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. Here is our report of the 2015 legislative session. (And here’s how legislators voted.)
But first—we want to thank our staff, our board members, our attorneys, our intern, our citizen sponsors, 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 356, sponsored by Representative LaVar Christensen, enacts a number of provisions to protect parental rights by limiting the ability of the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to take children into custody. Parents now enjoy a greater legal recognition of their right to seek a second medical opinion in allegations of medical neglect and the ability to oversee the medical care of their child already in state custody. The authority given to DCFS is now narrowed in several areas to minimize the opportunity of abuse. HB356 passed the House 71-1 and passed the Senate unanimously.
Senate Bill 82, sponsored by Senator Steve Uruqhart, follows up on last year’s successful reform limiting the ability of police to serve forcible entry (no knock or knock-and-announce) warrants. Officers must now wear uniforms when serving forcible entry warrants, must wait a reasonable amount of time in a knock-and-announce scenario, and may not use forcible entry when the alleged crime is drug use or possession, in the absence of a separate allegation. SB82 passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House 67-3.
Senate Bill 52, sponsored by Senator Howard Stephenson, imposes a variety of new reporting requirements on law enforcement and prosecuting agencies that seize and forfeit property. Following last year’s successful effort by Libertas Institute to reform civil asset forfeiture, we felt the need to increase transparency of this problematic power given to government to take the property of citizens not charged with—let alone convicted of—a crime. SB52 passed both the Senate and House unanimously.
Senate Bill 226, sponsored by Senator Mark Madsen, requires police officers to obtain a warrant if they wish to use radar or other technology that allows them to see through walls, into a residence or other structure in which one or more people are. They must also provide notification to the people upon whom they use this technology, and are required to destroy any data they collect using such a device that does not pertain to the person or persons named in the warrant. SB226 passed both the Senate and House unanimously.
House Bill 104, sponsored by Representative Marc Roberts, fixes a 2007 law that prohibited cow share agreements, whereby two or more parties jointly purchased, and obtained milk from, a cow, sheep, or goat. The bill legalizes them once more, albeit for a limited number of animals, and prohibits the Department of Agriculture from enacting regulations for cow share participants. Despite significant opposition from farm, dairy, and retail industries, HB104 passed the House 61-11 and passed the Senate unanimously.
Last year, the legislature was misled into voting for a bill that ended up giving absolute immunity to police officers from any liability to fleeing suspects who they were chasing in violation of their pursuit policy. Libertas Institute led an effort to overturn the vote but narrowly failed. This year, Senate Bill 290, sponsored by Senator Mark Madsen, aimed to repeal last year’s changes, giving officers immunity only when they act according to their policy. SB290 passed the Senate 18-9 but was not considered in the House before the session ended.
Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Senator Aaron Osmond, would have required high schools to notify incoming students and their parents about how to graduate on an accelerated schedule and would have increased a scholarship designed to incentive students to graduate early. This would have been a savings to taxpayers who are required to pay over $6,000 per year for every child in Utah attending a government school. SB33 passed the Senate on a 24-2 vote and failed in the House 31-41.
House Bill 386, sponsored by Representative Dan McCay, would have implemented state-wide minimum standards for the use of police body cameras. Libertas Institute, along with the ACLU Utah and Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, spent hundreds of man hours last summer and fall designing the language of the bill, which balances the privacy concerns of citizens with the desire for transparency in law enforcement encounters. HB386 was heard in committee and was referred to the interim for more study along with the companion issue of police use of force.
These bills were first proposed by others, which we supported or opposed, in which we had influence:
Senate Bill 259, sponsored by Senator Mark Madsen, would have legalized medical cannabis in Utah for a limited number of people with qualifying illnesses. Libertas Institute played an integral role in legal research, marketing, lobbying, and logistics. We published an exclusive interview with two of the “faces” of the bill and worked hard to see the bill pass. It failed in the Senate on a 14-15 vote. Libertas Institute will be coordinating efforts throughout the year to improve the bill and increase its chances of passage in the 2016 legislative session.
Senate Bill 119, sponsored by Senator Todd Weiler, restricted the access of law enforcement officers to the prescription drug database—which has sensitive medical and personal information about people who have received prescriptions of opiates and other controlled substances—by requiring a warrant with probable cause. The bill, proposed by ACLU Utah, followed a tragic story of abuse of access to this database, leading to the harassment and legal persecution of innocent Utahns. SB119 passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House 55-17.
Last year, Libertas Institute and ACLU Utah proposed and lobbied for legislation to restrict the use of drones by law enforcement officers. That successful effort was threatened this year with the introduction of House Bill 296, sponsored by Representative Scott Sandall, which would have undermined some of the protections enacted last year. Together with the ACLU Utah we thwarted the bill’s progress pending compromise language we offered to allow the limited use of drones for testing and training while keeping intact the private protections introduced in our bill last year. The bill passed with the new language, and with our concerns resolved, Libertas Institute took no position on the final bill.
We published an exclusive interview with a mother whose parental rights were undermined by the school her children attended, after she attempted to opt her children out of certain assessments under the legal authority of a law passed last year to afford her that option. These concerns, shared by many other families experiencing similar things, led to Senate Bill 204, sponsored by Senator Aaron Osmond, to make more explicit the right of a parent to opt their children out of a variety of assessments imposed on children statewide. SB204 passed the Senate 18-6 and passed the House 54-19.
Additionally, Libertas Institute provided committee testimony and lobbying efforts for a variety of other bills needing our support or opposition.