Poll shows strong support for referendum on HB477

Published: Friday, March 18 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

Becky Heiss of Salt Lake City collects signatures for a citizens initiative to repeal HB477 in the Avenues on Friday.   (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Becky Heiss of Salt Lake City collects signatures for a citizens initiative to repeal HB477 in the Avenues on Friday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns want to save GRAMA.

In a statewide poll this week, 80 percent of respondents said they would sign a petition to repeal HB477, a controversial bill passed by the Utah Legislature that weakens the state's Government Records Access and Management Act.

In the poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News and KSL-TV, 58 percent of those interviewed said they definitely would sign the petition, while another 22 percent said the probably would sign it.

The poll of 432 Utahns — 95 percent of whom are registered voters — has a margin of error of 4.75 percent.

That high level of support for the referendum is good news for its sponsors, who have a little more than month to gather 96,372 signatures from registered voters in various parts of the state.

A group of Utahns organized as Save GRAMA is amassing volunteers and putting into action a plan of attack to get the needed signatures before its small window of opportunity closes.

"We're reaching out to all kinds of citizen groups, trying to enlist their support," said Linda Petersen, a Save GRAMA board member and president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

Roughly 250 volunteers already have committed to help the cause in one way or another, and more are signing on every day, said Shane Siwik, Save GRAMA's volunteer coordinator.

"People are coming out of the woodwork, wanting to be involved or help," Siwik said.

Save GRAMA organizers say they've paid attention to recent initiative and referendum bids, including the unsuccessful attempt last year by Utahns for Ethical Government to get its ethics reform initiative on the ballot in 2012.

An important difference between that movement and this one, organizers say, is that opposition to HB477 has been widespread.

The hopes of defeating the bill already has brought together the likes of former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and Utah tea party organizer David Kirkham. The two men, normally on opposite sides of the political spectrum, stood side by side at the state Capitol on Thursday during a referendum kickoff event.

"The grass-roots movement for this issue has crossed all political lines," Siwik said. "From as conservative to as aggressive agendas as you have, they're all in agreement that this bill needs to be repealed."

Still, the logistics of the referendum process are working against Save GRAMA.

The procedure that must be followed is very specific, with requirements such as having signature sheets individually numbered by the Lieutenant Governor's Office. Failure to follow the instructions to the letter could result in work being deemed invalid.

"The Legislature year after year makes it far more difficult for the public to express its will through the initiative or referendum process," Anderson said, citing recent action to not allow electronic signatures. "They keep creating more and more obstacles."

Kirkham compared the referendum process to building an airplane while trying to take off.

"We're looking for engines as we're getting in the air," he said.

Siwik said the group is setting up "captains" in counties throughout the state who will be responsible for coordinating the signature-collection efforts in their respective areas.

In the coming days, the website savegrama.org will allow registered voters to commit to signing the petition, he said. That information will then be sent to the area captains, who will make sure that person knows when and where they can officially add their signature.

Petition-signing events also will be held throughout the state, including at public events. Volunteers also will be going door to door collecting signatures, Siwik said.

Those wishing to volunteer can email Siwik at volunteerstorepeal477@gmail.com.

Contributing: John Daley

Twitter: jaredpage

Email: jpage@desnews.com

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