2014 Bills

These Three Important Laws Go Into Effect Today

July 1, 2014  |  Posted in: 2014 Bills  |  No comments

The previous legislative session, which concluded in March, produced 484 bills that were signed into law. Many of these were detrimental to individual liberty, private property, and free enterprise. But several were very important, such as the three that go into effect today—each of which were either kickstarted by or originated from Libertas Institute.

Last August, we featured an interview with Jennifer May, a conservative Mormon mother of a son with a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. Jennifer expressed a desire to obtain medical cannabis for her child to try, as no other treatment was working. Our interview brought significant and immediate media attention to the May family, and others like them. The spotlight on their suffering led to their successful lobbying effort, resulting in House Bill 105, now dubbed “Charlee’s Law.” This law allows them to legally possess and use the extract of the cannabis plant for medicinal purposes, in hopes of reducing, and potentially eliminating, the severe seizures their children suffer.

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Is There Justice in the Justice Courts?

June 2, 2014  |  Posted in: 2014 Bills  |  3 comments

Utah’s judicial system includes a variety of courts, including the so-called “justice court.” Unlike the other courts, these fall outside the judicial branch and are controlled and operated entirely by municipalities. They are tasked with handling “class B and C misdemeanors, violations of ordinances, small claims, and infractions committed within their territorial jurisdiction.” The judges are city employees, and need not be trained in the law to become a judge of the law.

In this past legislative session, Representative Jeremy Peterson sponsored a bill to reform this system. The concerns he expressed were articulated last fall in a blog post he wrote. For example:

These courts were intended to handle rather mundane cases. As such, they were designated as “not of record”. So what does that mean? It means that in the eyes of the other pillars of our legal system, these cases are ‘invisible’ to them.

This ‘Not of Record’ status held by Justice Courts also means that there is no appellate oversight of their work as there is in the District Courts courts. Disputed cases in District Courts are sent to the Appellate Courts. Disputes in the Appellate Courts are sent to the Supreme Court. Each court can overrule its subordinate court. But in Justice Courts, there is no appeal and no higher court. This is unfortunate because the judicial review and oversight that is present through the appeals process acts as a kind of quality control for the court system. Questionable verdicts solicit second opinions through an appeal. This secondary review acts as a check on the lower courts who may stray from standard and accepted sentencing practices or findings. Justice Courts, as they are constituted today, lack this appellate oversight. Thus, the volatile and inconsistent sentencing we see today across Justice Courts in Utah should not surprise us.

Inefficiency is just one of the many problems this system creates—cases in justice court are granted the right of “trial de novo” (trial anew) which allows a complete retrial in a district court rather than a more traditional appeal. This increases the cost to taxpayers by having to deal with one case twice.

Perhaps one of the more objectionable issues at the heart of the justice court system has been their role in boosting municipal budgets. As Representative Peterson explained:

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2014 Legislative Report

March 14, 2014  |  Posted in: 2014 Bills  |  8 comments

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!

Libertas Bills

The following is a summary of the bills we proposed:

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SB256: Rolling Back Asset Forfeiture Changes

February 26, 2014  |  Posted in:  |  2 comments

This bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. Visit our Legislative Index to see the final vote rankings for the 2014 general session.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

In December we released a policy analysis highlighting several key changes made to forfeiture law in Utah last year. The changes were made through a bill that was explained as simple “re-codification” (a “clean up bill”) and therefore received unanimous support for legislators who had no reason, in the rushed last week of the session, to read a bill that contained 51 pages of new text.

But it wasn’t re-codification. The bill was the work of the Attorney General’s office who in a “working group” of prosecutors spent several months rewriting Utah’s forfeiture law. Representatives from the AG’s office were present in the meetings where this bill was explained as re-codification, and despite clearly knowing that it was much more than that did not correct the inaccurate claim and thus allowed the incorrect characterization of the bill to be wrongfully perpetuated.

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HB161: Prohibiting Support for the NSA

February 24, 2014  |  Posted in:  |  No comments

This bill was referred by the committee to interim study. Visit our Legislative Index to see the final vote rankings for the 2014 general session.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

When the NSA facility was proposed in Utah, Governor Herbert was promised that its activities would be in line with the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, most specifically the Fourth Amendment which requires probable cause, a warrant, and a specific description of a person’s alleged crime. As we all now know, in light of the Edward Snowden leaks, that promise has been institutionally violated by the NSA.

And yet, the NSA facility remains in operation in Bluffdale, Utah—a city that has entered into a contract to provide the federal government with over a million gallons of water per day to cool its servers.

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Politicians, or Economic Prognosticators? The Convention Center Bill Provides an Answer

February 19, 2014  |  Posted in: 2014 Bills, Center for Free Enterprise  |  No comments

Last year’s convention center subsidy proposal is back, and it passed unanimously out of committee yesterday. Remarks made during the discussion make clear our point, once again, that legislators should not be economic developers.

Trained economists who (claim to) understand market trends consistently fail in their predictions. Why, then, do we place any stock in the predictions of politicians who do not have sufficient training and background to even make an educated guess? More importantly, why do we allow them to use the tax base as a slush fund with which to incentivize certain businesses in hopes (yes, mere hope) that their predictions are correct?

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HB356: Centrally Planning the Salt Lake City Economy

February 17, 2014  |  Posted in:  |  One comment

This bill passed the House 49-23 and passed the Senate 17-11. Visit our Legislative Index to see the final vote rankings for the 2014 general session.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

Last year, the Senate narrowly supported a bill to incentivize the creation of a new hotel and convention center structure in Salt Lake City. Despite heavy lobbying by the Chamber of Commerce and local officials, the bill narrowly failed in the House on the last day of the session.

The bill, only slightly modified, is back. House Bill 356, sponsored by Representative Brad Wilson, seeks to provide up to $75 million in tax incentives—$25 million each from the city, county, and state.

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SB185: Law Enforcement Transparency

February 13, 2014  |  Posted in: 2014 Bills, Policy Analysis  |  4 comments

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.

Below is the introduction of our newly released policy analysis, “Law Enforcement Transparency.” To read the entire report, click here. The resulting legislation is Senate Bill 185.

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HB128: Requiring a Search Warrant for Obtaining Cell Phone Data

February 12, 2014  |  Posted in:  |  One comment

This bill passed the House 70-1 and passed the Senate unanimously. Visit our Legislative Index to see the final vote rankings for the 2014 general session.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

While many Utahns are concerned with the NSA’s surveillance activities, local law enforcement is currently able to engage in the same bulk data collection behavior. As reported in USA Today, technologies exist that allow the police to obtain the geolocation information of anybody whose cell phone is in the same area.

We find this troubling, and therefore support a new bill by Representative Ryan Wilcox, House Bill 128, that would require a warrant to use this type of technology (except in emergency situations). The bill would also require the police to purge all data on individuals not included as part of the warrant.

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HJR7: Requiring Staff Attorneys to Highlight Federalism Implications of Legislation

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This bill, as a substitute, passed the House 55-19 but was not considered in the Senate. Visit our Legislative Index to see the final vote rankings for the 2014 general session.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

When legislative general counsel (staff attorneys for legislators) believe that a proposed bill has constitutional issues, they attach a “note” to the bill that contains their explanation and concern. These notes, however, only articulate arguments in favor of the federal government—creating a severe imbalance in understanding the bill’s true impact.

Last year, for example, Representative Brian Greene sponsored House Bill 114, the Second Amendment Preservation Act. The bill affirmed Utah’s right to govern the manufacture and use of firearms produced and sold within the state of Utah. Staff attorneys attached a “constitutional note” to the bill, claiming that HB114 conflicted with the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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