POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

The public would have less access to government records under proposed law

Feb 23, 2024, 3:00 PM

jeff hunt speaks to a class about public access to government...

Attorney Jeff Hunt at the University of Utah. (Amanda Dickson/KSL NewsRadio)

(Amanda Dickson/KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY — “This session has probably seen the greatest number of bills restricting public access to government records and government meetings I’ve encountered in the last 10 years,” First Amendment attorney Jeff Hunt said of the 2024 Utah legislative session.

Hunt represents a media group that includes KSL NewsRadio. He spoke to my media law class this week at the University of Utah.

It’s astounding the number of bills that shut down access to the public’s business.”

Hunt called it a “bad trend.”

The two Utah state laws the Legislature is chipping away at are GRAMA , the Government Records Access Management Act , and the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act.

Hunt told the students he took part in the drafting of GRAMA some 30 years ago.

The state law is modeled after the Freedom of Information Act. It is based on the presumption that public records should be available to the public. There are exceptions, to be sure, but that is the overall value.

The AG’s Calendar

So, when an elected official starts spending time out of state, focusing on other people and projects, the people might be interested in knowing what portion of his time is spent on the job for which he was elected.

This is why KSL filed a GRAMA request asking for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ calendar. KSL wanted to see how much time he spent here in Utah focusing on Utah issues and how much time he traveled out of state for non-state activities.

The AG denied KSL’s request.

“They said he doesn’t have an official calendar,” Hunt chuckled. “We said, ‘We think you have a calendar.'”

The Reyes later admitted he does have a calendar, but said it’s not his “official” calendar. Hunt, on behalf of KSL, suggested that the AG redact any personal appointments from the calendar.

“Redact birthday party for Luke, and just give us the official appointments,” Hunt said.

They said no.

Hunt appealed to the Utah State Records Committee, a volunteer body. The Records Committee agreed with KSL.

“They said, ‘Yes. You [the AG] have to provide that. You’re a public official. It’s a taxpayer-supported position. You actually have someone keeping your calendar on taxpayer-funded software.”

The attorney general is appealing that decision. The case will be argued on Tuesday.

Enter the Legislature

In the midst of this court battle over Sean Reyes’ calendar, the Utah Legislature joined in.

“They run a bill that says official calendars of public employees in Utah are not subject to GRAMA,” Hunt said.

This is SB 240, sponsored by state Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.

“It’s kind of extraordinary that public officials think the public would have no interest in what the officials are doing with their time,” Hunt said. 

One interesting point to note – the bill is not retroactive. That means that the request for the AG’s calendars would be interpreted under the law as it has been. If this bill passes, it would not take effect until May of this year.

No right to information

It seems natural in a democracy that the people would be interested in how their elected officials spend their time. Citizens might want to know who officials are meeting with, how often, for how long. They might want to know what they’re focusing on.

Most of our calendars would tell a great deal about us. We spend our time on the things that are important to us.

If SB 240 passes, and we no can longer request access to public employees’ calendars under GRAMA, can the new exemption be challenged?

“No,” Hunt explained, “The only way to challenge statutes is on constitutional grounds. The right to information from the government is not a constitutional right except in certain contexts.”

We have a constitutionally protected right to information about judicial proceedings.

“The Supreme Court has recognized a First Amendment right to attend court proceedings and access court records,” Hunt explained. “That right has not been recognized in other contexts. You don’t have a First Amendment right to other records. You do have a statutory right under GRAMA.”

Or we did, depending on the vote this session.

One final note, Hunt said that it’s important to remember who public access laws were designed to benefit.

They weren’t enacted to benefit the media. They were passed to assist the public in learning about their government.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Politics + Government

A TikTok content creator, sits outside the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, April 23, 2024....

HALELUYA HADERO AP Business Writer

Senate passes bill forcing TikTok parent company to sell or face ban, sends to Biden for signature

The Senate passed legislation that would force the parent company of TikTok to sell the social media platform under the threat of a ban.

14 hours ago

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on April 17. The Senate wi...

Morgan Rimmer and Ted Barrett, CNN

Senate passes $95 billion package sending aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after months of delay

The Senate on Tuesday passed a long-delayed $95 billion package after both sides of Capitol Hill have struggled for months to send aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

15 hours ago

A law passed by Utah lawmakers requires that people use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on th...

Heather Peterson

Board of Education: Districts must explain bathroom law

Explanation of a Utah law governing school bathroom use, about to take effect in Utah, will be left up to individual school districts.

16 hours ago

ftc building shown, a new rule would bar noncompete agreements for most...

CHRISTOPHER RUGABER, Associated Press

New federal rule would bar ‘noncompete’ agreements for most employees

FTC officials asserted that noncompete agreements harm workers by reducing their ability to switch jobs for higher pay.

18 hours ago

tank fires at troops in ukraine, sen mike lee is trying to kill a foreign aid bill in the senate...

Bridger Beal-Cvetko, KSL.com

Utah Sen. Mike Lee rallying Senate to kill foreign aid bill for Ukraine, Israel

Sen. Mike Lee has repeatedly criticized efforts to send further military and economic aid to Ukraine.

1 day ago

former president trump, hush money trial opening statement started monday...

MICHAEL R. SISAK, JENNIFER PELTZ, ERIC TUCKER and JAKE OFFENHARTZ

Trump tried to ‘corrupt’ the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

The opening statements in the hush money trial marked the first time that prosecutors have presented a criminal case against a former president to a jury.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

The public would have less access to government records under proposed law