BYU poll finds voters value open records far more than legislators' privacy

Published: Tuesday, April 12 2011 11:56 p.m. MDT

Rep. Steven G. Handy sends a message on his phone during a GRAMA work group meeting at the Senate Building of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 23, 2011.

Ravell Call, Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO — Utah voters place far more weight on the public's right to access information about government business than on legislators' right to privacy, according to poll results released Tuesday by BYU professors.

The poll, conducted this month by BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, asked 658 voters to rank by importance four policy goals associated with efforts to reform the state's open-records law, the Government Records Access and Management Act.

The public's right to know about government business was ranked highest by 78 percent of those polled. Only 2 percent valued legislators' right to privacy the most. In between came a citizen's right to privacy when corresponding with legislators (15 percent) and concerns over the cost of processing records requests (6 percent).

Lawmakers most often cited the latter two in their push to quickly pass HB477, the controversial bill scaling back GRAMA, at the tail end of this year's legislative session.

"When you talk about what voters want to accomplish with this kind of legislation, the primary value in their mind is the protection of public access," said BYU politics professor Kelly Patterson.

After public protests and under pressure from Gov. Gary Herbert, the Legislature repealed the bill and sent the issue to a working group to draft new changes in time for an interim session. That group will meet today for the third time.

Patterson said legislators always face trade-offs when they consider complex legislation. The principle that government records should be open inevitably conflicts with privacy, he said, forcing lawmakers and the public to prioritize their values.

"For public officials who argue that privacy and cost are the most important values, Utah voters disagree," Patterson wrote in a blog post.

Email: pkoepp@desnews.com Twitter: pbkdn

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