Cox to sign bill limiting public and journalist access to certain police statements

SALT LAKE CITY –The Utah Legislature worked into the final minutes of its legislative session on Friday, including sending a bill to Utah Governor Spencer Cox that will prevent the public and media from reporting certain police statements .

Governor to sign ‘Garrity Bill’

Utah Governor Spencer Cox has joined the Utah Morning News to talk about what he could sign if he arrives on his desk in the final hours.

The governor said he will sign a bill designed to protect specific statements by government employees from public records requests. Critics say it makes it harder to get information and could undermine public trust in police and other taxpayer-funded employees. This stems from a case where the Salt Lake Tribune requests documents from the city of West Jordan that the newspaper was denied.

“It passed unanimously,” Cox said. “So that’s something that Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on – which is rare these days, but not nearly as rare here in Utah. So we’ll wait for that to hit our desk.

A Republican also voted no in the full House vote. This comes from Rep. Phil Lyman, Blanding.

The so-called Garrity Bill, also known as HB 399, passed the Senate last night “under rules suspension”. This means that there was no debate or public hearing on the bill. And because of that, the bill only needed one vote to clear the Senate.

Garrity specifically targets the laws that govern Utah’s public records, known as GRAMA. It moved from the House to the Senate about two weeks ago.

Asked his no, Lyman sent this statement to KSL NewsRadio:

“Utah provides that certain records may be classified by the government as ‘protected,’ meaning they are not publicly available through a records request. Prior to the passage of HB399, there were 83 categories of records. protected records in Utah Code HB399 brings that total to 84. And protected records are statements made by an employee of a government entity in connection with an investigation related to potential employee misconduct.

Why should government actors have protections that citizens don’t? In fact, the increase in protections for governments and their agents increases as the rights of citizens are violated. There are records that should be protected, but the records identified in this bill are exactly those that should be accessible by reasonable means. Denying access to employee statements related to official misconduct denies justice to those who have been harmed by that misconduct. This bill is a huge step in the wrong direction.

Have you ever seen a story about an internal investigation by a government agency?

A bill @SpencerJCox could be signing will limit public transparency to see these statements.