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

Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs used the coercive arm of the state to expel an unwelcome segment of society in 1838 using an “extermination order.” (In that era, extermination meant to drive something from within certain borders — in other words, expulsion.) Members of the fledgling Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were forced to migrate elsewhere, ultimately settling in Utah. Now, lawmakers in Utah have implemented policies that similarly expel unwanted citizens from their communities.

These innocently named “Good Landlord Programs” are a discriminatory restriction on people with past criminal convictions (some of whom may have in fact been innocent). Almost all programs in Utah cities — with a couple of notable exceptions — actually require participating landlords to refuse to rent their residential properties to individuals convicted of a felony within the past four years.

Proponents of the programs characterize them as a purely voluntary way for landlords to, as Salt Lake City argues, “help eliminate code violations and public nuisances while controlling and preventing illegal activity on rental properties that impact the quality of life within our neighborhoods.”

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Salt Lake City, enforcing its arcane, anti-free-market transportation laws, has been imposing $6,500 fines on Lyft and Uber drivers. City officials argue that its laws are necessary for public safety, which is false.

To help ferret out drivers operating in violation of these laws, Salt Lake City employs secret shoppers to hire drivers and then report them to city officials. Correspondence obtained by Libertas Institute through an open records request includes numerous emails from these secret shoppers.

One such shopper, whose name was redacted, reported the following after her first experience using Lyft in April:

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In a presentation to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee this week, a representative from the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice presented legislators with a report on how much money has been obtained through forfeiture for the past year.

There are two types of forfeiture: civil and criminal. The former involves seizing property from a person who has not been charged with—let alone convicted of—a crime. See here for more information.

CCJJ’s report this week combines both types of forfeiture into a single data point, making it impossible to distinguish how much property was seized under the objectionable civil form.

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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 heather@libertasutah.org.

 

Monday, September 8, 2014 | 7 comments

Policing for Justice, or Profit?

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Throughout the country, police officers are able to seize a person’s property without that person being charged with—let alone convicted of—a crime. The policy giving legal sanction to this action is known as civil asset forfeiture, one of worst by-products of the so-called “war on drugs.”

Civil asset forfeiture has received modest media attention over the years, and was thrust into the spotlight once more by a lengthy investigative piece by The Washington Post titled “Stop and Seize.” This article surveys to what extent this legal strategy has been used to confiscate a citizen’s property since 9/11, finding that officers charged with upholding the law (and presumably protecting people and their property) have seized, without a warrant, $2.5 billion since that time from innocent individuals.

Concurrently released with the Post article is a new report on civil asset forfeiture by the Institute for Justice, titled “Bad Apples or Bad Laws?” “The study concludes that civil forfeiture abuse isn’t a problem of just a few ‘bad apple’ police officers or rogue prosecutors, but rather bad laws that encourage bad behavior,” said Scott Bullock, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “Civil forfeiture creates a real and perverse incentive for law enforcement to pursue profits instead of justice.”

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In an exclusive interview published last month, we broke the story regarding Salt Lake City’s heavy-handed fines being imposed on Lyft and Uber drivers operating without the city’s blessing. Citations amounting to $6,500 and more have been issued to drivers for daring to drive consenting passengers without the drivers having jumped through the city’s regulatory hoops.

Records obtained by Libertas Institute this week suggest more reasons why the city may be resistant to the innovative disruption that these ride-share companies bring. In the last fiscal year, Salt Lake City received $362,361.65 in fees from the three authorized taxi companies for the ~200 authorized vehicles operating throughout the city. This is in addition to license fees paid by the three companies to the city.

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Monday, September 1, 2014 | 2 comments

Organized Labor in a Free Society

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“Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for slave owners.” —Vladimir Lenin

Labor Day is an interesting holiday for those that love liberty. For some, Labor Day reeks of the success of the socialist workers movement and should be eschewed; for others, it is merely a celebration of those whose labor is critical to our diverse economy. I propose that for those that love liberty, Labor Day can be a positive holiday that recognizes the importance of voluntary exchange in a free society. While we disagree with Lenin’s assessment of freedom in a capitalist society, we understand the source of his frustration.

Capitalism in Lenin’s view is more about individuals than about a system. Lenin and other socialists saw powerful individuals as “capitalists.” These were the individuals who owned capital or the means of production. By owning machines and factories the capitalists could leverage their ownership into profits by hiring wage laborers to carry out production. In Lenin’s view, this employment relationship was exploitative of the worker in the same fashion as slavery. However, there is a key difference. In the slave relationship the master literally owns the slave and can coerce the slave’s labor to the master’s profit. In contrast, the employment relationship in a capitalist system is voluntary. The worker owns their labor just like the capitalist owns their factory. Thus, a worker voluntarily offers their labor to the owner in exchange for the owner’s voluntary payment of wages. If the owner feels they can profit more from the worker’s labor than from the wages they offer to pay, then the exchange is beneficial for the owner.

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So-called “identity politics” have recently been at the heart of many political controversies in this country. From immigration policy to public spending, it seems that political spin doctors attempt to make each policy controversy personal for voters by making the narrative about personal traits like race or gender and creating an “us versus them” dichotomy for each debate.

This approach often sidesteps the more fundamental questions about the proper role of government and the use of government power. Such is the case with recent police shootings. A recent Washington Post article did exactly this by framing the differences in media and community responses to the Ferguson shooting and Utah’s own shooting of Dillon Taylor in racial terms. In Ferguson, a white police officer shot a black teen while in Utah a white man was shot by a non-white officer. The article tries to frame the outrage in Missouri with thousands of protestors versus the more subdued response in Utah as one based on race. This approach misses the more important point—the difference in responses is a direct reflection of the level of discomfort with government power in the two states.

In Ferguson, racial terms are only an easy way to understand people’s level of personalization with the event. There is a large population of racial minorities who may perceive the shooting of Michael Brown as a use of police authority that could be used against any of those who share Michael Brown’s race. That group is likely to respond strongly because the use of deadly force by a government actor is considered a more likely possibility for them on a personal level. However, in Utah a member of the racial majority being shot by police didn’t evoke the same response. The use of racial terms are only superficial. The deeper issue is whether Utahns see the use of deadly force by government agents against them as a possible or personal reality.

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Social networks have been saturated with a wash of “Ice Bucket Challenge” videos featuring people voluntarily pouring ice water over their heads in the name of charity. One can hardly scroll through their Facebook feed without encountering dozens of these videos posted by everyone from personal friends and family to celebrities and even former presidents. This viral phenomenon is an interesting example of the power of social pressure as people feel the need to conform to the expectations of others by participating (along with those who might be participating to get personal attention).

This “challenge” is accepted by pouring cold water over oneself, and posting a video of the feat wherein the person challenges a few others to do the same. The consequence of declining the challenge is to contribute a moderate sum to a particular charity. All participants are encouraged to donate at least something to the charity, whether or not they douse themselves. The precise origins of the challenge are not clear but the concept has been used in various ways for many charities.

The largest and currently most viral version is raising money and awareness for the ALS Association which advocates for and supports scientific research to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease)—a neurodegenerative disease that debilitates motor function. For ALS, the viral challenge has been a financial boon. The association has received $53.3 million in donations this August compared to just $2 million over the same period last year. In fact, the nonprofit ALS has received more donations in one month than its entire net worth of $20 million in 2013. While participating in the challenge is a fun way to cool off this summer, it raises some interesting questions about our society and the role of social pressure.

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In two recent and separate incidents, individuals recording the actions of police officers were cited for “disorderly conduct” after testy exchanges between the person recording an the officer(s) being recorded.

The first incident occurred in Bountiful, where Bryce Weber noticed a police officer sitting outside his home for some 40 minutes. He stepped outside to record the officer, who alleged that Weber’s recording of him was interfering in his work. Despite Weber ultimately moving across the street while continuing to record, the officer still claimed that he was interfering and thus cited him for disorderly conduct, as Weber refused to return to his home when ordered to do so by the officer. Read more details of the encounter here.

As it relates to this situation, a person in Utah is guilty of disorderly conduct if “the person refuses to comply with the lawful order of a law enforcement officer to move from a public place…” The question Weber’s defense attorney will likely push back on is whether the officer’s command to Weber to return to his home was lawful. While in certain circumstances an officer can lawfully order a person to move away so as not to impede the flow of traffic, interfere with an investigation or other police action, etc., an order to go inside one’s home—as opposed to moving away a safe distance, for example—seems unreasonable and unlawful.

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