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Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited transcription of an interview Libertas Institute conducted with a Utah mother of three whose parental rights have been violated by the judicial system. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Amy Brown: I’m 33 years old, and was raised as a Latter-day Saint. My husband and I have been married for 10 years and have three children.

LI: You were recently issued a fairly controversial order by a commissioner. Before getting to that, can you explain how you got to that point?

AB: About a year ago, my husband and I began to extensively study the history of the LDS Church. In essence, we came to separate conclusions and it began to drive a wedge between us.

What I didn’t know until more recently is that he secured a divorce attorney nearly a year ago and began going behind my back to get affidavits against me—including from each of my own family members—for fear that I would expose our children to what I was studying.

We each filed a petition for divorce in September, and were living together at the time that the commissioner gave a temporary order which required me to leave our home; I was the primary care giver for our three children, including a nursing one-year-old infant.

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Governor Herbert declared November 29th as “Small Business Saturday.” This was a well needed reprieve from the anti-business Thursday just one week prior when the Utah Insurance Department attempted to shut down online HR startup Zenefits, or the previous anti-business Tuesday when the Salt Lake City Council decided to impose unnecessary regulations on ridesharing apps Uber and Lyft. When it comes to creating a business-friendly regulatory environment in Utah, government officials know how to talk, but do they know how to walk?

We applaud the Governor for his recent work to reduce administrative regulations on business but are left to wonder, in light of recent events, if the momentum is beginning to sputter.

In 2013, a San Francisco startup, Thumbtack, surveyed 12,000 small business owners around the country to find out which states provided the best environment for business. They found that Utah was the most business friendly state in the nation and subsequently decided to locate their customer support operation here where they are now growing rapidly. Utah received an A in the regulatory category in the 2013 survey and improved to an A+ in 2014, indicating low regulatory burdens on small business in Utah. Utah has also ranked as the number one state for business for three years in a row by Pollina Corporate Real Estate and tops the list in a number of other rankings.

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The following op-ed was published this weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Last weekend, The Salt Lake Tribune revealed an alarming data point: In recent years, police officers have killed more Utahns than have gang members. As a community we must ask ourselves: Is this an appropriate use of force?

There have been 13 fatalities so far this year from police shootings. It may very well be that officers had to use lethal force in each of these cases, but suppose for a moment that even one of these cases involved an unnecessary escalation of force — even if ultimately deemed justified by a district attorney.

That single instance should invite a frank and sincere dialogue about the entire law enforcement system: the legal authority officers are granted, training they receive, weapons they use, reporting required of them, accountability mechanisms when they run afoul of the law and the methods and makeup of investigative bodies.

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Next Tuesday, the Salt Lake City Council will be voting on a proposed change to its ordinances regarding ground transportation services.

After Libertas Institute broke the news of $6,500 citations being given out to Lyft and Uber drivers operating outside the parameters of existing ordinances, which neither contemplate nor address ride-sharing services, heightened public attention brought significant opposition to the city’s treatment of this innovative new service.

Both of these companies have now publicly opposed the proposal, arguing that it imposes unnecessary and onerous burdens.

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“You guys killed my dog!” Utah resident Sean Kendall told several police officers. “I’ve had this dog for three years. He was my best friend—and he was shot because an officer couldn’t back the [expletive] up out of my house!”

Geist, Kendall’s Weimaraner, was inside Kendall’s fenced backyard when Officer Brett Olsen shot and killed him on June 18 while searching for a missing three-year-old boy, after opening Kendall’s fence and entering the backyard without permission or a warrant.

Kendall’s video went viral, media attention poured in, and concerned citizens took to the streets in protest of this use of perceived excessive force. The “Justice for Geist” Facebook page for supporters now stands at nearly 80,000 likes. Despite the officer being cleared of the shooting for “acting within policy,” many Utahns remain upset that Geist was killed when, they believe, the officer could have acted in a different manner, thus removing the need to attack the dog.

As the rallies and letters to the editor and angry interviews percolated in the weeks following this shooting, I couldn’t help wondering how Melissa Kennedy felt watching the outcry.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 5 comments

Drug Penalty Reform Coming to Utah

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“Don’t do drugs, because if you do drugs you’ll go to prison… and drugs are really expensive in prison.”

This humorous quote underscores the fundamental problem with imprisoning people with a substance addiction problem. Prison alone is not a sufficient treatment for a physiological disorder. Despite the walls and guards, inmates still find a way to access and use drugs. Treating and solving drug addiction requires a different approach. Finally in Utah, policy may soon begin to reflect that reality.

Since early this year, the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) has been working on a study of the Utah criminal justice system in order to propose reforms that will reduce recidivism and the need for more prison beds. One of the goals of these reforms is to focus existing jail beds on more serious offenders and relieve the fiscal burdens on localities. CCJJ believes this can be accomplished by reclassifying certain offenses and eliminating certain sentencing enhancements that needlessly lengthen prison stays. In other words, by addressing the rampant criminalization of human activity, less people will be charged with crimes and sent to prison.

Among the recommendations from CCJJ is a specific proposal to reclassify simple drug possession from a third degree felony—which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison—to a class A misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of only up to one year in jail. Currently, minor marijuana possession is already at the class A misdemeanor level. This proposal would bring minor drug possession charges for all substances into alignment with marijuana possession, thus ending the discrimination against type of substance. Additional reductions would include one for commercial drug offenses in order to differentiate between professional drug dealers and those whose conduct is driven by serious substance abuse problems. Also included is a proposal to reclassify certain moving vehicle misdemeanors from a Class B down to a Class C or from a Class C to an infraction.

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Earlier this week, a new audit of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) was announced and discussed, in which the government agency was accused of manipulating data, misleading the public, and giving special treatment to certain businesses over others.

GOED’s own press releases support the latter allegation.

On August 14, GOED published a press release in which they announced a new tax credit incentive awarded to Overstock, a popular online retailer headquartered in Salt Lake County. Upon committing to creating 333 new jobs over the next 10 years, with wages and benefits at 200 percent over the county average wage, Overstock was awarded a 20% tax credit by GOED over 10 years.

Standing alone, this is likely a welcome incentive for Overstock and a reduction of their tax burden which will facilitate job creation and business growth. Stacked against another incentive, however, it becomes clear that Overstock (and many other companies competing for employees) has been placed at a financial disadvantage.

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A newly released audit of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development—an institution of which we have often been critical—claims that their primary tactic to lure business into the state entails “questionable incentive awards.”

The audit also alleges corruption within the office in the form of manipulation of data. “GOED regularly reports inaccurately” on certain items, and “provided special treatment for some companies by altering post-performance assessments for companies that failed to meet GOED’s contractual threshold.” Further, the audit alleges that GOED has:

  • used existing company employees to inflate wages of new employees in order to gain corporate incentive awards;
  • used incorrect benchmarks to improperly issue an economic development tax increment financing award;
  • removed low-paying jobs from averages; and
  • handed out incentives to companies that failed to meet the wage criteria under their contracts with the state.

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House Bill 105 from this previous legislative session had two important but distinct parts. The widely popularized portion related to legalizing cannabis extract for medicinal use, and earlier this year the Department of Health created administrative rules to implement this program.

The second portion of the bill, which few realize was included, authorized the Department of Agriculture, or any qualifying higher education institution, to “grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of agricultural or academic research.” Last week, the department issued its proposed rules to administer this program.

Upon review of the proposed rule, Libertas Institute has identified four problematic portions that deal with the department exceeding the authority they were granted under passage of H.B. 105. We have issued a letter, embedded below, to the Department of Agriculture seeking amendments to the proposal prior to its final enactment.

Letter Regarding Proposed Rule for Industrial Hemp Research

The following op-ed, written by our policy analyst Josh Daniels, was published today in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs used the coercive arm of the state to expel an unwelcome segment of society in 1838 using an “extermination order.” (In that era, extermination meant to drive something from within certain borders — in other words, expulsion.) Members of the fledgling Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were forced to migrate elsewhere, ultimately settling in Utah. Now, lawmakers in Utah have implemented policies that similarly expel unwanted citizens from their communities.

These innocently named “Good Landlord Programs” are a discriminatory restriction on people with past criminal convictions (some of whom may have in fact been innocent). Almost all programs in Utah cities — with a couple of notable exceptions — actually require participating landlords to refuse to rent their residential properties to individuals convicted of a felony within the past four years.

Proponents of the programs characterize them as a purely voluntary way for landlords to, as Salt Lake City argues, “help eliminate code violations and public nuisances while controlling and preventing illegal activity on rental properties that impact the quality of life within our neighborhoods.”

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