Center for Private Property
Police and prosecutors continue to fight efforts to reform civil asset forfeiture—a law allowing them to take property from innocent people not charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime.
In the last legislative session, prosecutors got the police to issue a highly misleading letter to the legislature hours before a key vote. A second letter issued doubles down on the attempt to misrepresent facts in order to protect a policy that makes prosecutor’s jobs easier.
Following a poll revealing that 86% of Utah voters oppose civil asset forfeiture, and a significant outreach effort by Libertas Institute to the public, pressure has increased to once again attempt to reform the law. (And now we have the unfortunate distinction of lagging behind California on the issue…)
Last year, we released the Freest Cities report—a first-of-its-kind analysis of city laws and fees for the top 50 most populous cities throughout Utah. One of the metrics we analyzed was that of animal ownership, helping residents understand how many animals their cities legally allow them to have (and, by extension, what the city has prohibited).
In many cities, the law imposes an arbitrary limit of ownership. For example, assuming a standard starter home in a single family residential zone, Lehi residents can have two dogs, Logan lets you have four, whereas North Ogden only allows a single dog.
There is no data that supports these numerical restrictions. Three small dogs might make less noise than one large one, for example. The potential impact to neighbors is not mitigated properly by imposing a cap. And, of course, it turns peaceful residents into criminals when they, as prudent caretakers of animals, exceed the limit but create no negative burden on their neighbors.
Utah has a controversial history with civil asset forfeiture—a tool allowing the government to confiscate property from people not charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. Last Friday, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) issued a first-of-its-kind report providing detailed information on how this power is being used in Utah.
The report is the result of Senate Bill 52 from the 2015 General Session. Libertas Institute proposed the reforms that led to this legislation—which passed unanimously—to help the public better understand in what cases property is being seized. Civil asset forfeiture is a highly controversial practice that has received significant nationwide attention.
Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, issued the following statement in response to the publication of the report:
Tax Freedom Day is the day when individuals in the entire nation, or state, have earned enough money to pay the total tax bill for the year. It includes all federal, state, and local taxes and divides them by the total income of all individuals.
Last year, Americans were forced to pay $3.28 trillion in federal taxes, and $1.57 trillion in state and local taxes. Here in Utah, Tax Freedom Day arrives on April 20th:
This year’s report by the Tax Foundation reveals an astonishing statistic: Americans collectively spend more on taxes than they do on food, clothing, and housing combined.
Property rights were an essential and fundamental pillar of the American experiment, and their usurpation and violation were among the reasons listed in the Declaration of Independence that justified separation from Great Britain and the formation of a new country.
Unfortunately, governments at all levels of this country have become just as oppressive on this issue as the King once was; property rights, though widely regarded as a core aspect of good government, are routinely subordinated to the interests of the state. They are frequently mentioned on the campaign trail, in academia, and in debates over political theory, but in actual practice, property rights are not what they were initially intended to be.
While many states constitutionally protect the right to acquire, possess, and protect property, no state recognizes one’s inalienable right to actually use it. The need is great, and the fix is easy; Utah now has an opportunity to be a leader in restoring and protecting this right.
This past week, a nursing mother was told to leave a Layton business because she was nursing. The woman claims that the establishment “broke the law” and that she “knows her rights,” and for that reason called a police officer to back her up. Facing pressure, the company issued a statement which reads, in part: “We fully respect and support the rights of women to breastfeed in public as supported by Utah law.”
What does Utah law actually say about breastfeeding? (Hint: the woman is wrong, and the company is right—sort of.)
There are only a handful of laws dealing with breastfeeding in Utah. Section 17-15-25 states that county governments may not prohibit breastfeeding “in any location where [the woman] otherwise may rightfully be…” This is not a statutorily recognized right, but rather a prohibition against county governments banning the action in places where nursing mothers have the right to be. Section 10-8-41 has the same reference, but to boards of commissioners and city councils.
As industrialization of America’s food system has increased in the past half a century, so too has its centralization. The average person has become almost totally disconnected from their food supply.
This distance between farm and fork has led to a lengthy list of regulations, intended to protect the health of the uninformed consumer who does not, and cannot, know anything about the safety, security, or quality of what they are buying.
Such regulations are unnecessary, and therefore should not be required, of producers who sell directly to informed consumers who can either inspect the farm’s assets and processes, or buy a product knowing that it is free of regulation.
Freeing up small farmers will increase their number, reduce restrictive compliance costs, and protect the freedom of both parties, thereby confining regulation to its proper domain.
The EPA has recently adopted a final rule to redefine the term “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act in a way that would expand the agency’s regulatory authority to many intrastate waters.
This rule threatens the property rights of Utahns across the state as it would allow federal agencies to impose permit requirements on the most routine industrial or agricultural activities when it concerns even the most insignificant bodies of water.
This rule exceeds the intended limits set by Congress, violates 10th Amendment principles, and is an assault on property rights and Utah’s economy.
Utah should actively oppose this federal bureaucratic overreach by refusing to comply with the EPA’s new rule and also by prohibiting state agencies from cooperating.
Recently we interviewed a St. George resident who was warned by a city code enforcement officer that his house sharing attempts via the popular site Airbnb were in violation of an ordinance prohibiting short-term rentals. The Palmers were using Airbnb to rent the basement of their home to tourists in order to supplement their family’s income—an activity that yielded not a single complaint from anybody.
This crackdown highlights the strong arm of the regulatory state over a growing “sharing economy” which pits innovation, individual liberty, free enterprise, and private property rights against the regulatory “police power” of local government. This is reminiscent of recent actions in Utah to regulate popular ride-sharing apps Lyft and Uber, and innovative insurance broker Zenefits—except in this case the government is not just attempting to regulate commerce alone, but the very rights of an individual property owner.
In house-sharing arrangements, sites like Airbnb and VRBO match travelers with individual property owners who are willing to share all or part of their property with someone for a short period of time. In Utah you can find anything from someone’s air mattress for $10 per night to an entire luxurious ski lodge for thousands of dollars per night. Such a wide range of options do not exist in the commercial lodging market.
Jeremy Trentelman is a resident of Ogden who recently built a cardboard fort for his three-year-old daughter. While his young daughter received a lesson in fatherly love and support, she is also now learning a lesson about the raw and invasive power of the state.
Mr. Trentelman has been admonished by a code enforcement officer for being in violation of city ordinance, which reads: “It is unlawful for any owner, occupant, agent or lessee of real property within the city, to allow, cause or permit the following material or objects to be in or upon any yard, garden, lawn, or outdoor premises of such property: 1. Junk or salvage material; 2. Litter; 3. Any abandoned vehicle or inoperable vehicle.”
In an interview with the Standard Examiner, he defended his front lawn feature: “It’s obvious it’s not junk. There is a slide over the side and child graffiti all over the boxes. It looks like a fort.”