Latest Updates RSS Feed or subscribe via email

In an attempt to derail legislation meant to reform civil asset forfeiture, Utah law enforcement agencies sent a highly misleading letter to legislators last week falsely claiming that House Bill 22 would “protect drug cartels, not innocent owners.” We posted a response, including a letter from the bill sponsor, Representative Brian Greene.

The response picked apart their claims one by one, demonstrating their inaccuracy.

Now, they’ve doubled down by sending a second letter—one that contains more misrepresentations, and doesn’t even attempt to respond to the rebuttals of their claims as to what the bill would do (which would be hard, since their claims were completely inaccurate).

The letter starts by addressing an example of forfeiture mentioned in Representative Greene’s letter—that of the Garcia family whose cash (over $14,000) was seized by officers. Noting that “a drug dog alerted” officers of the smell of drugs, the letter admits that “no drugs were found.” As a result, the Garcias were released; no charges were filed. Yet the money was kept, and ultimately returned, without any attorney fees provided.

Read more »

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck is sponsoring House Bill 264 to allow terminally ill patients the option of using life-ending drugs to avoid prolonged suffering.

Suicide is not a good idea. There are many resources available for those who are struggling personally with thoughts of suicide. However, the question of this bill is not the endorsement of the morality of suicide but rather the endorsement of criminal penalties for doctors who allow patients to access self-administered medications to terminate their own lives. Doctors should not be punished because they allow terminally ill patients to access life ending drugs. This bill merely codifies the procedures and controls that doctors must follow if allowing patients to access such drugs.

If a terminally ill patient does not want to prolong the suffering in their life, they should not be prevented from accessing life-ending drugs through a doctor. However, if doctors are asked to prescribe such drugs, they should undertake extreme care in ensuring that such patients are of sound mind and making such decisions voluntarily and with full knowledge of the consequences. This bill ensures that in order for doctors to be exempt from legal ramifications, they need to follow very tight and specific procedures before fulfilling the voluntary request of a terminally ill patient to obtain self-administered, life ending drugs.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

Representative Kay McIff is sponsoring House Bill 315, written by a commercial beekeeper, which would impose barriers to entry by making it difficult for anybody else to manage bees in the state in competition with established “commercial” beekeepers.

Those who violate the provisions of this bill—including the mandatory registration requirement—would be subject to a class B misdemeanor and $1,000 fine for every day that they are in violation. This absurd over-reach is completely unwarranted and unenforceable.

While the bill contains a number of provisions regarding commercial beekeepers and the rules with which they must comply, the most egregious is the clearly protectionist requirement that “A new commercial location may not be situated within a two-mile radius of an already registered commercial location.” This means that one small commercial beekeeper can get “first come first serve” rights by establishing a few apiaries two miles apart, extending his/her reach for miles, thus locking out competitors and dominating the area—this despite potentially abundant nectar sources that could supply far more bees than those owned by the commercial beekeeper.

Awkwardly, the bill defines a “commercial beekeeper” as “a person who owns 21 or more hives.” But a hive is merely the box itself, whether there are bees in it or not. So a commercial beekeeper who owns 21 hive boxes can use the force of law to prohibit anybody within two miles who actually has bees from managing an apiary on his/her property. Again, those who do this would face significant criminal penalties.

This bill stands at odds with a competing proposal which would deregulate beekeeping in the beehive state.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

The production of child pornography is perhaps one of the most detestable of activities, and should be vehemently condemned. Those who traffic in this trade should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We should be very cautious, however, in passing well-meaning laws to address this issue that carry unintended consequences.

Such is the case with House Bill 155, sponsored by Representative Craig Hall. This proposal would create an affirmative duty on computer technicians to report any child pornography they encounter in the course of their work—for example, while servicing a client’s computer to remove anti-virus software. Those who fail to report child pornography they encounter may be punished with a class B misdemeanor.

Government should not be effectively deputizing innocent individuals who do not consent. That being said, most technicians likely are already reporting child pornography they encounter. No information has been provided showing that this is not already happening, absent a legal mandate to do so. Why, then, is the bill necessary?

Even worse, the bill creates unintended consequences that criminalize reasonable and innocent activity on the part of technicians. For example, it will be difficult for a technician who encounters pornography to discern whether the young person is under 18 if the individual is close to that age; many young adults may look like they are 16 or 17 years old. This creates an incentive to over-report to prosecutors, sweeping up people into the criminal justice system who possess pornographic images of a legal adult who consented to the activity. This will require individuals to unnecessarily employ defense attorneys, have criminal charges on their record, and have to seek expungement to avoid future consequences to this unfounded criminal charge.

Further, HB155 may lead to the prosecution of technicians who did not see the child pornography that prosecutors may claim they did. The “probable cause” standard is relatively low and allows for significant doubt, so while a conviction would be more difficult, an overzealous prosecutor may file charges even in the absence of any specific proof that the technician saw the child pornography and consciously chose not to report.

It also raises the question as to why this bill is necessary. To the extent that investigators identify a computer technician who failed to report a person in possession of child pornography, they will have already located the distributor or producer of the child pornography itself, and can therefore pursue justice. Prosecuting the technician is unnecessary.

We support efforts to address this important concern and protection vulnerable children from predators and pornographers. This bill simply takes the effort in the wrong direction.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

People in poverty need more than a handout—they need a hand up. Moreover, the best way to fight poverty is as a community of neighbors voluntarily helping those in need with more than mere social welfare payments. Those caught in the cycle of poverty need the resources to which we collectively refer as “social capital.” This includes personal skills and community connections that people use to deal with the challenges that come their way. Self-reliance is the only true way to break out of dependence.

Recognizing these principles, Senator Lincoln Fillmore has sponsored Senate Bill 153 to incorporate self-reliance training in state social welfare programs. The bill would require applicants for social welfare benefits to receive training and education in self-reliance during the first three months of receiving benefits. Importantly, the training could be offered by various community groups, thereby helping link those in poverty to community resources in their area that can help them in more significant and personal ways than a mere benefit payment.

Government should not always look to the public treasury or the statute book for solutions to social problems. This bill is a step in that direction.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Over the past few decades, several states have repealed the requirement for drivers to have their vehicles annually tested for safety; at present, just 16 states mandate it. According to a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there is no evidence to indicate that mandatory safety inspection programs reduce accidents. The report demonstrates that crash rates are roughly the same in states that have them as in those that do not.

Building on this momentum, Representative Norm Thurston has sponsored House Bill 319 to eliminate the requirement to perform safety inspections on vehicles as a condition of legally driving in Utah.

A previous attempt to eliminate safety inspections in Utah was met with fierce opposition by the Utah Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Safety which argued that the safety inspection program was essential and necessary. The final version of the bill, which was signed into law, reduced the frequency of required safety inspections.

In the absence of any data indicating that safety inspections result in a clearly positive increase in driver safety, the requirement should be eliminated. Drivers—especially the poor demographic operating older cars, who may struggle to afford the inspection—should not be compelled to finance an unnecessary government program.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

One of Utah’s infamously odd liquor laws is the so-called “Zion Curtain”—a requirement that restaurants serving alcohol may only dispense, mix, or pour alcoholic drinks outside of public view by at least constructing an opaque partition obstructing the view of the dispensing of adult libations from restaurant patrons. This bill would make some common sense changes to the law that begin to tear down this bizarre wall.

Senate Bill 141, sponsored by Senator Jim Dabakis, repeals the language requiring restaurants to pour and mix alcoholic drinks behind a “solid, translucent, permanent structural barrier” such that the alcohol storage and dispensing equipment are “not readily visible to a patron,” “not accessible by a patron,” and separated from the dining area of the restaurant.

Libertas Institute previously interviewed a small restaurant owner who explained how onerous and costly this law can be.

Senator Dabakis’s proposal is different from a related one by Representative Kraig Powell that would allow restaurants to “opt out” of the Zion Curtain law by disclosing to patrons on their front door that alcoholic drinks are dispensed within.

The original intent of the law by its supporters was to shield children from the sight of an alcoholic beverage, thereby minimizing the allure of drinking. There is no data to support this asserted causal relationship.

Because we support free enterprise, we support this bill as a step in the right direction. Of course, we do not desire to see children enticed by alcohol nor do we want a “culture of alcohol” to become prevalent in the state. We believe, however, that these ideals we share with many conservatives should be attained through persuasion and the market—not through silly mandates that violate property rights and impose unreasonable constraints upon consensual commercial relationships between a business owner and their patrons.

Monday, February 8, 2016 | One comment

HB 302: Expanding Medicaid in Utah

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

We have written extensively (here, here, and here) about the problems associated with expanding the Medicaid program in Utah under the Affordable Care Act. Last year there was a lot of political attention on Governor Gary Herbert’s “Healthy Utah” proposal to expand Medicaid and all its various iterations. We favor a free market solution to this issue.

Unsurprisingly, Medicaid expansion proposals are back again this year. House Bill 302, sponsored by Representative Ray Ward, proposes to expand the Medicaid program in Utah to all those under 138% of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL). This matches the expansion eligibility proposed under the Affordable Care Act. However, the bill does propose to make some changes from the requirements under Obamacare and seeks waivers for Utah to customize the approach similarly to ideas discussed in the previous “Healthy Utah” plan.

While we commend Representative Ward’s bravery in attempting to tackle the mess created under Obamacare despite the failure of last year’s proposal, the best solution to many of these health care and health insurance issues are for the government to get out of the way and reduce regulatory barriers to free market solutions.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Most people who interact with the legal system do so through one of the state’s many justice courts. However, justice courts are not considered “courts of record” and are controlled and operated by municipalities. Interestingly, the judges for these courts are not currently required to be lawyers. The legislature has previously attempted to reform these courts in a common sense way, but leadership defunded the bill late in the session and, as a result, the reform proposal died.

Representative Craig Hall has sponsored House Bill 160 to focus on the qualifications for the judges who preside over these courts. The bill would require judges appointed in counties of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class (with a population of over 31,000) to be trained in the law as evidenced by graduation from law school.

This bill was a companion bill to House Joint Resolution 1 which was a proposal to amend Utah’s Constitution. However, Representative Hall has agreed to abandon this effort and focus instead on this more narrow statutory change. Utah’s Constitution currently states that “no qualification may be imposed which requires judges of courts not of record to be admitted to practice law.” This bill would not make any changes to that requirement.

While we generally oppose state-imposed barriers to entry for occupations, including unnecessary government licenses, we don’t presume that practitioners of occupations don’t need special education or qualifications at all. On the contrary, such education and qualifications can help a practitioner stand out in a free and competitive marketplace where consumers can choose more qualified individuals over less qualified ones if they desire. However, when it comes to the individual hired by the government to determine whether you may go to jail or not, there is no free market. You don’t get to choose one judge over another. You are stuck with the judge the government chooses, no matter their qualifications. This bill would ensure that such judges have at least a basic legal education before sitting on the bench.

Under the Sixth Amendment to the United State Constitution, criminal defendants are entitled to legal counsel. However, in many cases defendants may not qualify for a court-appointed attorney and often represent themselves in justice court actions. In these cases, the government typically has a legally trained professional prosecutor. It is possible in such cases that, without a legally trained judge, the prosecutor would be the only law trained individual in the court. This places the defendant, whose liberty is on the line, at a significant disadvantage against the government.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker. Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or click here to email your Senator and Representative about it.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

We have written extensively (here, here, and here) about the problems associated with expanding the Medicaid program in Utah under the Affordable Care Act. Last year there was a lot of political attention on Governor Gary Herbert’s “Healthy Utah” proposal to expand Medicaid and all its various iterations. We favor a free market solution to this issue.

Unsurprisingly, Medicaid expansion proposals are back again this year. Senate Bill 77, sponsored by Senator Gene Davis, proposes to fully expand the Medicaid program in Utah to all those eligible under the Affordable Care Act’s vision for Medicaid expansion.

While it’s unlikely the bill advances through the legislature, elected officials should understand the grave financial risk this proposal would bring to the state budget, and as a result, oppose the measure.

Featured

Google+