Lawmakers Move to Fix Open-Meeting Law Error

Utah State Capitol 07Oops!

A law passed by the 2014 Legislature accidently imposed the 24-hour Open Meetings agenda requirement onto House and Senate Rules Committees and – more importantly – the conference committee meetings drastically needed at session’s end.

Accordingly, legislative leaders have decided to be careful and reinstate the exemptions to the 24-hour agenda requirement for those types of legislative meetings.

But don’t worry, ultra-sensitive legislative watchers, there will actually be more transparency than previously.

For in the four different pieces of legislation introduced Thursday to fix the problem, there will be a new rule: The time and location of every conference committee will be announced from the House and Senate podiums in open floor sessions.

Does this all sound really confusing?

Probably so.

But GOP and Democratic legislative leaders want the public to know the original mistake was just that – an error in the drafting of the 2014 bill.

And it will be business as usual for the Rules Committees – whose meetings are already announced from the House and Senate podiums.

Also, while the Senate president and House speaker now sometimes announce conference committee meetings from their podiums, now it will be an internal legislative rule that they have to do so.

But wait, there’s more!

You will be able to sign up on the Legislature’s Twitter hashtag to be automatically notified on your smartphone or tablet or computer of any or all conference committee meetings – a real help for the harried media reporters, lobbyists and special interest advocates who need to attend the hastily-called conference committee meetings.

Now, many UtahPolicy readers probably already know what a conference committee is, and why they are called.

For the uninitiated: In the latter-days of each session, if one body amends a bill from the other body, and the originating body doesn’t agree with the amendment, the speaker and president will appoint two majority party and one minority party members to a conference committee.

That six-member group meets quickly and tries to work out an agreement. If they can, then a conference committee report is read into both the House and Senate and a vote on final passage takes place.

As you can see, if there were a 24-hour agenda notification requirement on the last day, no such committee could meet. It would be a violation of the Open Meetings Law – and any action by such a committee would be void.

So it’s crucial that the conference committees can be called quickly, meet quickly, and have any compromises written up and voted on by both bodies.

It used to be that conference and Rules Committees met in secret.

Now both meet in public, but they meet with little notice – just a word from the speaker or president announcing such meetings.

While the leaders tried to announce conference committee meetings from the podiums in the past, sometimes in the crazy final hours of the last day it slipped, and reporters/lobbyists/advocates had to run around trying to find where the conference committees on a certain bill were meeting to see the final deals/compromises worked out.

Now, leaders tell UtahPolicy, it will be a rule.

And when conference committee’s chairs decide on a time and place to meet in the Capitol, they will have to tell the speaker/president, who must then verbally announce from their podiums.

Even better, the research assistants assigned to that bill will have the time and place put up on the Legislature’s Twitter account/hashtag, and those who sign up to will be notified of a particular bill’s conference committee, or for all the conference committees meeting in the final two days of each session.

At least, that’s the plan as laid out in the four pieces of legislation, SJR15SB190HR2, and SR2, that will:

— Reinstate the Open Meetings Act exemptions for the Rules Committees and conference committees.

— And require the verbal floor announcements of conference committees’ time and place, and set up the Twitter notifications.

On top of all that, the Legislature’s homepage will be updated on conference committee times and place, although that update won’t be automatic and may take a few minutes.

Sometimes honest mistakes can end up making things better.

The Twitter link is @utlegtracker.