My view: A fresh start is needed on HB477

By A. Scott Anderson

Published: Thursday, March 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

As a business leader, I support Gov. Gary Herbert's call for a special session to repeal HB477, the legislation dealing with open records. A fresh start is needed so this important issue can be fully aired, studied and resolved, without suspicion or taint, with all stakeholders involved.

I believe our state legislators were right to seek to update the state's public records statutes, considering the new and evolving communications technologies and techniques that did not exist when the original law was written. But this issue is so fraught with controversy and emotion that much discussion in an open process is required. Stakeholders on all sides have very strong opinions, hardened further by the acrimony and overwhelming publicity directed at this matter.

Thus, given the current hard feelings and mistrust, the task ahead demands starting over with a clean slate. This means that rather than using HB477 as a starting point, the current bill should be repealed entirely to accommodate a true fresh start.

It will require a great deal of time, in addition to much study, discussion and input, plus compromise and a lot of wisdom, to craft a law that meets three objectives: provide proper transparency in government; prevent costly public records "fishing expeditions"; and protect privacy of individuals interacting with government leaders on private matters. This is a complicated issue, with many nuances.

Our state legislators serve part time. They and their families have private lives. Both their own privacy and that of their neighbors, friends, families and business associates who communicate with them on private matters, should be protected.

It is unfortunate that this issue has overshadowed what was a very successful, even remarkable, legislative session. In difficult circumstances, our lawmakers accomplished a great deal, including landmark immigration reform.

I believe that Utah is governed very well by dedicated state legislators and other political leaders. In fact, one measure of how well Utah is doing is the fact that the hottest current political issue in our state is access to government records. Other states face crippling debt and are slashing education budgets and laying off thousands of school teachers and public employees.

That's not to minimize the importance of this issue, but it is important to keep it in perspective.

All things considered, it makes sense to repeal HB477 and start over. A fresh start, with full public airing of every element and nuance of this public policy matter, and with involvement of all stakeholders, will ensure public confidence in the process.

I commend Gov. Herbert for calling a special session to repeal HB477, and encourage our state legislators to support the governor's request and set the stage for an open process that will inspire trust and confidence and result in good public policy.

A. Scott Anderson is president and CEO of Zions Bank.

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