Governor to sign bill that limits public, journalist access to some police statements

Mar 4, 2022, 7:39 AM | Updated: 2:21 pm
Spencer Cox pictured, he'll holding a Latino town hall on Oct. 24...
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference at the Utah State Capitol on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Cox announced on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, that the state is loosening its hiring requirements. (Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)
(Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s the final day of the 2022 legislative session, and we’re getting some more insight into what might hit Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk by midnight. 

Governor will sign “Garrity bill”

Cox joined Utah’s Morning News to talk about what he might sign if it makes it across his desk in these final hours. 

The governor says he will sign a bill that is designed to protect specific statements of government workers from public records requests. Critics say this makes it more difficult to get information and could undermine the public trust in police and other taxpayer-funded employees. It stems from a case where The Salt Lake Tribune is requesting records from the City of West Jordan that the paper has been denied.

“It passed unanimously,” said Gov. Cox. “So this is one Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on — which is rare in this day and age, although not as rare here in Utah. So we’ll wait for that to come across our desk.”

The bill actually didn’t have full bipartisan support once it came out of committee. Two Democratic committee members, Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, did vote in favor of the bill in committee but changed their minds when it came to the full House vote.

A Republican also voted no in the full House vote. That coming from Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding.

The so-called Garrity Bill, also known as H.B. 399, passed through the Senate last night “under suspension of the rules.” This means there was no debate or public hearing about the bill. And because of that, the bill required only one vote to clear the Senate.

Garrity specifically targets the laws that govern Utah’s public records, known as GRAMA. It passed from the House to the Senate around two weeks ago.

When asked about his no vote, Lyman sent KSL NewsRadio this statement:

“Utah provides that certain records may be classified by the government as “protected,” meaning that they are not available to the public through a records request. Prior to the passage of HB399, there were 83 categories of protected records in Utah code. HB399 brings that total to 84. And the records protected are statements made by an employee of a governmental entity in relation to an investigation related to potential misconduct by the employee. 

Why should government actors have protections that citizens don’t have? In fact, the increase in protections for governments and their agents is growing while the rights of citizens are being trampled. There are records that should be protected, but the records identified in this bill are exactly those records that should be accessible through reasonable means. Denying access to employee statements related to official misconduct denies potential justice to people who have been harmed by that misconduct. This bill is a huge step in the wrong direction.”


Governor pleased with spending during general session

The first-term governor also praised the $25 billion Utah lawmakers have spent during the 2022 general session of the legislature.

“I couldn’t be happier with those numbers,” Gov. Cox told Utah’s Morning News. “Of course, that includes great tax relief, $200 million, that will go back to the people of Utah in lots of different ways.”

The governor says that includes an income tax cut, but also an earned income tax credit for the first time in Utah’s history.

“[It’s] something I’ve been supporting for a long time that will help low-income workers in the state,” he said. “And then a tax relief for seniors for Social Security. So a great tax relief there.”

“If the federal government’s going to keep spending money like this and borrowing from future generations, we’ve got to make sure that we’re responsible, and we’re investing in future generations,” Cox told Utah’s Morning News. “And we do that by investing in education and infrastructure. And that’s exactly what the legislature has decided to do. I could not be happier with their decisions. It matches very closely the budget proposal that I put in place that I gave to them before the session started, and I so appreciate the collaboration on these big-budget issues.”

A billion of the 25 goes to infrastructure, and the per-pupil funding will go up by 6% for the state. But a proposal to fund all-day kindergarten is only getting a portion of what it originally requested.

Water conservation projects will also see a lot of money, including millions to preserve both the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake.

Expect to see “sensitive materials” bill become law

The “sensitive materials” bill is from Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, and it would ban “pornographic and indecent” books in Utah’s public schools passed out of committee Monday, and was circled in the House before quickly getting uncircled, and passed out of the House and on to the Senate.

H.B. 374, Sensitive Materials in Schools gives schools the power to remove books deemed “pornographic or indecent” without having to go through the normal review process. It’s already illegal to have these kinds of materials on school grounds.

Hughes asked the Governor if he’ll sign the bill this morning. 

“Yeah, it was a hot potato earlier, but certainly in a much better place,” said Cox. “Now, I believe this is one that will get bipartisan support as well. It’s been greatly changed. And it really is very simple, this isn’t about book banning is trying to get legitimately pornographic material that may have gotten into libraries, how to get them out, and just make sure that schools have a plan, when there are again legitimate pornographic materials. This is the really heavy stuff that nobody believes should be in a public library.”

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Governor to sign bill that limits public, journalist access to some police statements