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Edwards' voter protection bill clears senate panel despite lobbyist opposition

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Representative Becky Edwards was fighting to protect voters’ personal identifying information before protecting voters was cool. She has shown exceptional political courage because her efforts to protect voters are vehemently opposed by her own Republican Party, the entire media establishment and major corporations.

So far this year, she has managed to get HB302S01 through the House by a vote of 71-2. This bill makes voters birth dates a private record meaning that the state will no longer sell them. It also allows an individual voters to lock up their entire voter records.

Then against all odds, she adapted that bill to meet Senate demands while still maintaining its core components and got the revised bill (HB302S02) through what was generally viewed as a Senate kill committee by a voter of 4-1.

The next four days will determine whether she succeeds in getting her voter protection bill through the legislature.

Edwards first attempted to prevent the release of voters’ birth dates in 2011 but her bill was defeated in the House. She came back in 2012 with a similar bill and it passed the House but the Senate refused to consider it.

Over the years, Representative Edwards warned that if something was not done, the entire voter list would be posted to the internet. She was told that that would never happen. But it did.

Following the posting of the list to utvoters.com, Edwards brought out a simple, extremely effective, bill, HB302S01. (Note: The voter list was subsequently published to utahvoters.com as well.)

Senator Karen Mayne had previously announced that she would run a bill, SB36, to prevent the sale of the voter list for commercial purposes and to prohibit it from being posted to the internet for commercial purposes.

However, by the time the two major political parties along with high paid media and business lobbyists were finished with Mayne’s bill, it had been so weakened that it offered only the most minimal protection to voters and it still allowed utvoters.com to purchase and post the entire voter list to the internet. It passed the Senate unanimously.

After Edwards’ bill was passed by the house on a 71-2 vote she merged many of the components of Mayne’s bill into her bill in order to gain Senate support.

Her revised bill (HB302S02) continues to protect voters’ birth dates and allows them to opt out of having their entire voter record made public in order to protect their lives and safety. It also prohibits the sale and use of the voter list for commercial purposes.

In addition, HB302S02 allows individuals and organizations to purchase the list for narrowly defined political and other election related purposes. Select businesses may also access the list.

Under HB3032S02, those receiving the personal information of Utahns are required to protect it and are subject to both criminal and civil penalties for the improper handling, storage and disposal of voter records.

In spite of this, media and business entities formally opposed the bill when in was heard in the Senate Business and Labor committee because it denies them access to voter’s birth dates and allows voters at risk to lock up their records.

State Republican Party Chair, James Evans sat in the back of the committee room but did not address the bill. However, he had previously made it very clear to Senators that the Utah Republican Party did not support Edwards’ efforts to protect voter birth dates and to allow voters at risk to opt out of having their voter records sold.

Despite the high powered opposition, Edwards’ revised bill, that is supported by the vast majority of Utahns, was passed out of the Senate’s Business and Labor Committee by a vote of 4-1.

Senator Todd Weiler made the motion to pass Edwards’ bill out of the committee with a favorable recommendation and made an impassioned plea in favor of the citizens that the bill protects.

Weiler and Senator Diedre Henderson then cast yes votes and Senator Gene Davis voted no making the vote 2-1 with Senator Bramble and Senator Karen Mayne left to vote.

Senator Mayne put the interests of all Utahns ahead of party and her own personal interest and voted yes thereby ensuring that the bill would pass out of committee. Senator Curt Bramble then voted in favor of the bill. The Senate sponsor of the bill, John Valentine was absent because of other more pressing business.

Although Edwards’ bill survived the Senate Committee, its passage by both houses of the state legislature by midnight on March 13 is far from certain. Parties and lobbyists who oppose the bill will be working overtime to kill it while 1.5 million Utah voters will be counting on the legislature to pass Edwards’ bill and on the governor to sign it.

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