The Utah Legislature’s first-ever virtual special session kicks off Thursday morning. There won’t be live public comment, but Utahns can submit their thoughts on bills through the Legislature’s website directly to their representatives or to all lawmakers.
Those public comments will not be viewable on the Legislature’s website after they’re submitted though.
“We are concerned that public comment on bills will not actually be public,” said Katie Matheson, communications director for the progressive policy group Alliance for a Better Utah. “Just have the comments public on a website. It’s super simple. And I think that it really would honor the spirit of transparency in government at a time when it’s needed most.”
Matheson added that planning the state’s first completely virtual legislative session must have been difficult and that she was pleased there was an avenue for public comment on the website.
Live public comment typically happens in committee meetings during regular sessions, but those meetings aren’t legally required in special sessions. Senate Chief of Staff Mark Thomas said the Legislature wanted to have committee meetings and post public comments, but IT staff didn’t have enough time to put the technology in place.
“Our IT staff is working hard on the virtual special session and is focusing their time there,” Thomas said. “We recognize the importance of being able to try to have a public process as much as we can … and certainly with the pandemic it’s cause for some extraordinary measures.”
The Legislature will likely return for several more special sessions throughout the coming months and Thomas said IT staff could get virtual committee hearings up and running by the next one.