Town Hall on Civil Asset ForfeitureSeptember 22, 2016
Nearly a hundred Utahns from Salt Lake County gathered to learn about civil asset forfeiture, and how government employees deceived the legislature into making the law even worse.
We co-hosted this town hall with Senator Howard Stephenson who has been a leader on forfeiture reform for nearly two decades.
Michael Melendez joins the team as new Director of PolicySeptember 2, 2016
Libertas Institute continues to grow! Michael Melendez joined our team as the new director of policy, overseeing our legislative and political activities across all of our issue areas.
Michael brings a long history of political involvement and expertise in legislative and campaign work to our staff.
New book: Passion-Driven EducationAugust 2, 2016
The modern education system is a mess, and parents struggle to navigate the bureaucracy, mandates, and one-size-fits-all system. This book liberates parents, empowering them to help ignite a lifelong love of learning in their children.
Audrey Mortensen joins the team as a policy analystJuly 19, 2016
Libertas’ significant impact on public policy necessitated expanding our team by hiring an additional policy analyst. Audrey brings a track record of legislative and gubernatorial work in New Mexico to our organization in Utah, her home state.
Victory in our lawsuit against the state over an unconstitutional lawJuly 13, 2016
The Attorney General’s office decided to settle the lawsuit in our favor, admitting that the legislature had passed an unconstitutional law compelling organizations such as ours to divulge private information about our donors. This was a major victory for free association.
New policy brief: Ensuring Justice through Juror DiscretionJuly 11, 2016
The pursuit of justice is plagued with many problems—over-criminalization, perverse incentives, faulty forensics, and disproportionate penalties. Fortunately, police and prosecutors enjoy significant discretion throughout the process to weed out cases where justice would not be served.
Despite this discretion, agents of the government still prosecute many cases where the application of the law is clearly unjust and the alleged criminal should not be found guilty. Jurors, as the final step in the system of justice, have this same discretion—but are not told about it. People cannot exercise a power they do not know exists.
Our proposal, if enacted into law, would create a better balance in the justice system by ensuring that jurors are informed about the power they possess.
New booklet: The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the StateMay 17, 2016
This persuasive gem boldly and clearly explains to the reader the danger of political power, and, more specifically, its illegitimacy. “By what right do men exercise power over each other?” he asks. How would you answer?
New book: The Tuttle Twins and the Food Truck FiascoMarch 24, 2016
Whatever the period of history, business owners have sought protectionist laws that crush the competition and secure their profit. Today we see this play out with Uber and Lyft vs. the taxi industry, or Airbnb vs. hotels.
It also happens with food trucks vs. restaurants, and that example is the central story of the latest book in our unique children’s series, teaching young kids about competition, fairness, protectionism, business, marketing, activism, and more!
Fighting the re-criminalization of religious polygamyMarch 10, 2016
Following a defeat in court, the Attorney General’s office tried to get the legislature to re-criminalize polygamy. The House passed the bill 59-16.
We ardently fought the bill, on the grounds that peaceful and consensual polygamist associations should not be criminalized. We were ultimately victorious on the last day of the session. Staff from the Attorney General’s office were in the Senate gallery anticipating passage of their bill just before the final hour, and were surprised when their Senate sponsor—persuaded by the concerns presented to him by our allies—decided not to proceed with the bill, effectively killing it.
Minimum standards for police body camerasMarch 10, 2016
Libertas Institute staff spent over a year researching police body camera policies from agencies in Utah and around the nation, working with civil liberties partners to come up with the most optimal model legislation.
The result, House Bill 300, establishes minimum standards for police agencies that use body cameras for their officers, such as when they must be activated, when notice of their use must be given, and how records are to be retained and disclosed. This bill passed the House 64-5 and passed the Senate unanimously.
Creating a potential second chance for juvenile offendersMarch 10, 2016
Prior to this bill, juveniles committing heinous crimes could be incarcerated for life without parole. Because young brains are not developed enough to process information rationally, they should not be held accountable like adults. Recognizing the science on this issue, we worked with a coalition of organizations to remove life without parole as an option, allowing juvenile offenders to demonstrate their ability to rejoin society at some future time.
House Bill 405 passed the House 64-3 and passed the Senate unanimously. With this new law, Utah joined 16 other states in banning life without parole for juvenile offenders.
Self-reliance training for welfare recipientsMarch 10, 2016
Inter-generational poverty is a problem in Utah, and we want to make sure that government welfare does not improperly incentivize dependence upon taxpayers.
We proposed legislation that requires applicants for welfare programs to participate in self-reliance training designed to help them no longer need taxpayer-funded assistance. Senate Bill 153 passed the Senate 20-5 and passed the House 45-28.
Denying juvenile courts jurisdiction over adultsMarch 10, 2016
Prior to this bill, Utah law allowed a court to maintain juvenile custody of an adult between 18 and 21 years old. Libertas Institute worked on Senate Bill 79 to establish a process whereby a legal adult still in custody of the state can petition to be removed from state custody; legal adults should be free leave custody of the state once they are no longer a minor.
SB79 passed in the Senate 27-0 and passed in the House 54-18.
Fighting barriers for parental choice in vaccinating childrenMarch 9, 2016
House Bill 221 would have imposed more barriers for parents wishing to adopt their children out of mandatory vaccination requirements.
Partnering with a few concerned parents, we educated legislators on the dangers of the bill and its violation of parental rights. The bill barely passed the House 38-37, but was changed in the Senate to a better version though did not ultimately receive the support of both chambers in the legislature, and therefore did not pass.
Opposing a punitive tax on e-cigarette usersMarch 3, 2016
E-cigarettes have grown in popularity, in part due to long-time smokers shifting to using these devices to satisfy their nicotine habit using a healthier alternative.
House Bill 333 would have added an 86% tax to sales of electronic cigarettes, nicotine inhalers, and the substances they use in an attempt to discourage their use. This punitive tax was unfair and unwise; heavily taxing alternatives would eliminate an incentive to use them.
We worked against this bill along with coalition partners; the bill failed in committee 5-7.
Fighting against raising the age limit for tobacco possession and useFebruary 29, 2016
Legislators have attempted several times in recent years to increase the age limit for the possession and use of tobacco. We consistently fight against this proposal, as legal adults should not be prohibited from using legal products.
House Bill 157 would have raised the age limit to 21. We opposed and worked to kill this bill; it failed in committee 4-8.
Fighting the federal government’s takeover of intrastate waterFebruary 18, 2016
As outlined in our policy brief, a rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency purported to grant it the authority to regulate and micromanage not only interstate water, but intrastate water as well—bodies of water entirely within Utah.
House Concurrent Resolution 1 expressed opposition to that rule change, and support for pending litigation to fight it. The bill passed the House 64-9 and passed the Senate 22-4.
New policy brief: The High Price of Retribution: A Case for Repealing the Death PenaltyJanuary 8, 2016
In 2015, the Utah Legislature reauthorized the use of the firing squad as a form of capital punishment. Unfortunately, the debate never addressed the acceptability of the death penalty itself, despite lengthy consideration by the legislature of a comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms during the same time.
This missed opportunity can be corrected. The legislature should consider abandoning the use of capital punishment in favor of life without parole.
Chris Jones becomes our new Director of DevelopmentDecember 31, 2015
Bringing decades of political and educational experience to the team, Chris joined Libertas as director of development, responsible for fundraising, networking, grant writing, and more.
New policy brief: Private Attorneys General: Incentivizing the Protection of LibertyDecember 22, 2015
State and federal constitutions were designed by their authors to protect our rights against violation by the government. The enforcement of these protections often requires litigation and court orders—and thus a watchful guardian to protect the public’s rights.
While many believe that the Attorney General serves this function, this is not so. In a constitutional dispute between an individual and the government, the Attorney General’s primary duty is to defend the government—even when wrong. As such, the public interest requires watchful guardians who are independent of the government to challenge it in court when it is in violation of the public’s constitutional rights.
Our new policy brief proposes restructuring the law to empower and incentivize private plaintiffs in holding the government accountable.
New policy brief: The Fundamental Right to Use One’s Own PropertyDecember 16, 2015
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.
Our policy brief proposes a constitutional amendment designed to protect the use of property—a protection sorely needed in the state of Utah.
Our first-of-a-kind “Freest Cities” project launchedDecember 2, 2015
Following months of research by a team of analysts, Libertas announced the first-of-its-kind Freest Cities index, comparing Utah cities on a wide range of laws and fees affecting personal and economic freedom.
How free is your city? Find out here.
2nd annual Fourth Amendment ForumNovember 18, 2015
Our second annual Fourth Amendment Forum brought a couple hundred Utahns together for a private screening of Peace Officer, a new documentary about police use of force, highlighting several law enforcement encounters in Utah.
We hosted a Q&A session afterwards to address important issues concerning the community on this topic, and share our legislative agenda for the upcoming session on civil liberties issues.
Nichelle Aiden joins the team as Director of CommunicationsNovember 16, 2015
Nichelle Aiden joined the Libertas team, bringing years of acting experience and storytelling to our outreach efforts. As Director of Communications she helps with press, public relations, and education efforts.
New book: The Tuttle Twins and the Creature from Jekyll IslandOctober 22, 2015
This book series has become very popular with libertarian, homeschool, and conservative. Parents are eager to help their children understand these important ideas in such an accessible way.
New policy brief: Farms, Food, and Freedom: Informed Consumerism in UtahAugust 6, 2015
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.
We propose some legal reforms that would empower both producer and consumer and shorten the distance between them, improving Utah’s economy and culture.
New policy brief: Overreaching EPA Water Rule: Utah Property Rights In PerilJune 3, 2015
The EPA 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.
Our brief explains the background behind this bold, bureaucratic overstep, and proposes some solutions in response.
2nd annual Liberty ForumMay 8, 2015
We held our annual Liberty Forum to award legislators who consistently voted for freedom, report on progress made during the previous year, and hear from guest speakers: Dr. Randy Simmons, president of Strata, and Peter Schiff, a well known financial commentator and author.
DJ Schanz becomes Vice PresidentMay 4, 2015
Libertas added a Vice President to the staff, bringing DJ Schanz on board—a long-time freedom fighter well known in Utah political circles.
Young Americans for Liberty conventionMarch 21, 2015
Libertas Institute provided support to the Young Americans for Liberty conference, training college students from Utah on how to advocate for liberty and educating them on important issues.
Our president, Connor Boyack, also moderated a panel with elected officials on a wide range of issues.
Property Rights for Raw Milk DrinkersMarch 12, 2015
In 2007, the Utah legislature passed a law outlawing cow share agreements, whereby two or more parties jointly purchased, and obtained milk from, a cow, sheep, or goat.
Partnering with some small food producers, we proposed House Bill 104 that legalized them once more, albeit for a limited number of animals. The bill also prohibits the Department of Agriculture from enacting regulations for cow share participants. Despite significant opposition from farm, dairy, and retail industries, HB104 passed the House 61-11 and passed the Senate unanimously.
See here for a short video we produced featuring the stories of two Utahns who now operate cow shares.
Protecting innocent parents from DCFS taking their childrenMarch 11, 2015
We proposed changes to the law in an effort to protect parental rights in the medical decisions regarding their children. Those recommendations resulted in House Bill 356, which limited the ability of the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to take children into custody.
Parents in Utah 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.
Restricting police officers using forcible entry into homesMarch 11, 2015
In order to protect both police and perpetrators from unnecessarily, violence, we recommended legislation designed to limit the ability of police to serve forcible entry (no knock or knock-and-announce) warrants.
With passage of Senate Bill 82, 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.
Requiring a warrant for police to see through our wallsMarch 11, 2015
In violation of a Supreme Court decision requiring a warrant for police to use technology that allows them to see through walls into a person’s home, law enforcement agencies around the country continue to use these devices without judicial oversight.
We proposed legislation, resulting in Senate Bill 226, that requires police officers to obtain a warrant if they wish to use this type of technology. They must also provide notification to the people upon whom they use this technology, and are required to destroy any data they collect using such a device that does not pertain to the person or persons named in the warrant. SB226 passed both the Senate and House unanimously.
Requiring a warrant to access drug use informationMarch 11, 2015
Police officers in Utah abused their authority to access, without a warrant, the private prescription data of some firefighters, accusing a few of them of violating the state’s controlled substance act.
We worked alongside ACLU Utah to promote Senate Bill 119, which restricted the access of law enforcement officers to the prescription drug database by requiring a warrant with probable cause. SB119 passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House 55-17.
Making more explicit a parent’s right to opt a child out of testingMarch 11, 2015
We published an exclusive interview with a mother whose parental rights were undermined by the school her children attended, after she attempted to opt her children out of certain assessments under the legal authority of a law passed last year to afford her that option.
These concerns, shared by many other families experiencing similar things, led to Senate Bill 204, to make more explicit the right of a parent to opt their children out of a variety of assessments imposed on children statewide. SB204 passed the Senate 18-6 and passed the House 54-19.
Opposing the expansion of Obamacare in UtahMarch 4, 2015
Governor Herbert pushed a proposal named “Healthy Utah” that would have expanded Medicaid under “Obamacare.” This was a budget-buster packaged in a pretty name—an unwise policy decision that committed the state to runaway, unsustainable spending.
Partnering with other organizations, we engaged in a multi-pronged effort to oppose Senate Bill 164, high-stakes proposal and ultimately succeeded. While the bill passed the Senate 17-11, it failed in a House committee on a 4-9 vote.
Fighting the criminalization of vehicular mobile device useFebruary 27, 2015
Distracted driving is clearly a problem and should be discouraged, but legislative attempts to increasingly criminalize the activity merely push it “underground” and exacerbate the problem; drivers now operate devices near their lap, rather than in their line of sight.
We strongly opposed and worked against Senate Bill 162 which would add more restrictions to the use of such devices while driving. The bill was substituted into another but ultimately did not pass both chambers and therefore did not become law.
Reporting requirements for forfeiture of propertyFebruary 25, 2015
Following up on our success the previous year on reforming civil asset forfeiture, we proposed legislation that imposes a variety of new reporting requirements on law enforcement and prosecuting agencies that seize and forfeit property.
SB52 passed both the Senate and House unanimously. See here for the results from the first year’s data from this report.
Fighting attempts to undermine last year’s drone billFebruary 20, 2015
Last year, Libertas Institute and ACLU Utah proposed and lobbied for legislation to restrict the use of drones by law enforcement officers. That successful effort was threatened this year with the introduction of House Bill 296, which would have undermined some of the protections enacted last year.
Together with the ACLU Utah we thwarted the bill’s progress pending compromise language we offered to allow the limited use of drones for testing and training while keeping intact the privacy protections introduced in our bill last year. The bill passed with the new language, and, with our concerns resolved, Libertas Institute took no position on the final bill.
Promoting due process by opposing unwarranted impounding of vehiclesFebruary 10, 2015
House Bill 86 aimed to empower the police to impound vehicles on the side of the road without obtaining a warrant. This violation of due process and unfair burden on property owners was widely supported by the law enforcement community.
Libertas Institute joined in opposition to the bill and educated lawmakers on the importance of due process and judicial oversight. Though the bill narrowly passed out of committee, the sponsor recognized his uphill battle and declined to push the legislation further.
2015 Pre-Legislative BootcampJanuary 17, 2015
Over 200 Utahns joined us to learn about how the legislative session works, and how to influence their elected officials. Several legislators spoke to the group and shared their insight about how to be an effective citizen advocate.
Libertas Institute opens a new officeJanuary 1, 2015
With a growing staff and budget, Libertas Institute was able to secure office space in Lehi in a great location just off the freeway.
While many think tanks operate close to the “seat of power” in their state’s capitol, we intentionally chose to locate ourselves where the power really is—the market. Lehi, ostensibly the state’s most burgeoning city for successful businesses, represents the effect and importance of the market. We’re happy to call it home.
New book: FeardomDecember 8, 2014
Each new day presents news coverage and political dialogue designed to scare the public and sensationalized statistically insignificant incidents.
The result leads individuals to prioritize safety over liberty, surrendering their birthright of freedom in exchange for perceived protection from inflated dangers.
Libertas Institute analyzes the problem and provides a solution in this short but compelling read.
New book: The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous PencilDecember 3, 2014
Sadly, kids are not taught this information in most schools—and in too many cases, parents don’t understand and therefore cannot teach it.
This fun story brings the market to life, inspiring children with a sense of awe about the world around us and how millions of people spontaneously and harmoniously work together to create amazing products and services.
Libertas Institute sues the state over adoption of Common CoreJuly 31, 2014
In 2010, the state school board adopted the untested Common Core standards in violation of state law that required them to consult with parents, teachers, local school board members, and others. We sued, seeking a reversal of their action.
New booklet: Civil DisobedienceJune 24, 2014
This is the provocative question at the heart of Thoreau’s classic essay, now available as our second booklet.
In an era of government surveillance, overcriminalization, and pervasive regulation, this question—and its answer—are something each individual should seriously ponder.
1st Annual Fourth Amendment ForumJune 17, 2014
Together with the ACLU Utah and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, we hosted the first annual Fourth Amendment Forum to discuss new laws and court rulings affecting 4th amendment issues, and more broadly, the balance between law enforcement and civil liberties.
Panelists for this year’s forum included Attorney General Sean Reyes, his chief of staff and general counsel Parker Douglas, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy (and president of the Utah Sheriffs Association), Chris Gebhardt (a two-time SWAT team leader), and Kara Dansky, a staff attorney with ACLU national focused on police militarization issues.
1st Annual Liberty ForumMay 9, 2014
Over 350 people attended our first annual event, featuring state auditor John Dougall, Overstock.com chairman Jonathan Johnson, and historian Tom Woods.
New book: The Tuttle Twins Learn About the LawMay 6, 2014
The Tuttle Twins series introduces young readers to a foundation of freedom using fun stories, engaging illustrations, and interesting ideas.
The first book in the series is based upon The Law by Frédéric Bastiat and incorporates the ideas he wrote about: justice, the proper role of government, natural rights, and more.
Protecting police and civilians through forcible entry warrant reformMarch 13, 2014
Two Utahns died, and many police officers were injured, over a nighttime home raid on a veteran self-medicating with marijuana. This tragic loss of life over an unnecessarily violent interaction led us to propose changes to the law dealing with “forcible entry” warrants.
House Bill 70 changes how forcible entry warrants are authorized and executed, and introduces additional caution into the process by requiring law enforcement officers to use “only that force which is reasonable and necessary” to arrest a suspect or search his or her property. It passed the House 69-6 and passed the Senate unanimously.
Requiring a warrant for police to obtain your cell phone dataMarch 13, 2014
Police now have the technology to remotely intercept information from your cell phone—texts, photos, emails, etc. Many agencies do this without any judicial oversight.
In response to this new development, we recommended legislation that became House Bill 128, which now requires a search warrant to obtain the location, transmitted data, or stored data of an electronic device such as a mobile phone or laptop.
The bill requires law enforcement to delete any data they collect that doesn’t pertain to the suspect named in the warrant. It also requires notification to the individual that the location or data was obtained, much like a person is served a copy of a traditional warrant when physical property is searched or seized. The bill passed the House 70-1 and passed the Senate unanimously.
Medical cannabis extract for epileptic patientsMarch 13, 2014
Last fall we published an exclusive interview with the mother of an epileptic son. This conservative Mormon mom wanted to try medical cannabis for her son, yet it was illegal.
The overwhelming media interest that followed publication of the interview resulted in House Bill 105, which legalizes a low-THC extract of cannabis for Utahns with intractable epilepsy. The bill passed the House 58-9 and passed the Senate 26-0.
Regulation of drones for law enforcement in UtahMarch 13, 2014
In conjunction with the ACLU of Utah, we worked on Senate Bill 167, which restricts the use of drones by law enforcement to protect the privacy of innocent individuals and discourage the proliferation of a potentially invasive emerging technology. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House 67-5.
Protecting the right to keep and bear armsMarch 13, 2014
House Bill 276 prevents police officers from charging a law-abiding gun owner with disorderly conduct merely because a bystander is scared about guns or doesn’t want them openly carried and displayed. In cooperation with other interested parties, we recommended and lobbied for an amendment to improve the bill’s technical language, which also further restricted the ability of law enforcement to charge individuals with disorderly conduct. The amendment was successfully adopted and the bill passed the Senate 27-1 and passed the House 63-8.
Requiring transparency in violent law enforcement encountersMarch 12, 2014
We proposed a law requiring police to furnish detailed information about the forcible entry warrants they serve, and the uses of their SWAT teams. With passage of the law, Utah became the only state in the nation to collect and compile this type of data—a unique and unfortunate distinction given the prevalence of such police encounters and significant public interest.
Rolling back changes to civil asset forfeiture lawMarch 12, 2014
Libertas Institute discovered last fall that the legislature had been deceived by prosecutors in the Attorney General’s office into voting for legislation that was claimed to be technical tweaks but in reality was a substantive gutting of due process and private property protections that ensured innocent people’s property was not taken by the government through civil asset forfeiture.
We proposed legislation to roll back these deceptive changes, which became Senate Bill 256. The bill passed through the entire legislature unanimously.
Educational freedom for homeschool familiesMarch 12, 2014
Thousands of families in Utah homeschool, yet state law compelled them to educate their children in the same manner and for the same amount of time as public schools.
Partnering with the Utah Home Education Association, we worked on Senate Bill 39, which deregulated homeschooling in Utah. Parents are now free to educate their children as they see fit, with decreased paperwork and mandates. This bill passed the Senate 22-5 and passed the House 52-17.
Exposing corruption in the Attorney General’s officeDecember 17, 2013
This fall we discovered that prosecutors within the Attorney General’s office deceived the entire legislature into voting for a bill that was claimed to be nothing more than technical tweaks to the law, but in fact was a substantive gutting of due process and private property protections in forfeiture law.
Josh Daniels joined Libertas as a policy analystDecember 2, 2013
Libertas Institute’s first hire—outside of its founder and president—became Josh Daniels, a recent law school graduate with a broad range of political, economic, and campaign experience.
New booklet: The LawJuly 10, 2013
Frédéric Bastiat’s masterful essay, written in 1850, explains in clear and witty detail the source of our rights, the proper role of government, and the imperative of justice.