Utah’s senators split on federal reporters’ shield law

12 09 2013

Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee found themselves on opposite sides of whether to grant journalists a qualified right to refuse to testify or hand over notes.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 Thursday to pass out the Free Flow of Information Act to the full Senate for consideration. Hatch voted in favor of the bill, which includes compromise language on who is a journalist, while Lee, the state’s junior senator voted no.

Media organizations have been pushing for a law allowing reporters to protect their sources and their notes since 2006. Forty-eight states, including Utah, have laws offering protection in varying degrees to journalists.

The sticking point on the federal law has been defining who is a journalist. Organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists have argued that rules should protect people who practice journalism. But. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., attempted to push for language that would limit the protection to “real journalists.”

Compromise language approved Thursday extends the protection to freelance journalists and bloggers who have worked in traditional media in the past.

Attempts to contact Lee for comment were not successful.





Gov. Gary Herbert nominates Marie Cornwall for State Records Committee post

10 09 2013

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is following the State Records Committee’s recommendation and nominating Marie Cornwall as the committee’s second public member.

Herbert has sent Cornwall’s name to the Utah State Senate, which will have a confirmation vote when it meets on Sept. 18. However, that is six days after the committee’s regular meeting, leaving the committee one member short for another month.

Cornwall is an emeritus sociology professor at Brigham Young University and lives in Bountiful. The committee gave her a “soft recommendation” in June, due to only seeing her resume.

Cornwall was one of five people who applied for the newly created position. The others were Sarra McGillis, a corrections specialist with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office; James Weightman, director of internal audits at the Salt Lake County Auditor’s Office; and Sheri Bernard, a consultant who had works in health-care information management.

The position was created as part of SB94, Sen. Curt Bramble’s bill that amended the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). The bill also removed the state auditor’s seat on the body that hears GRAMA appeals and replaced it with a second slot for a member of the public.

Bramble said the change was made at the request of State Auditor John Dougall, who wanted to avoid any conflicts of interest if his office were to audit the committee. Dougall — who as a legislator authored HB477, the bill that gutted GRAMA and was repealed after public outcry in 2011 — fired the auditor’s representative on the committee, Betsy Ross.

Herbert’s previous appointment to the board was Holly Richardson, a conservative blogger and former legislator who supported HB477, as a public member.





Utahn debates roles of government spokesmen at National Press Club event

4 09 2013

Linda Petersen, president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government, recently participated in a debate over censorship by government public information officers.

The event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. this past month addressed the issue of government spokespeople limiting reporters’ access to officials at agencies, monitoring interviews and even banning reporters from speaking to certain agencies.

While much of the discussion focused on spokespeople at federal agencies, Petersen pointed out that the mindset that public-information officers need to “control” reporters extends far beyond the D.C. Beltway. Petersen, who is the managing editor of the Valley Journals, sees it in the Salt Lake Valley communities her papers cover.

Petersen said her papers have been forced to go through spokespeople to get information on road projects, and even had the city’s spokesman sit in on an interview with the engineer. In another case, Petersen said she almost published the wrong time for an Easter Egg hunt because a city recreation official said he was barred from speaking to reporters.

“Nobody ever voted for a PAO [Public Affairs Officer],” Petersen said. “No PAO, as yet, has a formal vote on city, state or federal business – so why does government think the public should be fine hearing from them all the time, instead of the people they elected?”

 





Phil Windley, Jason Williams to serve as public members of Utah Transparency Advisory Board

22 08 2013

The Utah Transparency Advisory Board added two new members Monday.

The board unanimously voted to add Phillip Windley and Jason Williams as public members of the board. The two were among five people vying for the two seats created under SB77 in the 2013 Legislature.

Windley previously served as the state’s chief information officer, and Williams is a technology consultant and a talk-show host on KVNU. Both served on the GRAMA working group formed in 2011 after the repeal of HB477, the bill that gutted the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act.

Also applying for the positions were Steven Bagley, general manager of the Utah Department of Transportation’s Lester Wire Library and a technical writer; Christopher Bleak, president and CEO of the Utah Association of Public and Charter Schools and former executive director of the Utah Republican Party; former Rep. Holly Richardson, who is also a member of the State Records Committee.

SB77, which was sponsored by Sen. Deidre Henderson, also expanded the board’s scope from financial records to all public records. Henderson, a Spanish Fork Republican, also chairs the board.





Criminal charges, divorce filings updated on Utah’s Right

10 08 2013

Worried about that guy who’s dating your daughter?

I”ve updated the criminal charges and divorces databases on Utah’s Right, with data from Jan. 1, 1997, to Aug. 2, 2013. The data does not include people whose cases were dismissed or handled through diversion or plea-in-abeyance agreements.

I also delete criminal charges that have been expunged, once I receive a copy of the expungement order.

Even taking out those cases, the databases are still extensive. There are 883,792 criminal charges listed in the database, an increase of 5,069 since the June update.

On the divorce side, we have 146,897 cases online, which is 4,058 more than there were in June.

Bear in mind, just because you found a person’s name in the database, that is not positive identification. The courts do not provide dates of birth in the data requests. So, please verify identities with another source before basing a decision on what you see on the site.





Salary databases show past, don’t predict future paychecks

5 08 2013

I received an email the other day from someone who wanted to let me know the Orem salary database needed updating.

“Please update the City of Orem salary information because it is 2 years old,” the person wrote.  “They are now in Fiscal Year 2014.”

The data up there at this time is for the 2012 fiscal year, which began July 1, 2011 and ended June 30, 2012. I will be posting the 2013 fiscal year data shortly.

But I can’t get to the fiscal year 2014 salary data because, technically, it doesn’t exist yet.

Yes, government agencies have already figured out how much they will spend on each employee’s salary and benefits package for the coming fiscal year. But, that money hasn’t been paid out yet.

I field enough complaints from people who don’t understand that we initially show gross compensation, which is salary plus benefits. Publishing what someone might earn in the coming year is not going to make many people happy.

Let’s say utahsright.com posted that an employee was making $100,000 in salary in the 2014 fiscal year, but the employee got fired two days into the year. While that money was budgeted for him, it’s not what he was paid, which would make that posting erroneous, as well as make this guy upset when he gets people asking about the 100 grand he was supposedly paid.

In the coming weeks, utahsright,com’s salary databases will be updated to show the 2013 data — at least for the agencies that are willing to share that data.





Governor Herbert still looking for public member for records committee

23 07 2013

Filling a vacancy on the State Records Committee wasn’t on the Utah State Legislature’s agenda this past week.

While Gov. Gary Herbert sent recommendations to the Senate for 27 positions that needed advice and conset, including former LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton appointment to the University of Utah Board of Trustees and former LDS General Young Women’s President Elaine S. Dalton’s nomination to serve on the Utah Valley University Board of Trustees, there was no nominee for the records committee.

The Legislature voted earlier this year to take away the state auditor’s position on the committee and add a second seat for a public member. Four people have applied so far for the position on the body that hears appeals of records denials.

The committee gave a “soft recommendation” to Marie Cornwall, an emeritus sociology professor at Brigham Young University in June.

Ally Isom, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Herbert will likely send a name to the Senate for its consideration in September. Isom said Herbert is not trying to drag out the process.

“It’s been a busy, busy month,” Isom said, noting that Herbert has been on a trade mission.

The new appointee would replace Betsy Ross, the auditor’s representative on the committee who was fired in December by incoming state Auditor John Dougall. Ross had opposed HB477, the bill Dougall sponsored as a legislator in 2011 that would have gutted the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

Dougall claims he axed Ross because he did not believe she was doing her job as the office’s liaison to the Legislature. He also endorsed removing the auditor’s seat, as it would allow him to audit the committee without worrying about a conflict of interest.

The Legislature did address an open-government issue during the special session. It voted to allow the House committee investigating Attorney General John Swallow to close some of its meetings and to keep its records away from the public.