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In his 2014 State of the State Address, Utah Governor Gary Herbert said:

Addressing population growth also involves improving our criminal justice system and providing structure for individuals to become productive members of society. There has been a great deal of discussion about relocating the state prison. This is a discussion worth having, but it must be done in the larger context of reforming our criminal justice system as a whole.

I have asked for a full review of our current system to develop a plan to reduce recidivism, maximize offenders’ success in becoming law-abiding citizens, and provide judges with the tools they need to accomplish these goals. The prison gates through which people re-enter society must be a permanent exit, and not just a revolving door.

In light of the Governor’s priority to address criminal justice reform he has instructed Director Ron Gordon and the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) to make reforms by the end of the calendar year. This will include reviewing and changing policy as well as proposing legislative reforms for next year’s session. CCJJ has adopted this review project as its priority study item for this year and has been conducting town-hall style public hearings around the state to obtain feedback and suggestions from the public on criminal justice reform.

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Today, April 15, is known as “tax day”—the deadline to file one’s income taxes. We are compelled by the government to furnish detailed, personal information regarding our economic activities for the year 2013, 100 years after the passage of the 16th amendment.

That’s right: this country has had a constitutionally authorized federal income tax for less than half the duration of its existence. Despite its now longstanding existence in America, its ideological proponents include folks like Karl Marx who, in his Communist Manifesto, listed “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax” as one of the central planks of his central planning philosophy.

It’s no surprise that his sympathizers in the progressive era of the early 20th century acted earnestly to see this policy adopted in America. It began, like most new government programs, in modest fashion; the income tax was only a small part of total government revenue. That changed after World War I, when the income tax furnished a significant portion of total taxes. Within a matter of years, it became an irreplaceable and largely accepted method of financing the federal government’s operations.

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Libertas Institute continues to grow—earlier this year we hired our policy analyst, and I’m excited to announce that beginning today, we have a new development manager: Holly Jensen!

Holly grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, where she learned to love politics and American history. She studied political science at Brigham Young University, focusing on political philosophy and international relations. Holly participated in BYU’s Washington Seminar program where she had direct interaction with government and industry leaders on national issues and current political events. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2013, just three years after she started her undergraduate studies.

Holly has internship and employment experience within the federal government, political campaigns, and Utah business. Her work with Libertas Institute will focus on donor relations, events, fundraising, marketing, and communication. Holly’s passion for freedom, combined with her educational background and talents, will be an effective and exciting combination for our work.

Curious to know more? Send Holly an email at hjensen@libertasutah.org.

 

In a throwback to English feudalism, the United States Government currently claims ownership of over 60% of Utah’s land mass and even higher portions of land in many other western states. The vast ownership and retention of land by the federal government is an aberration in the history of the United States where the general policy for public land was one of disposal and settlement rather than retention and federal management. In Utah, lawmakers have sought to assert Utah’s claim for such lands to be disposed of as promised by the federal government when Utah was created as a state.

In 2012 the Governor signed HB 148: The Transfer of Public Lands Act (TPLA), sponsored by Representative Ken Ivory whom we interviewed about this subject last year. The bill passed with healthy majorities in both chambers and was also ranked in our Libertas Legislator Index for 2012. The new law directs the United States Government to transfer title for public lands back to Utah as promised in the Utah Enabling Act. Under TPLA, this transfer is called for by December 31st, 2014. The bill also called for a study which was subsequently released by the Utah Constitutional Defense Council. Earlier this year, a BYU Law Review Article evaluated the legal issues surrounding the TPLA.

We agree with The American Lands Council and other groups calling for such transfers. The transfer of public lands is critical to ensuring the state sovereignty envisioned by the founders for our federal system. The retention of land by the federal government is an inappropriate and unjust arrogation of power—a power not based in constitutional principles, but the loose and broad interpretation, or outright violation, of them.

The following are some of the key legal arguments for the transfer of public lands:

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“What [government does] is either hurtful or profitless, injurious or ineffectual.  It never can bring any useful result.” —Frederic Bastiat

The Salt Lake City Council is proposing to increase the scope of government interference in private property rights and free market commerce. According to their website, they propose to require that businesses with drive-through services accommodate all potential customers (whether on foot, bicycle, motor vehicle or other mode of transportation) to the same extent that they accommodate motor vehicle drive-through customers. The Council proposes to require that, during the hours in which any business offers drive-through services, they must also offer a walk-up window and/or walk-in services.

The proposal also includes new design standards for future development, including direct entry through the front of the building, paths leading to the entrance, well-established pedestrian routes, decorative paving, etc.

These requirements clearly violate basic private property rights.   We have discussed these general rights in previous posts, and we have discussed specific violations of these rights as other government entities, such as Highland City, San Juan County, Sandy City, the State of Utah, Woods Cross, and Cedar Hills, have violated or considered violating these rights.

Private property can only be so called if the owner has the right to determine what he or she will or will not do with that property.  So long as the property owner does not use the property to violate the rights of others, then no other individual or group of individuals (even under the guise of government) can rightly interfere.

We urge Salt Lake City residents and all Utahns to oppose the Council’s proposal.  They request your feedback here.

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Part Two in the “Dollars and Nonsense” Series. Click here for part one.

In part one of this series we brought to your attention the state appropriations process and the expenditure of state funds in the form of earmarks to subsidize various activities across the state. In this second part we will discuss the inappropriateness of these subsidization activities as violative of liberty because they socialize costs using the coercion of government force.

A recent audit of the Utah State Fair Corporation calls into question the level of state funding that has subsidized the fair since 2004. This comes after legislation in 1995 that required the fair to work toward self-sufficiency as a non-profit corporation. Driven by the publication of this particular audit, the media has covered the topic moderately. We, however, have been paying attention to more than just the level of subsidization for the state fair. While the audit recommends that the fair should seek revenue sources or reduce costs in order “to reduce or eliminate the need for government subsidies,” the same could be said for a host of other programs that receive state subsidies as well. Our previous article and data sheet in this series covered some of the programs that received earmarked subsidies from state budget appropriations this past legislative session. Subsidized programs ranged from funds for “economic development” to funds for music and museums. We feel public subsidies in general are problematic.

Depending on your views—and access to the taxation trough—public subsidies are either wonderful or awful. While some love government subsidized film festivals and museums, others might prefer subsidies for corporations and local employers. Meanwhile, many might decry subsidies that transfer dollars to the economically disadvantaged while others oppose the transfer of dollars to chosen industries or particular energy sources. The reason people both love and hate subsidies are actually quite simple.

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Part One in the “Dollars and Nonsense” Series. Click here for part two.

In a recent op-ed we highlighted the importance of paying attention, pointing out that government’s actions, whether transparent or deceptive, pose a threat to our liberty. Of all the things we should pay attention to, the budgeting and appropriations process is among the most critical. This, of course, is the process whereby your elected representatives spend your money after confiscating it from you through taxes.

Sifting through and understanding the legislative budgeting process can be complicated as all the relevant information is not necessarily in one place. In an effort to help taxpayers make better sense of where their money is being spent outside of core government activities—and to peel back the curtain on the sausage grinder that is the legislature—we have compiled relevant data from multiple sources into the following document:

Click here to see the data compiled on recent appropriations items from the 2014 legislative session for FY2015.

In addition to the “base” annual budget for recurring and ongoing expenditures, legislators can request appropriations to expend money on specific spending items in either “one-time” or “ongoing” amounts. When dollars are set aside for a very specific purpose or program we call it an earmark because those funds are reserved for that particular purpose, as opposed to general budget funds for an agency or department that might be used on any number of programs at the discretion of the agency.

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Earlier this year the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp.  At issue was whether employees must be paid for time spent donning and doffing protective work clothing. The Court ultimately held that if a collective bargaining agreement deems dressing and undressing to be noncompensable, employers can rely on this agreement and need not compensate employees for this time.

Now, legal minutia aside, why is a federal court deciding this at all? The short answer is the Commerce Clause. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which governs employee pay and is the basis for Sandifer, was upheld, like so many bills, as a valid exercise of the commerce power.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress authority to regulate commerce among the several States. When discussing this topic in the Constitutional Convention, it is evident that the founders were concerned about states erecting trade barriers against each other such as import and export taxes. The ratification debates indicate that the American population also shared a narrow conception of the word “commerce.” Prior to the New Deal, the Supreme Court itself limited the application of the Commerce Clause by distinguishing between “production,” which did not fall under the Commerce Clause, and “commerce,” which did. (See United States v. E.C. Knight Co.)

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The following op-ed was published in the Deseret News.


“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

This well-known saying comes from Gideon J. Tucker, a lawyer and legislator who in 1866 presided as a judge over a lawsuit against a deceased man’s estate. The legal battle, said Tucker, ”arose from want of diligent watchfulness in respect to legislative changes.” In other words, somebody had violated the law because they didn’t realize that the law had recently changed.

Tucker’s point becomes especially emphatic when changes to the law are made quickly, with no public discussion or recognition that it’s even happening. If our liberty is jeopardized by transparent government activity, it’s far more threatened by subversive attempts to undermine our rights. This was the case in Utah just last year.

After a citizen initiative in 2000 to strengthen property rights by restricting civil asset forfeiture — the ability of police officers to seize property without charging its owner with a crime — forfeiture law remained unchanged (save for some hotly contested tweaks in 2004) until last year. Under John Swallow’s leadership, the Attorney General’s office pushed a bill in the 2013 general session that substantially amended forfeiture law and removed many of the property rights protections that had long been in place.

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“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” —H.L. Mencken

Henry Louis Mencken likened the scare tactics used to advocate for more government to imaginary “hobgoblins.” From the galleries of the halls of government we often play audience to the terrifying narratives that accompany sage warnings of these menacing “hobgoblins” that threaten our safety. One such hobgoblin is the “future thief.” You may not have realized before that there hides in the shadows a brigand who will swoop in and pilfer future government expenditures if we do not quickly create a program designed to “save money” in the future in a related current program. Each new expenditure, you see, is a way to make more efficient our future expenditures.

This line of reasoning—that we need more government now in order to save future spending via new efficiencies, or by preventing future expensive problems—is similar to the point we made in our recent post where we explained that arguments over fiscal conservatism allow the debate to be shifted from the proper role of government to the “effectiveness” of government programs. This argument circumvents discussion as to whether the government should even be involved in an activity, and subsequently ignores the increasing amount of force vested in bureaucracy. James Madison once warned that “free men must guard against the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in government.” Each new problem the government seeks to solve presents a contingency that elected officials rush to solve with more government force. We are all witness to the result of this pernicious cycle.

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