A member of Utah’s Republican-controlled legislature is proposing a bill that would open party caucuses. Representative Kraig Powell-R, Heber City is writing legislation he plans to introduce during the 2012 session scheduled for next January in Salt Lake City that would either force the legislature to conduct meetings in public, or allow those that are now public to be closed.
Current Utah law allows legislators to close meetings to the public if a majority of those in attendance vote to do so. Because the legislature is dominated by one party, meetings are closed regularly. Other entities – such as school boards and city councils – are required to remain open to the public.
Powell’s first bill would require the legislature to comply with Utah‘s Open Public Meetings Act. All meetings held by the legislature would be open to the public if they are discussing legislation.
The second bill would be introduced if the first failed to pass. This legislation would allow other entities now required to keep meetings open be allowed to close them when they choose. Powell does not want the second proposal to become law, but wants to illustrate how the legislature is allowed to conduct its business.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers held meetings behind closed doors and rushed through HB477, a bill that would have made electronic communications by legislators secret. When the bill finally came to light and quickly passed both houses and got a signature from the Governor right at the end of the session, public outrage was so intense the law was quickly repealed.
Following the session, a commission was appointed to review GRAMA, Utah’s Open Records Law, and it is expected some sort of legislation concerning electronic communication will be introduced again next year. Extreme public scrutiny is also anticipated.
Although Powell voted for HB477, he said at the time he felt pressured by house leadership to go along with it. He plans to spend his time in the legislature making sure “nothing like HB477 ever happens again.” House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart-R, Provo maintains it is “not her style” to pressure anyone.
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Source: Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, Utah Legislature, Utah State Code