the 2014 Legislative session.

The Utah Media Coalition has been providing the GRAMA Watch service for three years. A periodic rating released during the legislative session provide notes on certain bills to review their transparency and comment on whether the bill in question makes the government more open to the people or more closed.

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