At least one prominent lawmaker on Wednesday warned that the next two years will bring hard financial times to Utah so it would be smart to thoroughly investigate the costs of improving the electronic sharing of information among government entities before counting on getting it.

Ty McCartney, a former Democratic legislator from Salt Lake, addressed the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday about ideas for upgrading electronic communication among police departments and jails, and, ultimately, among prosecutors, courts and other state agencies.

Shared databases and quick access to an assortment of information would be a highly valuable tool for police officers in the field — and these benefits could extend even farther in the future, he said.

Lawmakers did not dispute the value of having better and more streamlined information sharing.

But Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, warned that the money picture looks extremely grim and noted that software programs, while useful, also are expensive.

"We're looking at serious fiscal difficulties," Hickman said. "I wouldn't rush right out for an RFP (request for proposal) with the idea of getting it in the next year or two."

McCartney said his purpose in appearing before the committee was simply to inform the influential group of the potential benefits of improved communication so members would not be surprised if a bill emerges during next year's general session.

McCartney had introduced a similar type of bill in 2002, but it carried a $1.2 million cost, which proved fatal. In addition, the technology then was not so sophisticated as it is now.

Seven years ago, McCartney said the 135 police agencies across the state had little shared information among their record systems. As a result, police could be investigating a criminal suspect in one jurisdiction and the police in another area would have no idea that was going on.

"There was almost zero collaborative effort regarding data," he said.

Things have improved since then, but it would greatly assist law enforcement statewide to take information sharing to the next level, which now is technically possible.


E-mail: lindat@desnews.com