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Utah voters passed Initiative B in 2000 to protect property rights and due process by limiting the government’s authority to take ownership of a person’s property. Ever since then, police and prosecutors have attempted to undermine the expressed will of the voters.

Civil asset forfeiture allows the government to confiscate property from an individual who may not even be charged with a crime. This power has been abused around the nation, including in Utah.

Contrary to claims that this legal tool is used to go after drug kingpins and crime syndicates, 74% of forfeiture cases in Utah involve under $5,000 in assets. This low amount enables the government to easily take the property; a person whose small amount of cash was taken is unlikely to pay an attorney thousands of dollars to recover it.

Critics are correct to point out that civil asset forfeiture is legalized theft. At a minimum, it is a law in dire need of substantive reform.

Read More in our Public Policy Brief

The following op-ed, written by our president Connor Boyack, was published last week in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The recent audit by the state auditor into the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control continues to tell what all of us know: that government does a poor job of running a business.

Poor management, poor pay, and poor morale are all engrained as part of the DABC, even after several high-profile reboots. The idea that government can somehow fix the very problems that it has created stretches credulity to the breaking point.

And with a government monopoly, DABC isn’t responding to the market, where demand is clearly exceeding supply. More stores are needed to satisfy the demand, according to one recent study, yet cities don’t want them and DABC, a government entity, is only willing to build where they are welcomed with open arms by city leaders.

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The following op-ed, written by our president Connor Boyack, was published this week in the Daily Herald.

In an age of increasing transparency, Pleasant Grove is choosing to go dark.

A recent article in the Daily Herald claims that the city’s law enforcement agency was “forced to stop using” body cameras, which “strikes a blow to police investigative work and protection of officers and citizens.” This claim is flagrantly false; the city is choosing of its own accord to stop using cameras.

A law recently passed by the Utah Legislature, which Libertas Institute proposed along with ACLU Utah and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, establishes new requirements for law enforcement agencies using body cameras in order to ensure they are used properly. Among other things, the law requires officers to record a law enforcement encounter in “in an uninterrupted manner” to document their interactions with the public.

Obviously, documenting these interactions creates a large amount of digital footage that must be stored—and that’s the perceived problem in Pleasant Grove. According to police chief Mike Smith, the city would need to come up with $10,000 to $15,000 to store all of the footage.

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Salt Lake City, UT (October 5, 2016) — A new report released this morning by the Cato Institute grades each state’s governor on fiscal policy and state budget actions since 2014. Governor Gary Herbert received a “D” grade, coming in at number 33 among the 50 states for best fiscal policy.

The report notes that Herbert’s low grade “stems mainly from his large spending increases”—a seven percent increase to the general fund budget in 2015 and more than a nine percent increase in 2016. State government employment has dramatically risen during Herbert’s time in office, growing 20 percent since he became governor in 2009.

The report comes on the heels of the Institute’s “50 Freest States” report, which ranked Utah the 20th best state for fiscal policy.

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The following op-ed, written by our president Connor Boyack, was published today in the Deseret News.

Four years ago, prosecutors in the Utah Attorney General’s office conspired behind closed doors to deceive the Legislature into changing state law to facilitate taking property from people who have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime.

And they got away with it. In the 2013 general session, prosecutors presented a 50+ page bill that its sponsor, Representative Brad Dee, falsely claimed to his colleagues to be nothing more than a technical reorganization of existing law. In fact, the bill contained numerous and substantive changes that eroded property rights and due process for those whose property had been taken by police.

Stealing from others is wrong—except, apparently, when it’s the government doing it.

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Governments regularly struggle to apply antiquated laws to new, innovative businesses. Food truck owners have experienced this firsthand, with cities unaware of how to best classify and regulate their mobile kitchens.

Unfortunately, this has resulted in a patchwork of arbitrary and redundant policies that frustrate truck owners, provide no consumer protection, and in the aggregate result in significant compliance costs that threaten to undermine an upstart business.

Unnecessary regulations should be eliminated—duplicative health and fire permits, prohibitions on operating within a certain distance from restaurants, mandates to change locations frequently, costly bonding, background checks, and more. Even worse, many cities in Utah completely ban food trucks.

Food trucks are highly popular and provide a great community service and economic development opportunity. Barriers placed in their way should be reduced or removed.

Read More in our Public Policy Brief

The following op-ed, written by our director of policy Michael Melendez, was published today in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Imagine if your child found school so emotionally distressing that they would rather die than go to class. Bullying, depression, and extreme embarrassment are just a few of the situations that too many of Utah’s school children endure.

As a parent, you would do all in your power to help and comfort your child, even if it meant changing the environment in which their schooling takes place. Most likely you would investigate several options that “appear” to be available to you: counseling, changing schools, or even homeschooling.

But then imagine if the school district and the court system sought to compel you to keep your child in the school where the problems began. What would you do if your child was forced into an environment that was demonstrably harmful to his or her well being? Surely the law would protect you and your family from such a situation.

Unfortunately, that may not be entirely true.

Read more »

Libertas Institute is excited to announce our latest hire, filling an open position for our Director of Policy role.

mm2Michael Melendez has been a liberty activist since his days in high school. His involvement includes work with the Campaign for Liberty, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), and Students For Liberty. Michael served as the Utah state chairman for YAL from 2013-2015, helping recruit, educate, and mobilize college students throughout the state in support of the cause of liberty.

Michael has managed and worked on dozens of campaigns for liberty-minded candidates all over the country, including South Carolina, Kansas, Michigan, Illinois, and Utah.

During the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions, Michael served as a staffer to state senator Howard Stephenson, helping pass significant reforms in education, government drone use, and civil asset forfeiture. Most recently, he worked at the Waterford Research Institute, a digital education non-profit, as their state government affairs manager.

A native Californian and Brigham Young University graduate, Michael is a historian by trade and enjoys genealogical research, watching old films, and talking about old baseball heroes.

Contact Michael at

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 | 5 comments

New Report Gives Low Grade for Utah

Salt Lake City, UT (August 16, 2016) — A new report issued by the Cato Institute, Freedom in the 50 States, highlights the degree to which states protect the personal and economic freedom of their citizens. Utah was ranked 20th.

The report—first published in 2009 by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University—grades states in three areas:

  • Fiscal policy: taxes, government employment, spending, debt, and fiscal decentralization
  • Regulatory policy: liability system, property rights, health insurance, and labor market
  • Personal freedom: a variety of categories including incarceration rates, marriage laws, education, guns, and alcohol

The report notes that “Utah does very well on regulatory policy overall” and “generally well on criminal justice policy,” though “quite poorly on alcohol, cannabis, gambling, and tobacco.”

Read more »

Monday, August 15, 2016 | One comment

Creating Crime in Utah

Each year bills passed by the legislature have the potential of creating new, or altering existing, crimes and the penalties associated with them. In an age when government policy can result in criminalizing everything from unlicensed lemonade stands to catching the wrong lobster, it is important that we pay careful attention to the bills passed by the legislature to ensure that they are not inadvertently criminalizing conduct that is not truly criminal. A few years ago we covered this issue in depth.

In Utah, the legislature passes nearly 500 bills each year. On average, about 50 of these (10%) deal with criminal laws or processes and 20 of those have a potential impact on criminal penalties. Since 2008, 455 bills have passed the legislature dealing with criminal laws with 193 of those creating new, or altering existing, criminal laws. In Utah, there are over 10,000 criminal laws you can be charged with (many of them are repetitive for each local jurisdiction). To find a master list of each potential criminal offense you can be charged with you can refer to the state’s Master Offense Table.

The Utah Sentencing Commission tracks bills that may impact sentencing and criminal penalties each year. We have compiled these reports into one cumulative listing since 2008 for easy reference. While a variety of legislators sponsor these bills, some legislators sponsor more than average. Many of these legislators also serve on either the Judiciary or Law Enforcement Committees.

Here are the top legislative sponsors for criminal justice related bills since 2012:

Most criminal justice bills:

Rank Legislator Bills
1 Sen. Thatcher 13
2 Rep. Ray 12
3 Sen. Bramble 12
4 Sen. Hillyard 11
5 Rep. Hutchings 10
6 Sen. Weiler 9
7 Rep. Seelig 7
8 Rep. Hall 7

Most bills with felony changes:

Rank Legislator Bills
1 Sen. Thatcher 5
2 Sen. Hillyard 2
3 Rep. Seelig 2
4 Rep. Greenwood 2
5 Rep. Powell 2

Most bills with misdemeanor changes:

Rank Legislator Bills
1 Rep. Ray 5
2 Sen. Weiler 4
3 Sen. Mayne 4
4 Sen. Thatcher 3
5 Rep. Seelig 3
6 Rep. Powell 3
7 Rep. Dunnigan 3
8 Sen. Urquhart 3
9 Sen. Bramble 3

In 2015, the legislature overhauled many criminal statutes in an effort to ensure fewer admissions and stays in prison and to reinvest savings on treatment and rehabilitation instead. We applaud this effort to be smart on crime and believe that taxpayer dollars should not be wasted on senseless over-criminalization.