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Each summer, local media outlets produce stories about the level of per pupil spending in Utah, pointing out that Utah comes in last place across the country in per-pupil funding. These stories aren’t really news since Utah has been this way for years; perhaps the statistics are meant to scare Utahns into demanding that legislators allocate more of the taxation pie to the government education bureaucracy. If only it were that simple.

Utah is subject to some unique factors that yield relatively lower levels of available funds for education as compared to other states. Most notable are the larger families with more children. Other issues include the level of federal land ownership and lower income levels per pupil from which to draw. While the public education lobby, like any government bureaucracy, is diligent in advocating for its own growth, the issues underlying school finance in Utah are not remedied by simply throwing more tax dollars at them.

Few headlines about education spending point out the state’s efficiency when you compare academic achievement per dollar spent. This blind focus on total dollars as a supposedly important metric ignores the most central issue for government schools: are the children learning?

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Summary:

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.

Read More in our Public Policy Brief

After two requests for delayed filings, the Utah Attorney General’s office recently submitted its appeal in the Kody Brown polygamy case to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. In it, the state’s attorneys seek to reverse a recent district court ruling invalidating Utah’s statute that criminalize consensual cohabitation. In other words, Utah taxpayers are funding legal research and a court proceeding seeking to re-classify Utah polygamists as felons.

The state’s appeal relies heavily on generalization—that “polygamist communities are rampant with sexual abuse of children and women,” that “polygamy is generally harmful to citizens,” and that “the citizens of Utah have declared that polygamous relationships are harmful.” The AG’s office therefore contends that the government may “criminalize bigamy and polygamy in the interests of health, safety, welfare, and even morals, under their police power.”

In short, because some (or even many) polygamists do indeed abuse children and women, the government claims—and exercises—the power to criminalize all polygamists.

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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.

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Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited interview with Stephen Palmer, a St. George resident who has been renting out his basement on Airbnb. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Can you explain for our readers what services like Airbnb and VRBO are and why you decided to participate with Airbnb?

Stephen Palmer: They’re a platform that allows you to rent out a part of a house, or your whole house even, to travelers. If people are familiar with Uber and Lyft, it’s like that but for houses. Uber and Lyft allow you to rent out your car essentially, or just give people rides. You can do the same thing with your house with Airbnb. If you’ve got a spare bedroom, you can rent it out for $30 or $40 a night. It saves people money when they would be spending $80 or $90 in a hotel.

LI: Why did you decide to start doing it?

SP: Well, we have a big enough house. We have three levels and we just brought our kids up to the main level, so we have a whole basement with two bedrooms—it’s a full 1,500 square foot basement with two bedrooms and a bathroom. It’s just a perfect setup. We also have side parking, so none of our neighbors even had any clue we were doing this (not that that would matter) because they park on the side and they walk around back to a keyed entry in the basement. Most of the time we never even see our guests. 

LI: How long have you been doing Airbnb, and have you ever had complaints from neighbors or anybody else?

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This morning, KSL alerted the public to an “indepth” segment they would be airing about Common Core in Utah:

The two minute segment (the length of which immediately suggests it’s not “in depth”) contains no analysis from KSL reporters or hosts. Rather, it features a series of audio clips from Rich Kendall, co-chair of a panel created by the Governor to review—and critics say, rubber stamp—the core standards he strongly supports. Kendall is heard discussing the results of an analysis done on the standards, including their quality and legality.

Here’s the audio:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You might believe that an in depth look into the issue would address criticisms, at least in an attempt to rebut them. However, this repurposed press release did not so much as mention any of the criticisms or concerns.

Let’s take just one of them to show how KSL’s “indepth” was anything but. In the review mentioned above, the Attorney General’s office attempted to address an allegation made in our lawsuit (which is pending a hearing in a few months)—namely, that the State Board of Education had not consulted with various constituencies around the state as they were statutorily required to do. Here is the relevant portion of the report:

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The following op-ed by our policy analyst, Josh Daniels, was published today in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Earlier this year, the state of Utah was widely mocked for considering the re-authorization of firing squads 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 next year; Utah should abandon the use of capital punishment in favor of life without parole.

The Utah Legislature often looks for ways it can squeeze more value from each tax dollar by reforming government programs. This drive for tax efficiency was a primary impetus behind this year’s criminal justice reforms. With the death penalty, however, taxpayers get a lot less bang for the buck. While a desire for justice has led legislators in the past to favor this policy of ultimate retribution, capital punishment has become a failure of big government and falls far short as an effective policy.

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Sam Giles, a young student in Georgia, missed a few days of school beyond what the law considered acceptable, and as a result, his mother was arrested. Julie, who works as a substitute teacher, notes that “Sam originally had what they consider 12 unexcused absences, 6 are allowed per year, so he had 6 more than is acceptable, but the doctor reissued 3 excuses that Sam didn’t turn in, so basically I am being arrested for THREE days.”

Her Facebook posts further clarified that young Sam was performing just fine in school:

Commenting on Julie’s arrest over a few days of skipped school, the Superintendent commented, “It’s important for these children to be in school and I think the courts recognize that.” This absurd result is the logical consequence of compulsory education laws.

Would a parent in Utah face a similar consequence?

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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.

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Libertas Institute has scheduled several public forum meetings to discuss Senator Madsen’s proposal to legalize medical cannabis in Utah. The first meeting, the details of which are below, will focus on law enforcement, criminal justice, and banking regulatory issues.

We expect this to be a standing room only event with over 300 people showing up. We will save a few seats for media in the front; please arrive early.

  • Where: Wildcat Theater, Shepherd Union Building, Weber State University
    3848 Harrison Blvd, Ogden, UT 84408
  • When: Tuesday, May 19, 7-8:30pm
  • Who: Senator Mark Madsen, sponsor of the legislation; Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill; 22-year undercover Utah narcotics agent Allen Larsen; Christine Stenquist, director of Drug Policy Project of Utah; and Representative Marc Roberts, president of a high-risk payment processing company.

Future meetings will discuss patient stories, medical research, regulatory issues, PTSD, and other topics.

“Few legislators oppose this policy, but there was some legitimate concerns during the previous legislative session that it was happening too quickly and that there were unanswered questions,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. “As a result, we’re holding meetings statewide to openly discuss the bill, field questions, resolve concerns, and educate the public about the importance of and need for medical cannabis as a treatment option for many sick and suffering Utahns.”

Senator Mark Madsen commented, “I’m eager to participate in these meetings. For Utahns like me who sincerely believe in individual liberty and limited government, and who are interested in learning about medical cannabis, these public forums will be invaluable. People need to become informed and weigh in if we are ever going to stop government from making decisions for people that are better left to them and their physicians.”

A poll conducted by Y2 Analytics earlier this year found that 72% of likely voters in Utah support the proposed legislation.

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