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Proposed bill would shield state officials' calendars from the public

[FILE] An American flag and State of Utah flag fly at half mast near the Utah State Capitol. Gov. Spencer Cox ordered flags to be lowered at state facilities Monday in honor of the 9/11 tragedy.
Shelley Dennis
Adobe Stock
The state capitol building of Utah, located in Salt Lake City, stands atop a hill overlooking the city. Known as the "Beehive State," Utah's three branches of government meet in this building, designed by Richard K.A. Kletting. Here the American flag and the state flag of Utah fly at half mast, in memory of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

A new proposed bill, SB 240, would prevent the public from seeing lawmakers’ calendars.

The bill is sponsored by Wasatch County Republican Sen. Curtis Bramble. It would change what documents can be requested under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, specifically making officials’ daily calendars private.

However, during a Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee hearing on Tuesday, Bramble said this isn’t new in practice.

“The long-standing practice of the legislature and the statute was that daily calendars were not a record,” he said.

The law defines a record as any documentary material prepared, owned, received or retained by a governmental entity or political subdivision that can be mechanically or electronically reproduced.

The law also says a record is not a personal note or personal communication that is unrelated to the conduct of the public’s business, or something prepared for personal use. “A daily calendar or other personal note” are not records that can be requested, which the committee interpreted to mean personal entries on calendars can be withheld.

That’s why official calendars have regularly been made public under public record requests. It's also why media attorneys and the Utah attorney general’s office are set to argue before a judge about whether Attorney General Sean Reyes’ official calendar should be made public. The State Records Committee has ruled the calendar is a public record and the attorney general’s office is now suing the committee to overturn the ruling.

However, Bramble’s bill changes the language of the law to separate the section reading “a daily calendar or other personal note.” This would clarify that all daily calendars would be exempt from records requests, regardless of if they show personal or official meetings.

During the committee meeting discussing the bill, members also had questions about whether there is a distinction between full-time and part-time government employees. Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, who is a part-time state employee, said full-time state employees owe the public 40 hours a week.

“An elected official that's a paid full-time employee, I think they should be accountable to the voters to show that they're working full-time.”

Weiler also said having a daily calendar as a public record could get complicated. He said he’s met with many people during the legislative session but hasn’t documented their names as the meetings can be short.

“I can see a real issue there where, you know, maybe now I have to get someone to sign something to tell me their name so I can report it if I'm asked to,” he said.

Bramble said he has made a commitment to make sure the changes won’t infringe on the public’s right to transparency on things like emails.

The bill unanimously passed through the committee. It remains in the Senate and is awaiting a floor sponsor.