2015 Bills

2015 Legislative Report

March 13, 2015  |  Posted in: 2015 Bills  |  3 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. 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!

Libertas Bills

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.

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SB296: Anti-Discrimination and Religious Liberty, Violating Property Rights

March 4, 2015  |  Posted in:  |  5 comments

This bill passed the Senate 23-5 and passed the House 65-10. It was subsequently signed into law by Governor Herbert.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

Following negotiations between legislators, LDS Church leaders, and LGBT activists, new legislation has been introduced to purportedly “balance” competing interests and craft a bill that will allow all sides to allegedly get a little of what they want. Senate Bill 296, sponsored by Senator Steve Urquhart, offers a consensus bill that is nevertheless fundamentally violative of property rights and the freedom of association.

Conservatives have unwisely framed their opposition to “gay rights” on religious grounds, but religious liberty is merely a subset of the right to own and control property, and the right to associate—or disassociate—with people of one’s own choosing. Religious liberty would not exist were it not for this foundation. This bill aims to prohibit landlords and employers from discriminating against a person due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is defined as being provable through “medical history, care or treatment of the gender identity,” or “other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held, part of a person’s core identity, and not being asserted for an improper purpose.”

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SB259: Legalizing Medical Cannabis in Utah

February 25, 2015  |  Posted in:  |  One comment

This bill failed in the Senate on a 14-15 vote.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

In 1915, 100 years ago, the Utah legislature banned a wide range of drugs, including cannabis. At the same time, the law specifically legalized possession, use, or sales of these substances “upon the written order or prescription of a physician.”

With respect to cannabis that medical option was rescinded—but one conservative lawmaker wants to go back to the way things were. Senator Mark Madsen has introduced Senate Bill 259 to legalize medical cannabis in the state, along with an industry that can provide products to patients looking for relief, treatment, or potentially even cures to their medical conditions. An example of two people who can benefit from this new law was published in an exclusive interview by Libertas Institute last week.

This bill would enact a number of provisions relating to the production, use, and sale of cannabis, including the following:

  • Licenses would be issued to medical cannabis growing facilities, production facilities, and dispensaries to legally conduct business in selling cannabis to individuals with permits to purchase it.
  • Individuals who suffer from a qualifying illness, and whose licensed physician provides a signed statement indicating that the individual suffers from the illness and may benefit from treatment with cannabis, will be able to legally obtain and use cannabis.
  • The cannabis can be orally ingested, vaporized, or topically applied; it may not be combusted/smoked.
  • Individuals will be limited in how much cannabis they can purchase within any given time period.
  • No more than one dispensary will be allowed in each county, except for counties with more than 200,000 residents, in which case one dispensary per 200,000 residents will be allowed.
  • Child-resistant packaging and clear labeling will be required of all products sold.
  • Detailed tracking will be required to monitor seed-to-sale so as to minimize abuse or wrongful access.
  • Signage, marketing, and access in any way appealing to or accessible by minors will be prohibited.
  • A security plan will be required for licensed cannabis-related facilities, access will be limited, inspections will be allowed to ensure compliance, and other provisions are included to minimize any other problems.

Cannabis is clearly safer than alternative legal substances—even more so than previously thought. A legislature that is almost unanimously supporting “Right to Try” legislation, which would allow terminal patients to access potentially life-saving medication not yet approved by the FDA, should likewise pass this law—do we really want to wait until people are at death’s door before the government steps back ever so slightly?

This bill is about the freedom to choose—allowing a patient and their doctor to determine if the medicinal properties of cannabis might help alleviate, treat, or cure their condition. Speculative concerns about potential misuse of this product does not justify its outright prohibition. We encourage full support of this important legislation.

HB386: Creating Statewide Guidelines for Police Body Cameras

February 24, 2015  |  Posted in:  |  One comment

This bill was not considered by the legislature.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Libertas Institute spent hundreds of man hours over the past year working on a comprehensive proposal for the use of body cameras in Utah. This effort, in conjunction with community partners and civil liberties allies like the Utah chapter of ACLU and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has culminated in House Bill 386, sponsored by Representative Dan McCay.

This bill would set statewide minimum standards for the use of body cameras in Utah protecting the rights of all Utahns and providing predictability in the use of police body cameras.

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HB356: Protecting Innocent Parents from DCFS Taking their Children

February 19, 2015  |  Posted in:  |  16 comments

This bill passed the House 71-1 and passed the Senate unanimously. It was subsequently signed into law by Governor Herbert.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

See below for an update.

Utah law allows the Division of Child and Family Services to take a child away from his or her parents or guardians in a variety of situations, including upon an allegation of neglect or abuse. As currently written, the law contains broad and permissive authorities that provide the division with latitude to intervene, place a child into foster care, and even terminate the rights of the parent, placing the child for adoption.

As with any broad authority, this can be—and has been—abused in the past. Utahns will likely recall the story of Parker Jensen, who at the young age of 13 was diagnosed by a doctor with a cancer called ewing sacrcoma. His parents disagreed with the diagnosis and sought a separate diagnosis but the state, led by Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, repeatedly and aggressively intervened to frustrate the family’s efforts—and attempted to force young Parker to undergo the prescribed treatment. The state finally backed down in the court room, and ten years later, Parker is cancer-free, married, and is now a father—a significant fact since had he been forcibly subjected to chemotherapy by the state, he may likely have been sterilized.

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SB226: Requiring a Warrant for Police to See Through Our Walls

February 18, 2015  |  Posted in:  |  One comment

This bill passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Herbert.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

A 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case, Kylio v. U.S., addressed the use of thermal imaging devices by law enforcement officials, and the ruling held that such devices could not be used without a warrant as they constituted a search.

“Where… the government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment ‘search,’ and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant,” the majority opinion reads.

Interestingly, the ruling anticipated the development of more refined technology and held that the court “must take account of more sophisticated systems that are already in use or in development,” referring to radar technology that would be far more detailed than blurry thermal images, which would “enable law officers to detect individuals through interior building walls.”

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HB348: Widespread Criminal Justice Reform in Utah

 |  Posted in:  |  4 comments

This bill passed the House 72-3 and passed the Senate unanimously. It was subsequently signed into law by Governor Herbert.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Following town hall meetings, research, and significant deliberation, the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) offered a series of evidence-based recommendations to the legislature. Representative Eric Hutchings has sponsored House Bill 348 to attempt to enact the recommendations into law.

The reforms are intended to make criminal justice “smarter” in Utah, keeping people out of prison who don’t need to be there—saving taxpayers some half a billion dollars over the next 20 years by not needing to incarcerate more people. Lowering the penalty for drug possession is one of the recommendations that has received significant attention. Other proposals include:

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SB204: Making More Explicit a Parent’s Right to Opt a Child out of Testing

February 13, 2015  |  Posted in:  |  4 comments

This bill passed the Senate 18-6 and passed the House 54-19. It was subsequently signed into law by Governor Herbert.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

As revealed in our recent interview with a Utah mother, schools throughout Utah are forcing children to take assessments which their parents had legally opted them out of. They were supported in doing so by the Utah State Office of Education which authored memos directing schools to only allow parents to opt their children out of select tests, despite a law passed last session by Senator Aaron Osmond, which passed almost unanimously, that provided for an opt out for a “test that is administered statewide ”

To correct this issue, Senator Osmond has authored new legislation that would require schools to excuse children out of “any summative, interim, or formative test that is not locally developed,” or “any test that is federally mandated or mandated by the state.”

Additionally, schools would be prohibited from requiring parents to meet with the principal or other school official as a condition of excusing the child, or require the parent to sign a form of their choosing, rather than accepting the written statement of the parent. The bill would also stipulate that a parent’s written statement would remain in effect until further notice, or when the child is no longer enrolled at the school

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A Tale of Economic Protectionism, Car Dealerships, and the Utah Legislature

February 9, 2015  |  Posted in: 2015 Bills  |  2 comments

Several legislators are attempting to push back against protectionist laws that favor the car dealership industry. And the car dealerships are, unsurprisingly, pushing back.

Under current law, a new car dealership cannot be located within 15 miles of an existing dealership that offers the same kind of cars for sale. This protectionist provision prohibits competition within a specific geographic area, and excludes certain cities from qualifying for having a dealership locate in city limits—along with benefiting from the taxes it would provide. Representative Mike McKell is proposing legislation that would decrease this distance, making it easier for other companies to compete.

Following lobbying by Larry H. Miller in 2000, Utah law now prohibits car dealerships from operating on both weekend days—a legislatively creative way of saying that they must close on Sunday, since everybody will elect to operate on Saturday. This protectionist policy was introduced as a defensive response by Miller to thwart off national competitors whose policies would require them to open on Sunday, leading him to either require his employees to also work on Sunday, or continue to close on the Sabbath but lose business to competitors. Representative Marc Roberts is proposing legislation to repeal this requirement.

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HB260: Constitutional Carry in Utah

February 5, 2015  |  Posted in:  |  No comments

This bill was not considered by the legislature.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Utah law prohibits a person from having a concealed firearm, imposing a class B misdemeanor as the penalty. Anybody who obtains a concealed firearm permit is exempted from this provision.

Two years ago, a bill passed the legislature unanimously which would also exempt the prohibition from any person 21 years or older “who may lawfully possess a firearm, as long as the firearm is not loaded.” The bill was vetoed by the Governor, and the legislature failed to muster enough interest in holding a veto override session.

Representative Curt Oda has re-introduced the bill. While we would favor reducing the age to 18—that of a legal adult—this bill is an important protection of the right to keep and bear arms; the government’s permission should not be needed to exercise a fundamental right.