The public could soon have online access to recordings of legislative committee meetings conducted between legislative sessions if a transparency bill passes.
The proposed measure would remove confidentiality protections given to conversations between lawmakers and their legal staff which may be incidentally recorded during an interim committee meeting.
The bill would make it possible for the Legislative Service Office to make recordings of interim committee meetings available to the public online. Those meetings are held around the state, usually during working hours.
The Legislature’s Management Council, which is composed of leadership from both parties and chambers, sponsored the bill after taking testimony on it during the interim.
LSO staff have said they are unable to put the meeting recordings online without the legislation because of confidentiality concerns. Lawmakers’ communications with their staff are confidential under state law. The LSO staffers say they have to listen through each recording and make sure no confidential communications from lawmakers are accidentally recorded, a prohibitively time consuming process for a thinly-staffed agency.
The bill would remove that onus and LSO would then begin to archive the meetings under a direction from the Management Council.
The bill has passed multiple votes on the House floor and in the House Rules Committee without a single no vote recorded against it. On Tuesday, Senate President Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) assigned it to the Senate Rules Committee which he chairs. Bebout and other senators on that committee voted to sponsor it during a Management Council meeting.
Last year, a similar version of the bill soared through the House, but died 13-17 on its final vote in the Senate.
“We are really optimistic but still a little skeptical because of what happened last year and the precedent to not support these types of measures,” said Phoebe Stoner, director of the Equality State Policy Center. The center advocates for more public access to legislative activities.
During Management Council meetings in the run-up to the 2018 session, senators repeated the concerns they had expressed in the 2017 session, she said. The bill was then redrafted to assuage those concerns. “We’re still watching it closely,” Stoner said.
Divisions between the House and Senate are deepening over education and approaches to fund state government. Stoner hopes HB-192 will be one bill on which the two chambers can come together, as opposed to a bill that gets lost in the fray.
“In times where the House and Senate are so divided between the approach to funding education and the state’s budget, issues like transparency should be something that brings us all together,” she said. “It should be something that we can all agree on.”