Utah media challenges legislative proposal restricting public access to information identifying minors
The Utah Government Records Access Management Act task force continued to send recommendations to state legislators regarding the ability of the public to access public records.
Much of the stir has been caused because GRAMA, currently more than a decade old, did not provide for the age of the Internet.
But in the process, other bills associated with the records access act have popped up at the Utah Legislature.
For example, House Bill 28 seeks to limit the ability of the public to access government records involving minors.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Eric Hutchings of Kearns, would add to the definition of what is considered a private records under state statute.
In addition to the current definition of private records, which includes medical information and personnel files for government employees, the bill would add "that part of a record of an individual under 18 years of age indicating the individual's name, age, home address, home telephone number, mobile phone number, or Social Security number, unless the record is a court record."
Last week, the Utah House of Representative's judiciary committee reviewed the bill considered an amendment proposed by the Utah Media Coalition to clarify that, for the record to be considered private, it must "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" or " jeopardize the life or safety of an individual."
Another option considered was to limit the bill to everything except the minor's name.
Both options failed and the committee forwarded the bill to the House floor.
The bill has faced opposition from state media organizations under the claim that it would significantly damage the media's ability to report on the activities of minors.
If passed, the bill has the potential to restrict the publication of regularly used information. Since public schools are a part of state government, student publications such as newspapers and yearbooks could be barred from printing students' names. Those publications could be criminalized and under a strict legal interpretation could only be legal if they contained no student names, including bylines of student media staff members, names of athletes and outstanding students and limiting bylines to phrases that include neither the students' age or name.
Student journalists could be restricted from quoting any student by name. Although anonymous sources are used in certain cases by media outlets, the preferred style is to quote all sources and attribute quotes by name.
Other school documents which could be restricted include:
News releases announcing the MVP of a high school sport championship;
Rosters of high school sports teams that would contain the students' names and ages;
Programs for a high school drama or music concert that contains students' names;
Student honor rolls posted in the hallway of a school or sent to a local newspaper for publication;
Faculty newsletters praising the work of a teacher and a student that includes the student's name; and
Lists of students who are photographed for a story in a local newspaper.
Members of the Utah Media Coalition call the bill unnecessary. They note that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) already restricts public schools and the access to students' records. And a growing trend among law enforcement officials is to remove minors' names from police records.
The bill also has the potential ability to limit the ability to release of minors' names who are victims of abduction or other crimes. The Utah Media Coalition urged the public to contact legislators and encourage lawmakers to defeat the bill.