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Democrats pay $5,000 for ‘free’ public records

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis stood outside the state’s legislative research office Monday holding a $5,000 check.

“This is what it costs to get free information from the Republicans in the Utah Legislature,” he said.

State Democrats filed a open records request for emails, text messages, correspondence, documents and maps associated with the redrawing of legislative and congressional boundaries last fall. The state, Dabakis, said denied the request, saying it is not in the public interest.

As a result, the state is charging a fee to research and compile the records.

“This is extortion,” Dabakis said.

Democrats say the Republican-controlled Legislature unfairly and behind closed doors drew new congressional districts to the GOP’s advantage. They are considering a lawsuit but want to review the documents before going to court. Dabakis estimated the request could yield 10,000 pages.

“We want to know what happened and why it happened,” he said.

Republicans earlier made a similar request, which cost them $2,000.

No feral cats, please

In her opening remarks to Utah House members Monday, Speaker Becky Lockhart asked her colleagues to think about needy people, veterans and young people.

The Provo Republican said she had several profound experiences over the summer at a homeless center for teens, a Memorial Day service and a high school that caused her to think about what lawmakers do and how they do it.

“Sometimes I think we get caught up in some things that aren’t necessarily the big issues,” she said.

Like feral cats?, asked a reporter a her first daily news conference of the session.

“Next,” Lockhart with a laugh but clearly not wanting to rehash a sidelight that dominated last year’s session. One lawmaker wanted to make it legal to shoot feral cats.

Asked whether her opening speech was well received, Lockhart said, “They clapped. I hope so. I hope so. I think that people are more aware this session of the big issues that are out there.”

In the first of what will be a daily news conference during the 45-day session, Lockhart reflected on her second year as speaker.

“I’m a lot more relaxed,” she said, adding her nerves weren’t as big of a problem. “It’s more comfortable.”

Senate to consider ecommerce taxation

Acknowledging the swift growth of Internet sales compared to brick-and-mortar commerce, Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said Utah needs to join other states in an effort to collect sales tax on online sales.

Utah lawmakers “do not want to hinder” e-commerce but the reality is, he said, billions of dollars of online sales go untaxed.

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“We’re disadvantaging brick-and-mortar stores on Main Street Salt Lake City,” Waddoups said.

Waddoups said the Senate will explore a means to join some 25 other states that part of a compact to streamline the tax collection process.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said Utahns are now supposed to report Internet purchases on their income tax reforms.

“There’s very low compliance and very high enforcement costs for the states so that states have never enforced it,” he said.

Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, has a bill to as he says help Utahns comply with the law.

Dennis Romboy

Twitter: dennisromboy