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Utah Governor Calls for State’s Withdrawal of Common Core Education Standards

May 4, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  17 comments

Following a defeat at the State Republican convention where the Common Core education standards were a central point of contention between gubernatorial challenger Jonathan Johnson and incumbent Governor Gary Herbert, the latter has just issued a letter to the State Board of Education asking them to dump the standards.

This comes as a shock to many, as Herbert has long been an ardent proponent of the standards, dismissing and denigrating the concerns raised by critics.

The letter takes an about face, conceding that “there are legitimate concerns that I share with those opposed to the Common Core” and asking the Board to “consider implementing uniquely Utah standards, moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.”

The Governor also states that “it is critical that we not repeat past mistakes made during the 2010 implementation of the Common Core standards,” noting that “we must work with parents and students to understand what works and what can be improved.” We find this interesting, as this argument was the basis of our lawsuit against the State Board of Education. Utah law specifies that in “establishing minimum standards related to curriculum and instruction” the Board shall consult with local school boards, teachers, parents, and others.

This was not done. To rebut the arguments outside of the court, the Governor asked the Attorney General to review some of the concerns about Common Core—concerns that Herbert has not conceded until today. That legal analysis, signed by Attorney General Reyes, inaccurately states that the language regarding consulting parents was not in statute in 2010 as the Board was adopting Common Core. That is completely incorrect; the statute had been in place for years prior. It was utterly disregarded during the rushed process of adopting the Common Core standards.

It is important to note that the Board of Education adopted an experimental set of standards for which there was no evidence. No trials had been done. Nothing had been tested. They rushed the state into its adoption not because of any empirical data, but because its adoption was required in order to qualify for a potential federal grant that, in the end, Utah did not receive. For filthy federal lucre, hundreds of thousands of Utah children were turned into pedagogical guinea pigs.

We welcome the Governor’s newfound concern with the Common Core standards and encourage the State Board of Education to follow suit—this time actually consulting with the parents and teachers who are impacted by their top-down decisions.

In a pre-written letter released mere minutes after the Governor’s letter to the Board, Board chairman David Crandall states that the Board “is cognizant of the issues surrounding the 2010 adoption” and that they will “always look for ways to improve upon” the standards. Nothing is stated in direct response to the Governor’s suggestion about the Common Core standards specifically.

Read the Governor’s letter here.

Yet Another Poll Confirms High Support for Medical Cannabis

April 27, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Poll after poll confirms what is now common knowledge: a majority of Utahns want to see medical cannabis legalized statewide. The latest survey, done by Dan Jones, finds that 66% of adult Utahns support the legal change, while 28% are opposed and only five percent don’t know.

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The ideological breakdown revealed that 90% of Democrats and 76% of independents are in favor, whereas 55% of Republicans support legalizing medical cannabis. Even more “very conservative” respondents are in favor—49% versus 44% of them who oppose.

Despite LDS Church opposition to Senator Madsen’s recent bill, a majority of Mormons still support legalization—55% to 40% in opposition.

With recent legislation having failed, medical cannabis patients and advocates are now looking to file a ballot initiative that would give the option directly to the supportive public, rather than allowing the skeptical House of Representatives to substantially restrict (or opt not to pass) a medical cannabis program.

 

Summer Research Internships Announced

April 19, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Libertas Institute has two 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 2017 general session beginning next January.

Job responsibilities

  • Research assigned policies spanning a broad spectrum of subjects
  • Compile, sort, and analyze data
  • Prepare reports and summarize data
  • Write articles on assigned topics

Qualifications

  • 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

Compensation

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.

Application 

Interested students should submit a resumé and two writing samples to info@libertasutah.org with “Research internship application” in the subject line.

What Liberty Means to Me

March 22, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Who cares if Joe down the road can’t keep bees? I don’t want to, don’t think I ever will want to, so why should I care? They can fight to change the law if they want to. I’m not interested in renting out my home while I’m out of town, so why should I care if there’s a law keeping my neighbor from doing so? I’m not sick or in constant pain and am not interested in using medical cannabis, either. So why should I worry that it’s not legally available to those who may need it? I heard a story about police seizing a guy’s property when they pulled him over—and they kept it, even though they didn’t charge him with a crime… but who cares? That wasn’t me so it’s not my concern. Right?

… Right?

Definitely not to that careless degree, but in a certain way with certain issues, that was me six months ago before I joined Libertas Institute. Outside a few specific issues I did care about, if it didn’t affect me directly… I wasn’t very concerned if a law was unconstitutional or violated someone’s personal rights. And then one day Connor Boyack hired me.

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The Utah 2016 Defenders of Liberty

March 11, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

With the 2016 legislative session now having concluded, we’re able to see how each elected official fared in protecting (or violating) liberty. Here’s the Legislator Index for this year.

First, kudos to those who scored a perfect 100%: Representatives Brian Greene, John Knotwell, Dan McCay, and Marc Roberts. These gentleman are truly champions of liberty and work hard to defend our freedoms on a wide range of policies.

They are joined by ten other legislators who will be receiving the Defender of Liberty award this year—given to those who score an 85% or higher.

Interestingly, many Republicans scored worse than Democrats. In fact, the seven lowest scoring Representatives were all Republicans. The highest scoring Democrats were Rep. Briscoe, with 57%, and Senators Davis and Escamilla, tied at 61%.

Pencil in your calendar for the morning of May 7, where we will be presenting the Defenders of Liberty with their award at our annual event! More details coming soon.

Utah Law Enforcement Doubles Down on Forfeiture Misrepresentations

February 13, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  One comment

In an attempt to derail legislation meant to reform civil asset forfeiture, Utah law enforcement agencies sent a highly misleading letter to legislators last week falsely claiming that House Bill 22 would “protect drug cartels, not innocent owners.” We posted a response, including a letter from the bill sponsor, Representative Brian Greene.

The response picked apart their claims one by one, demonstrating their inaccuracy.

Now, they’ve doubled down by sending a second letter—one that contains more misrepresentations, and doesn’t even attempt to respond to the rebuttals of their claims as to what the bill would do (which would be hard, since their claims were completely inaccurate).

The letter starts by addressing an example of forfeiture mentioned in Representative Greene’s letter—that of the Garcia family whose cash (over $14,000) was seized by officers. Noting that “a drug dog alerted” officers of the smell of drugs, the letter admits that “no drugs were found.” As a result, the Garcias were released; no charges were filed. Yet the money was kept, and ultimately returned, without any attorney fees provided.

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Utah Law Enforcement Officials Mislead Legislature to Oppose Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

February 5, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  5 comments

When “Initiative B” was being considered in 2000 by Utah voters—a measure designed to limit the ability of government to legally take property from people not convicted of a crime—law enforcement officials strenuously opposed its passage. It passed by 69%.

When “Initiative B” was passed into law, law enforcement officials immediately sought to undermine the law and re-introduce the ability to obtain a part of the resulting proceeds from the confiscated property. As explained by Senator Howard Stephenson in 2002:

Now, just two years after voters approved this law which protects property owners from unfair property forfeitures, a group of Utah legislators and leaders of law enforcement are preparing to gut it. Last week the legislature’s Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee rubber-stamped a bill presented by Clark Harms, Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney, that would undo many of Initiative B’s reforms.

If you want to know the motives for prosecutors and law enforcement officials pushing these amendments, simply follow the money. Initiative B prevents law enforcement agencies from taking property without convicting property owners of a crime, and then selling the property and keeping the proceeds for the law enforcement budget.

After unsuccessful attempts, law enforcement finally succeeded in 2004 by successfully convincing the legislature to once again allow police agencies to financially benefit from forfeiting property.

In 2013, law enforcement crafted legislation designed to undermine private property and due process protections in forfeiture law, and then stood by silently—and knowingly—while the legislature was misled into believing that the lengthy change to forfeiture law was only technical and superficial, as opposed to substantive. Our policy analysis, written a few months later, highlighted what law enforcement had done. To correct this gross error and restore these deceptive changes, we proposed legislation designed to restore these changes.

The Attorney General’s office penned a misleading response designed to thwart that effort. We rebutted the letter, and our proposal passed unanimously, re-introducing into forfeiture law the private property and due process protections that law enforcement had undermined.

Now, in an effort to thwart the effort to reform civil asset forfeiture by requiring a criminal conviction as a basis for legally confiscating a person’s property, law enforcement officials are once again playing fast and loose with the facts.

The Utah County Law Enforcement Executives Association—comprised of the Utah County District Attorney, Sheriff, and police chiefs from around the county—wrote a letter full of misleading and inaccurate information designed to encourage legislators to oppose the bill. The letter was supported in a separate letter by the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, saying it “agrees with, endorses, and reiterates the sentiments expressed.”

Representative Brian Greene, sponsor of House Bill 22, distributed the following letter to his colleagues in response to the above-mentioned letters, refuting the inaccurate claims made about the bill. We include it below with his permission.


Letter to colleagues from Representative Brian Greene

House Bill 22, Civil Asset Forfeiture – Procedural Reforms, introduces and restores some important reforms to civil asset forfeiture—the legal ability of government to seize and keep property of individuals not charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. The bill, drafted over two years and recommended favorably during interim, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously.

Law enforcement and prosecutors object to the bill, just as they objected to the statewide “Initiative B” in 2000 that first put in place protections for citizens on civil forfeiture in Utah (which passed by 69%). Immediately after the passage of Initiative B, these groups set out to undermine the expressed will of Utah voters by ensuring that the financial proceeds of civil asset forfeiture (taken from individuals who have not been convicted of a crime) could once again flow back to law enforcement agencies. Successive modifications to the civil asset forfeiture statute, proposed by law enforcement and prosecutors, have effectively eliminated most of the reforms accomplished by Initiative B. HB22 seeks to restore some of those reforms, without touching the parallel criminal forfeiture procedure.

The Utah County Law Enforcement Executives Association recently distributed a letter of opposition to HB22—one which is replete with misleading claims and factually incorrect statements. The following is my rebuttal to their shameful act of fearmongering.

Irrelevant information

The UCLEEA letter takes half a page to share a few statistics “to put the problem in perspective,” first highlighting seizures from drug trafficking organizations—seizures which HB22 still allows to occur, and which can be forfeited criminally as under current law. And, it’s important to note, these drug trafficking organizations are a very small minority of overall forfeitures—the overwhelming majority of which are under $5,000 in total value.

The “perspective” information then discusses the financial aspects of drug cartels, nationwide heroin use, Utah’s well known prescription drug overdose problem, and the increased rate of newborns exposed to drugs while in utero. None of this has anything to do with HB22.

This is an attempt to lead you to believe that HB22 would somehow “support drug dealers, criminals, and large cartels.” To the contrary: HB22 supports private property rights and due process by ensuring that the government can only take property from individuals (including drug dealers, criminals, and large cartels) upon a showing that the property is actually linked to the alleged crime. Many have argued that HB22 doesn’t go far enough because it still allows property to be seized in the absence of a criminal prosecution and/or conviction.

No examples of abuse?

UCLEEA claims that proponents of the bill “have NO documented examples of abuses by police or prosecutors” (emphasis in the original). This is completely false. The proposed reforms have been the subject of multiple committee hearings over the past year wherein multiple examples were presented in detail, and testimony from individuals whose property interests had been violated through the civil forfeiture process was received. As one example of many, the Garcia family was passing through Utah to a wedding in Idaho on April 15, 2014. Stopped in Weber County by police for having a tinted license plate cover, they had $14,170 taken from them—money they had pooled together to help pay for the wedding and give to the newlyweds. The money was taken by police at the roadside stop while the Garcias were sent on their way—not charged with any crime. Prosecutors held the property for eleven months before relenting and releasing it (after the Garcia family incurred substantial attorney fees). No drugs or illegal conduct was ever found.

Other examples exist, and for brevity’s sake will not be included (but I’m happy to share in person, if interested). To simply claim that NO examples have been provided is absurd.

“Policing for profit”

Proponents of forfeiture reform sometimes use the above-listed term when describing forfeiture, due to the financial incentive that exists for law enforcement and prosecutors to obtain revenue by taking property from those not convicted of a crime.

In their letter, UCLEEA references some of the reasonable uses of forfeiture revenue: drug courts and crime victims. Mr. Platt, a Salt Lake County prosecutor, made this same point during his committee testimony as well.

What both Mr. Platt and UCLEEA are not telling you, however, is that most forfeiture revenue is redirected back to the law enforcement agencies that participate in the asset forfeiture grant program. For example, in FY2014, CCJJ disbursed $729,747 of forfeiture proceeds to 25 state and local law enforcement agencies. Forfeitures in which state and local law enforcement participated with Federal agencies accounted for another $848,204.44 to law enforcement agencies during the same year. This financial incentive was eliminated by Initiative B, which is why law enforcement immediately set out to undermine it after passage. HB22 simply recognizes the will and wisdom of nearly 70% of Utahns by restoring this important protection against perverse incentives.

It’s important to note two things. First, HB22 does not in any way impede criminal forfeiture. Those convicted of crimes will—as they should—have the proceeds of their crime taken from them. Thus, the letter’s references to Utah becoming a sanctuary for drug cartels and drug trafficking are misleading fearmongering; this bill is designed to protect innocent owners. In 2014, 69.2% of forfeitures were under $5,000 in total value. The overwhelming number of cases are not the drug cartels to which opponents refer.

Second, despite the importance of funding drug courts and the Crime Victims Fund, these programs should not be funded by proceeds taken from innocent individuals. This point was emphasized in committee testimony. It’s perfectly legitimate to divert criminal forfeiture revenue to these worthy programs, but prosecutors should not be allowed to take property from people not charged or convicted with a crime, even if it is used for beneficial government programs.

False Claims about House Bill 22

UCLEEA falsely claims in their letter that HB 22 “works to protect drug cartels, not innocent owners.” This wildly inaccurate statement is then supported by three assertions, each of which is not at all correct.

“Lines 102-105 create a loophole. Under this language, a pimp exploiting a young woman engaged in sex for money would claim the money, and be entitled to get it back.”

This argument is absurd and reflects an intentional deception or complete lack of understanding of the law. Lines 102-105 specifically exclude as an “innocent owner” anyone who has “participated in” or “given permission” for the illegal conduct, or who “solicits,” “commands,” “encourages,” or “aids” another person to engage in illegal conduct. Only complete incompetence would prevent a prosecutor from establishing the culpability of a pimp under these standards.

“That loophole is repeated at lines 150-156. Under this language, a person found with $90,000 in cash and 30 pounds of heroin during execution of a search warrant would be entitled to a return of all the cash, unless surveillance had observed the actual transaction producing the $90,000 cash (which, of course, is almost impossible to achieve).”

What law enforcement executives call a “loophole”, the law calls due process and burden of proof. The “direct nexus” requirement between the property seized and the illegal conduct serves two important purposes: First, it is a reflection of the high level of protection of private property afforded by the constitution—even a “criminal” is entitled to such protection of legitimately acquired property; and second, it seeks to prevent the common “blitzkrieg” practice of seizing everything and anything, and then engaging in a “settlement exercise” with the owner where the owner must “agree” to forfeit some assets to recover others.

The assertion that a forfeiture action can’t succeed unless law enforcement actually surveil the transaction is as nonsensical as suggesting that a murder, or any other crime for that matter, cannot be solved without a video recording of the event. The direct nexus provision requires nothing more than that law enforcement and prosecutors do the job that the public expects them to do—investigate, collect evidence, build a case and prosecute.

Due process and burden of proof are hardly new concepts created by this bill. They are, however, protections guaranteed by a much older bill—the Bill of Rights.

“Alternatively, the $90,000 would be used to pay for an attorney (line 401) rather than be forfeited to CCJJ to remedy the harmful effects of heroin on our communities.”

The complaint about seized property being subject to release for purposes of “paying for an attorney” reflects a misunderstanding of, or an attempt to mislead about, existing law. The forfeiture statute already allows for the judicial release of seized property for hardship purposes, and, in practice, this provision is commonly relied upon by defendants to obtain the resources necessary to secure legal representation. The inclusion of a specific reference to this purpose within the list of other specific and general purposes doesn’t change the practical application of the statute —it merely acknowledges it.

What should be alarming, however, is that within the letter’s criticism of this provision is the implied opposition to a defendant’s access to legal representation. Perhaps, this is reflective of a fear that legal representation of defendants will disrupt the “fast-track” practice of resolving most civil forfeiture cases by default or stipulated judgment. The law should impose a high bar for taking property from individuals not convicted of a crime—and those who have taken an oath to protect and defend the rights of citizens should understand and accept that difficult standard.

Conclusion

UCLEEA claims that HB22 is a “solution in search of a problem,” when the truth is quite opposite. There’s a reason that many states are moving away from civil asset forfeiture: New Mexico and North Carolina have abolished it completely, while Montana, Minnesota and others require a criminal conviction as a prerequisite for civil forfeiture. The reforms proposed by HB22 are modest in comparison, and still allow the use of civil forfeiture, contrary to the claims of UCLEEA.

If, as UCLEEA asserts, HB22 would result in a complete discontinuation of asset forfeiture as tool, that result would be entirely by their choice. That statement looks very much like an admission that profit motive is the driving force behind the current use of asset forfeiture. Fortunately, I don’t believe that would be the result, as it has not been in states that have imposed much stronger reforms that HBB22 proposes.

The 2016 Real State of the State

January 28, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  2 comments

Last night, Governor Gary Herbert addressed government officials and members of the public to deliver his annual “State of the State” address. He touched on job creation, education, air quality, self-reliance, and health care, 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.

What is the state of the state?

Governor Herbert posed this question to the assembled audience, answering it in the affirmative—that the state is strong, and even “outstanding.” Nevertheless, the state faces significant challenges that were not addressed in the speech, and need serious scrutiny in order to protect the rights of each Utahn. We would disagree with the Governor’s assessment; while it’s easy to point to the growth of the market as a leading indicator of the government’s performance, this data point is peripheral to the underlying issues where the state is not performing very well.

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#PatientsNotCriminals Press Conference

January 14, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Over three dozen patients gathered to show the public that they are patients, not criminals, and that the law needs to change to allow them to use medical cannabis without fear of prosecution. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill joined the group to call for fixing our failed drug policy, and ensuring that he as a prosecutor does not have to prosecute sick and suffering Utahns for the sole reason that they have used cannabis to help themselves.

Due to a technical error, only the second half of our press conference was recorded. Here are media reports from the event:

Libertas Institute Announces New Director of Development

December 31, 2015  |  Posted in: Blog  |  One comment

Libertas Institute announces its latest hire—our new director of development: Chris Jones!

Chris Jones joins Libertas after a lengthy stint in the private sector as branch manager at City First Mortgage Services. Over a thirty-year career in and out of politics, Chris has been involved in public policy and election campaigning at every level of the political scene.

Growing up just outside Washington D.C., Chris was traipsing through the halls of Congress from the time he could walk. His first summer job—when he was thirteen—was as an intern at the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee under Mitch Daniels, now Governor of Indiana. He also worked at the Heritage Foundation and United Families of America before spending two years behind the Iron Curtain in Hungary.

Chris graduated from Brigham Young University with a B.A. in Classics. His battlefield political experience includes a city council race, two terms as legislative district chair, a run for state legislature, three congressional campaigns, the Gary Herbert for Governor campaign and a stint as National Field Director of the Alan Keyes presidential campaign in 2000.

A prolific writer, Chris is the author of two books on marketing communications (one an Amazon top 25 honoree) and dozens of essays on political theory and policy, including the 2013 Libertas Essay Contest winner. He now resides in Lehi with his wife Jeanette and their eight children.

Curious to know more? Send Chris an email at chris@libertasutah.org.

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