Secret bills make a mockery of legislative process

For a state that prides itself on being transparent, there sure are a lot of secrets. Among those secrets are over 270 bills with absolutely no text.

While some of these bill are still being drafted, many of them are waiting in the aisles, hoping to go undetected until the last minutes of the session, when a seemingly innocuous, but actually dangerous, bill can get quick approval without much fuss.

There are bills with names like Initiative and Referendum, Election Law, Teacher Termination, Governmental Immunity, Online Voting, Federal Tolls, Marriage Revisions, Weapons on Public Transportation and Prostitution. There is even one titled Achieving a Better Life Experience.

Curious titles to be sure. Some funny, some alarming, some that should make constituents very worried about what their legislators are up to.

And those are just the bills we know about–they don’t include the hundreds of protected bills. These are the bills that legislators are hiding from public view until later in the session when they can bring them out and attempt to rush them through with as little public inspection as possible.

Keeping a bill protected has occasionally backfired as in HB477, the GRAMA, or Open Records Bill, of a few years ago. It was a protected bill that was brought out late in the session, passed quickly and quietly, and signed into law. Overwhelming public outcry forced the Governor to call the legislature back into session to overturn the law. But that’s an anomaly–a perfect storm of events that brought together an angry media and a frustrated public to create enough groundswell to actually force change.

But the rule that allowed 477 to pass is still in place and still being used. Despite annual attempts to change the rule and require all bills to be made public far earlier in the session, legislators stand firmly in support of their behind-the-curtain tactics.

We deserve to know what our legislators are doing. All bills should be made public. If not prior to the session, certainly within the first two weeks.

If legislators are unable to work in a way that allows them to be prepared in time for our very short session, then perhaps they are not up to the task of being a legislator. But even worse, if they intentionally hide bills from their constituency, preferring to operate without the light of open and public participation, then being a legislator isn’t a role they deserve.

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.

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