SALT LAKE CITY — A longtime Fox 13 news anchor and relatively young KTVX reporter expressed contrasting views on a controversial bill that would restrict the use of noncompete contracts in Utah broadcast media.
Bob Evans, who has worked under a noncompete contract for 22 years at Fox, said a TV station puts a lot of time, money and energy into crafting an image through its on-air talent.
"That image becomes one of the lynchpins for a station's success," he told the Senate Business and Labor Committee on Monday. "Protecting a station's investment in its people, product and credibility is a legitimate concern."
Glenn Beeby, who joined KTVX in 2015, told the committee that noncompete agreements have a lot do with young, eager reporters not sticking around long enough to become seasoned veterans. He acknowledged that stations invest thousands of dollars into their staffs.
"But I wonder if anyone on this committee knows the name Karl Malone. I'm sure you know his name because his talents, not because of the Jazz marketing team," he said.
After taking brief testimony from both sides, the panel voted 4-2 to move HB241 to Senate floor. The House overwhelmingly passed the measure last month.
The bill would prohibit broadcasters from using noncompete contracts for employees who make less than $47,500 per year. Employees who earn more than that could enter into those agreements with certain restrictions, including limiting a contract to four years and the noncompete agreement to one year. If an employee is fired for just cause or not retained after a contract expires, the noncompete clause would be valid, but if the employer breaks the contract, it would not be enforced.
Utah's major television stations oppose the bill. They contend that they put many thousands of dollars into developing and promoting anchors and reporters who viewers have come to trust as credible sources of news.
Deseret Management Corp., which owns Bonneville International Corp., KSL, Deseret Digital Media and the Deseret News, uses noncompete agreements in some cases in its TV and radio properties.
"This bill is about lawmakers trying to dictate how we negotiate our contracts," said Tim Ermish, Fox 13 general manager.
Ermish told the committee that passing the bill would open the door to other industries seeking to ban noncompete contracts. He suggested lawmakers "go all in" and "discriminate" against broadcasters.
The Salt Lake Chamber opposes the bill because it targets one industry, as does Free Enterprise Utah, which also cited concerns about "policy creep" to other businesses.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Wood Cross, who cast one of the two dissenting votes, echoed that, saying he has concerns about seeing a flood of bills from other industries. The Legislature, he said, came to a reasonable compromise two years ago in limiting noncompete clauses to one year, and the bill "undermines" that deal.
"I think we need to let this issue settle," he said.
Former KUTV and KSL consumer reporter Bill Gephardt said noncompete contracts have become "perverted" and unfair, and affect off-camera employees as well.
"It boils down to something very simple: If you're not going to pay, let me find a job to support myself and my family," he said.