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

A group of business owners and former politicians have announced a plan to pursue a ballot initiative that—were it to pass—would increase each Utahn’s income tax rate. The proposal, pitched as a way to help children, is saturated in misleading messaging and is ultimately unnecessary.

“Our Schools Now” is a new label for a group of politically connected insiders, led by Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson, a behind-the-scenes influencer in Utah politics. They recently announced their initiative proposal, telling the public that they are seeking only a “7/8 of 1 percent increase” to the personal income tax.

This is misleading because it lacks context—it makes it seem like a numerically insignificant amount. In reality, that seemingly tiny amount constitutes a 17.5% increase on each Utahn’s income tax burden.

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A new report by the Utah Commission on Criminal Juvenile Justice highlights the much-discussed Justice Reinvestment Initiative passed last year by the legislature—a package of criminal justice reform policies aimed to address the growing incarceration rate.  

Drug possession offenses are now considered a class A misdemeanor—a penalty of up to one year in jail—instead of a 3rd degree felony, which carries a penalty of up to 5 years in prison. This in turn has steered offenders into rehabilitation centers for treatment instead of perpetuating a cycle of abuse by placing them in prison for punishment for having a mental illness or addiction problem.

Prison population was projected to increase to 7,498 before the Justice Reinvestment Initiative was enacted in 2014, which changed the way Utah punished drug offenders. After the reform was enacted it was estimated that the number of incarcerated individuals would decrease to 6,674. However, the results are better than expected at 6,371, which is 15% lower than estimated numbers before the reform was put into place. Drug offenders used to make up 40% of the prison population; after the reform, they only make up 33.8%.

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Police and prosecutors continue to fight efforts to reform civil asset forfeiture—a law allowing them to take property from innocent people not charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime.

In the last legislative session, prosecutors got the police to issue a highly misleading letter to the legislature hours before a key vote. A second letter issued doubles down on the attempt to misrepresent facts in order to protect a policy that makes prosecutor’s jobs easier.

Following a poll revealing that 86% of Utah voters oppose civil asset forfeiture, and a significant outreach effort by Libertas Institute to the public, pressure has increased to once again attempt to reform the law. (And now we have the unfortunate distinction of lagging behind California on the issue…)

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Representative Lee Perry, a Highway Patrol Lieutenant, is running a conceal carry bill for the 2017 session to decriminalize gun owners from concealing their firearm. In 2013, a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Mathis passed, but was vetoed by Governor Herbert.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the Governor remarked, trying to claim that current law does not inhibit our right to bear arms.

But doesn’t it?

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Price shopping for medical services can be very difficult and time consuming, as prices aren’t generally accurate, and they vary depending on who’s paying the bill. If you have to price shop through an insurance company, it gets even more difficult.

Health care providers rarely disclose their prices. For those that do, consumers are often not informed as to whether the posted price is for cash, with insurance, a co-pay, Medicare, etc. At times these disclosed prices do not incorporate all necessary costs—for example, an anesthesiologist’s fees.

Insurance companies often post general price ranges for their customers and contract with care providers to change pricing, which is often hidden from consumers as well.

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The following op-ed, written by our policy analyst Audrey Mortenseon, was published this week in the Deseret News.

The Cato Institute’s recent ranking of state laws puts Utah in the top ten for least burdensome regulatory policies. Out of those ten states, however, Utah is the only one that still mandates vehicle safety inspections.

Only 15 other states mandate vehicle safety inspections — most of them liberal eastern states — and these are ranked among the lowest in the nation for imposing the heaviest regulatory burdens. Utah should join all the other western states by repealing this program, saving Utah drivers a combined $25 million per year.

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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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