In October 2013, our organization filed an open records request with the state of Utah’s Division of Administrative Services to determine what type of military gear was being requested and received by police agencies around Utah. Our request was denied, with the government essentially arguing that disclosure of this information would jeopardize the lives of the officers using the equipment if the citizens who employ them knew what it was.
We appealed and were able to obtain de-identified information—the list of assets in aggregate, without knowing which agencies possessed what. At the same time, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle requested and received the information directly from the federal government. Throughout 2014, public interest in and opposition to this flow of military weaponry and goods created enough political pressure that culminated in the responsible agency ultimately providing the raw data regarding all items transferred.
Today, the White House announced a revision to the policy—no longer will local law enforcement agencies be given grenade launchers, tracked armored vehicles, armed aircraft, bayonets, and guns and ammunition of .50 caliber or higher. Other supplies, including wheeled armored vehicles, drones, helicopters, firearms and riot gear, will still be allowed but will have restrictions placed on their use. Police agencies desiring these forms of equipment will be required to provide a “clear and persuasive explanation” for their need, and will have to get approval from their local government.
A legislative audit released this morning notes that “accurate water use data is critical” for managing the state’s water resources, while concluding, after research, that the data relied upon by state planners “contains significant inaccuracies”—inaccuracies which were admitted to, and known by, these government officials.
In some cases, the reported usage of water by some cities did not match the numbers listed in internal city reports. In one case, a city reported water usage for 2012 that was actually the data from another city with the same name in the state of New York.
The gravity of this mangled data is significant when considering the taxpayer investments made in water infrastructure throughout the state. The executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, for example, told the Deseret News today that, “The Division of Water Resources has been using bad data to support billions of dollars in unnecessary spending for massive water projects.” These same water managers who have been providing incorrect data—regarding the very reason for which they are employed—project that the state will need to spend $33 billion over the next several decades to repair current systems and expand supply.
We have written previously regarding the recently successful legislative effort to reform Utah’s criminal justice system in Utah. While several aspects received more attention than others—including lowering certain drug possession penalties from a felony to a misdemeanor, and shifting offenders from punishment to treatment—one crucial aspect has not received as much attention as it should: the reduction of penalty enhancement “buffer zones.”
Previous to this change, which passed the legislature almost unanimously, Utah law created a number of zones in which a person alleged to be in violation controlled substance laws would have their penalty automatically increased by one degree—for example, raising the charge from a class A misdemeanor to a third degree felony.
The worst part of the law, as previously constituted, was its broad geographical coverage, sometimes including nearly an entire city. If a person in violation of Utah’s drug laws committed the offending act in the following locations, it triggered the penalty increase:
Libertas Institute has several summer research internships available for college students or recent graduates. Join our successful organization to help advance the cause of liberty in Utah!
We are in need of policy research assistance to prepare some of the legislative proposals Libertas will be advancing in the 2016 general session beginning in January. See here for an example of recent policies we worked on.
- Research assigned policies spanning a broad spectrum of subjects
- Compile, sort, and analyze data
- Prepare reports and summarize data
- Write articles on assigned topics
- Must be interested in and aware of the political process
- Understanding of, and passion for, liberty
- High attention to detail
- Excellent research and writing skills
- Social media experience
These are unpaid positions, though we will gladly work with your school to provide credit if that is an option. Any necessary expenditures related to assigned work will be reimbursed.
Interns will work in Lehi on a part-time basis, either a morning or afternoon shift.
Interested students should submit a resumé and two writing samples to email@example.com with “Research internship application” in the subject line.
President Obama visited Utah, arriving last night and departing this morning. He was ferried in a plane that costs taxpayers $179,750 per hour to operate. To provide security, he was accompanied by Secret Service agents. Local police barricaded roadways and helped secure the area, obstructing the natural flow of traffic and disrupting local economic activity in the process. All of these corollary consequences of Obama’s travel come with a significant cost.
Last night, the president met with local elected officials, leaders of the LDS Church, and others. This morning, he gave a seven-minute speech in front of an array of solar panels, touting the importance of this emergent industry. In his brief address, he focused on renewable energy and announced a goal to train 75,000 workers for solar energy jobs, focusing on veterans who are transitioning back into civilian life. He mentioned that “we” must be “relentless” in adding new jobs, claiming that some 129,000 were added to the economy in March.
Many expect the Governor to call a special session this year to re-consider a proposal for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. We caution the Governor and Legislature against Medicaid expansion. Providing health insurance is not the responsibility of the government and such redistributive policies violate the property rights of everyone as it requires either raising taxes or incurring debt to finance such expenditures.
During the legislative session earlier this year we issued a warning in our public comment on the Governor’s “Healthy Utah” Medicaid expansion plan. Our view was that expanding Medicaid on the promise of generous federal matching funds was unwise because such promises were unlikely to be kept. We were proven right last week when Congressman Tom Price, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, unveiled the House budget plan which aims to balance federal spending in nine years. A key element of the budget plan is repealing Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, thereby eliminating these generous federal match rates altogether.
Representative Price replaced Paul Ryan as committee chairman this year and has advocated for cutting the federal match rate for Medicaid expansion in order to balance the budget since at least 2013. Such cuts would eliminate the promised 90 to 100 percent match for expansion while leaving the current rates for traditional Medicaid in place. The current federal match rate for Medicaid in Utah is 70 percent.
Yesterday morning, we published an interview with Heather Gardner, a Utah mother of five young children, who was told by school administrators that her children were no longer welcome on campus because she had opted them out of assessments the school believed her children were required to take.
By the afternoon, the situation became worse.
First, some context. Last year, Senator Aaron Osmond sponsored a parental rights bill that, among other things, requires a school to “excuse [a] student from taking a test that is administered statewide” upon written request of the parent. In other words, with this bill having been signed into law, a parent can legally opt out their child from “a test that is administered statewide.”
However, a legal opinion offered last September by Assistant Attorney General Chris Lacombe (who is representing the school board in our lawsuit over their adoption of Common Core), led the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) to advise schools that parents can only opt their children out of some of the assessments.
Earlier this week, Governor Gary Herbert addressed government officials and members of the public to deliver his annual “State of the State” address. He touched on education, Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reform, and religious liberty, among other issues. Below, we present the real state of the state—one that does not rely, in whole or in part, upon politically popular issues that poll well with key constituencies.
The Governor stated last night, “We will never back away from… the constant overreach of the federal government. If states fail to stand up and speak out for our right to self-determination, we will lose that right to an ever-expanding federal bureaucracy.” Yet, this same governor has championed two issues that further intertwine Utah with D.C.: Common Core (which the Dept. of Education incentivized through a grant opportunity, and which the Obama administration has championed), and Healthy Utah (the Medicaid expansion program that would bring hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars—and the inevitable strings—to the state.
Political leaders in Utah must match their walk to their talk; rhetoric is hollow. A state that receives $22 billion in federal money each year—federal funds comprise 32.8% of the state’s budget—is unlikely to understand (let alone exercise) its “right to self-determination.” Federalism will be an impotent issue until if and when Utahns and their elected officials are willing to make hard decisions and forgo federal funding.
“You guys killed my dog!” Utah resident Sean Kendall told several police officers. “I’ve had this dog for three years. He was my best friend—and he was shot because an officer couldn’t back the [expletive] up out of my house!”
Geist, Kendall’s Weimaraner, was inside Kendall’s fenced backyard when Officer Brett Olsen shot and killed him on June 18 while searching for a missing three-year-old boy, after opening Kendall’s fence and entering the backyard without permission or a warrant.
Kendall’s video went viral, media attention poured in, and concerned citizens took to the streets in protest of this use of perceived excessive force. The “Justice for Geist” Facebook page for supporters now stands at nearly 80,000 likes. Despite the officer being cleared of the shooting for “acting within policy,” many Utahns remain upset that Geist was killed when, they believe, the officer could have acted in a different manner, thus removing the need to attack the dog.
As the rallies and letters to the editor and angry interviews percolated in the weeks following this shooting, I couldn’t help wondering how Melissa Kennedy felt watching the outcry.
Libertas Institute announces its latest hire—our new development manager: Heather Williamson!
Heather joins us having recently worked with FreedomWorks as their Western States Director, organizing grassroots campaigns to implement conservative policies and elect liberty-minded candidates in several states. Her educational background is in political science, which is in her blood—Heather’s first lobbying effort was at the age of 12, lobbying Congress as the Youth President of the National Right to Life.
Heather and her family have made Utah their home for the last 15 years, and has been active in politics since that time. She has managed several local and statewide campaigns, most recently helping elect Senator Mike Lee and managing his offices in Utah for over a year and a half.
As Development Manager, Heather will be working to expand Libertas Institute’s profile across the state, network with prospective donors and allied organizations, and to create outreach programs and efforts to help our mission succeed.
Curious to know more? Send Heather an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.