The Utah Media Coalition has announced two GRAMA Watch notes, including a negative Lights Out designation for a House bill that the sponsor acknowledged was not intended as serious legislation.

HB 226, introduced by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, would seriously undermine Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act by allowing public officials to close public meetings simply because they prefer them closed. 

Powell said he introduced the bill only to make a point, not to get it passed. But it is still a bill before the legislature that would become law if passed and signed. The media coalition believes passage would be a major setback to public participation in government and therefore gave the bill a Lights Out.

The other bill, HB 111, sponsored by Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, extends the requirements of the Open and Public Meetings Act to smaller groups of public officials who are meeting to conduct public business. Current law says public bodies must provide notice of meetings and make them open to the public. This bill would then apply when as little as two members of the public body are meeting for the purpose of doing daily business. This bill earns a Bright Light.

Here is the GRAMA WATCH note:

HB 226 Closed Meeting Amendments (Powell, R-Heber City)

This bill would allow public officials to close public meetings when the officials find it “preferable,” a broad exception that would effectively gut Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act. 

The sponsor of HB 226 is also sponsoring HB 89, which would open up Legislative party caucus meetings. He has indicated he filed HB 226 not to get it passed into law but instead to make a point to his colleagues that party caucuses are in fact public meetings and should be treated as such. GRAMA Watch gave HB 89 a Bright Light for its benefit to open government, but HB 226 gets a Lights Out.

Whatever the sponsor’s intent, the bill as written would be a serious blow to open government. The Utah Media Coalition represents a broad group of Utah news organizations and serves to protect the public’s right to open government. The coalition’s GRAMA WATCH will rate legislation and other government proposals on their transparency and issue these GRAMA WATCH notes. The coalition encourages Utahns to contact their government representatives to voice their concerns about keeping all levels of government open and accessible.

HB 111 Amendments to Open and Public Meetings Act (Frank, R-Pleasant Grove)

This bill would make it so small meetings involving only some members of a public body would still be subject to the Open and Public Meetings Act. Specifically, if two or more members of a public body meet to discuss an issue that the public body oversees, then that meeting must be publicly announced and open to the public as required by the Open and Public Meetings Act. This change would be a benefit to open government, and the bill receives a Bright Light.