Libertas Institute is primarily an educational institution, spreading the message of liberty through articles, lectures, media, and other outlets. Part of our work also entails proposing reforms that would make the laws more consistent with these principles. Last night, the 2014 legislative session concluded in Utah. Here is our report. (And here’s how legislators voted.)
But first—we want to thank our staff, our board members, our attorneys, our intern, and our research volunteers whose time and dedication made a significant impact this year!
The following is a summary of the bills we proposed:
House Bill 70, sponsored by Representative Marc Roberts, changes how forcible entry warrants are authorized and executed, and introduces additional caution into the process by requiring law enforcement officers to use “only that force which is reasonable and necessary” to arrest a suspect or search his or her property. It also raises the evidentiary standard for forcible entry in certain circumstances from reasonable suspicion to probable cause. It passed the House 69-6 and passed the Senate unanimously.
Senate Bill 185, sponsored by Senator Deidre Henderson, brings transparency to law enforcement work, specifically as it relates to SWAT team deployments and forcible entry home raids. The bill requires a report for each of these incidents, collecting 16 data points including whether a warrant was issued, the suspected crime, how many shots were fired, whether anyone was injured or killed, etc. The aggregate report will be presented annually to lawmakers, and available publicly, so we can all better understand the nature of such force being used in our communities. It passed the Senate 22-2 and passed the House unanimously.
House Bill 128, sponsored by Representative Ryan Wilcox, requires a search warrant to obtain the location, transmitted data, or stored data of an electronic device such as a mobile phone or laptop. The bill requires law enforcement to delete any data they collect that doesn’t pertain to the suspect named in the warrant. It also requires notification to the individual that the location or data was obtained, much like a person is served a copy of a traditional warrant when physical property is searched or seized. The bill passed the House 70-1 and passed the Senate unanimously.
Senate Bill 256, sponsored by Senator Howard Stephenson, rolls back deceptive changes made last year to forfeiture law that gutted property rights in Utah. Our policy analysis, released in December, broke the news on this change and recommended a fix that was unanimously passed this year in both chambers.
Senate Bill 39, sponsored by Senator Aaron Osmond, deregulates homeschooling in Utah. In cooperation with a couple interested parties we first pushed for ending compulsory education altogether, and later decided at Senator Osmond’s direction to focus on decreasing the regulatory burden on homeschoolers. This bill passed the Senate 22-5 and passed the House 52-17.
House Bill 77, sponsored by Representative Dave Lifferth, would have provided an income tax credit for homeschooling families. It failed in the House 32-37. We will propose the same bill next year and hope for a more favorable outcome.
These bills were first proposed by others, which we supported or opposed, in which we had influence:
Our interview last summer with the mother of a child with intractable epilepsy, regarding her desire to seek medical marijuana for her son, brought state-wide and national attention to her plight—one which is shared by a few dozen other families in Utah. The media attention fostered networking and collaboration amongst other parties who worked on House Bill 105, sponsored by Representative Gage Froerer, which legalizes cannabis extract for children with intractable epilepsy. The bill passed the House 58-9 and passed the Senate 26-0.
In conjunction with the ACLU of Utah, we worked on Senate Bill 167, sponsored by Senator Howard Stephenson, which restricts the use of drones by law enforcement to protect the privacy of innocent individuals and discourage the proliferation of a potentially invasive emerging technology. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House 67-5.
House Bill 20, sponsored by Representative Brad Dee, slipped through the House without legislators really understanding how bad it was. The bill created total immunity for operators of emergency vehicles when pursuing somebody—even in violation of their pursuit policy. So, if an officer chases a suspect and deviates from his training, and hurts or kills the individual, that person will have no opportunity to redress his/her grievances in court. After narrowly passing the Senate, the bill had to go back to the House for a final concurrence vote. We provided Representatives with information expressing our concern, and lobbied against the bill. While ultimately unsuccessful, we were able to swing the vote from 64-10 (the first time) to 41-28. We will be encouraging the Governor’s veto of this flawed legislation.
House Bill 276, sponsored by Representative Curt Oda, prevents police officers from charging a law-abiding gun owner with disorderly conduct merely because a bystander is scared about guns or doesn’t want them openly carried and displayed. In cooperation with other interested parties, we recommended and lobbied for an amendment to improve the bill’s technical language, which also further restricted the ability of law enforcement to charge individuals with disorderly conduct. The amendment was successfully adopted and the bill passed the Senate 27-1 and passed the House 63-8.
If you look at our Legislator Index in recent years, you’ll see that the legislature as a whole ranked in the 40th percentile for supporting liberty. This year, the legislature as a whole scored 62%, indicating a vast improvement in support for the principles promoted by Libertas Institute.
While thankful to our staff, as indicated above, we are especially thankful for our donors who make this work possible. We encourage all our supporters to become members and help us further the cause of liberty in Utah.