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The following op-ed, written by our president Connor Boyack, was published this week in the Salt Lake Tribune.

What do public lands and polygamy have in common? While both issues have been at the forefront of Utah politics recently, they share a more fundamental common bond that raises important and controversial constitutional questions.

The Utah Legislature has appropriated millions of taxpayer dollars to mount a legal battle in an attempt to wrest control of large swaths of land from the federal government. This effort is primarily based on one central argument: the “Equal Footing Doctrine.” This doctrine holds that new states admitted to the Union must be considered and treated on equal terms as existing states.

Advocates for state control of public land argue that this doctrine has been violated, given the clear fact that eastern states have almost complete control of public land within their borders, whereas a majority of land in western states, like Utah, has not yet been disposed of by the federal government.

While this argument has been central to the Legislature’s quest for land control, it has not yet been applied to an equally historic and significant issue — that of polygamy.

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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.

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The following op-ed, written by our policy analyst Josh Daniels, was published this week in the Deseret News.

Did you know that the government can legally steal your property without charging you with — let alone convicting you of — a crime? If you didn’t, you’re in a comfortable majority; according to a new poll of 565 Utah voters, conducted last week by Public Policy Polling, 77 percent of Utah voters are unaware of this legal tool called civil asset forfeiture.

Asset forfeiture allows government agents to seize, and permanently retain, items of value they suspect were involved in criminal activity. In these cases, you are not the defendant — your property is, thus leading to court cases such as Salt Lake City v. $20,000 cash. And unlike a criminal case, where you are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, a civil asset forfeiture case finds your property guilty at the outset. You can recover it only if you prove its innocence — its lack of involvement in the alleged criminal conduct.

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Salt Lake City, UT (March 16, 2016) — A new poll of Utah voters shows overwhelming opposition to current law that allows police to seize, and prosecutors to forfeit, property from individuals not charged with—let alone convicted of—a crime.

The poll, commissioned by Drug Policy Action and conducted by Public Policy Polling last week, surveyed 565 voters. 77% of respondents indicated that they were unaware of civil asset forfeiture law. When provided a brief summary, 86% indicated that, “Police should not be able to seize and permanently take away property from people who have not been charged with a crime.”

“We often discuss civil asset forfeiture with groups of Utahns around the state,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. “Without fail, many in the audience are astounded to learn that the government is able to legally steal property from people not charged with any crime. It violates our sense of justice and due process. This poll affirms that most Utahns feel the same way, and that reform is needed to bring state law into alignment with what voters believe.”

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016 | No comments

What Liberty Means to Me

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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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.

This bill passed the House unanimously but was not considered in the Senate for lack of time.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Legislation proposed by our organization two years ago resulted in the nation’s only law enforcement transparency law being enacted into law. The first report, containing data from forcible entry warrants served in 2014, resulted in some interesting data and analysis.

House Bill 390, sponsored by Representative Eric Hutchings, is an effort to expand this law to include the deployment of armored vehicles to the list of instances required to be reported. The bill would also require the raw data from the report to be posted online for open access.

An additional amendment will soon be made to the bill to also require reporting of use of force incidents (outside a home) or a discharge of an officer’s service weapon.

This bill passed the House 64-3 and passed the Senate unanimously.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Adult brains function differently than those of children; the latter group processes information through a portion of the brain that performs less rational analysis on the information being processed. As a result, children are more prone to acting without weighing the associated and obvious risks that may accompany their action.

This premise lies at the foundation of House Bill 405, sponsored by Representative Lowry Snow, which would prohibit life without parole sentences for youth offenders who plead guilty to, or are convicted of, a capital felony.

At present, 16 states ban life without parole for children. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that for minors, these sentences are a cruel and unusual punishment banned by the U.S. Constitution. And while few minors in Utah have been given life sentences without the possibility of parole, its elimination is still an important policy decision the legislature should support.

As a fundamental principle, incarceration should be rehabilitative—and not merely punitive. Imprisoning an individual for a crime committed should not merely occur to remove that threat from society, but also to help that individual become a new person and gain an opportunity to re-enter society at a later date, in all but the most heinous of cases.

One might argue that capital felonies are exactly those cases that merit life without parole, to “lock ’em up and throw away the key,” as it were. And while we would agree in cases of adults who have the mental acuity sufficient to understand right from wrong, this logic falls apart when one concedes the point that juvenile offenders cannot be held accountable to the same degree for crimes committed without the same rational understanding and analysis that an adult brain can perform.

HB405 does not prohibit life sentences for minors who have committed capital felonies. It only requires that parole be an option, such that at a future time in that person’s life, they can have an opportunity to demonstrate whether they have, as an adult, become an entirely different person worthy of a second chance at being a peaceful part of society.

This bill was not considered by the legislature.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Our first-of-a-kind Freest Cities Index analyzed municipalities throughout Utah on a number of important issues. One metric upon which cities were judged was whether they allowed, regulated, or prohibited short-term rentals of one’s residential property. Many residents use services like Airbnb or VRBO to rent part or all of their home, but in many cities throughout Utah, this activity is prohibited.

House Bill 409, sponsored by Representative John Knotwell, would place a one-year moratorium on the creation or change of a city’s land use ordinance relative to short-term rentals. This allows cities that currently regulate or ban the practice to continue to do so, but puts a “pause” on others doing the same.

A short-term rental does not inherently introduce a negative impact upon the health, safety, or welfare of neighbors; many are entirely unaware that their neighbor is occasionally renting part or all of their home. And should nuisances arise, cities have ample prosecutorial laws upon which to intervene against the offending renter or home owner.

These laws, as they are now constituted, violate the property rights of the home owner and should therefore be repealed. While HB409 does not take us that far, this bill is an appropriate path forward to ensure that cities throughout the state do not increasingly violate property rights.

This bill passed the Senate 15-12 but was not considered by the House.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

We have written extensively about the problems associated with the death penalty in our policy brief and recent op-ed. It is too costly, it is inefficient, and it does not promote good public safety. Instead, it siphons money from more important criminal justice priorities in order to fund what has essentially become expensive retribution. It would be wise policy to stop seeking the death penalty.

Senate Bill 189, sponsored by Senator Steve Urquhart, would repeal the death penalty in Utah. For all crimes prosecuted after May 10th, 2016, the state could not seek the death penalty in applicable capital murder cases. Instead, these defendants would face the same penalty as most murder suspects–life in prison, including life without the possibility for parole. A fiscal analysis in Utah showed the aggregate marginal cost for seeking the death penalty over life in prison was as much as $1.7M. This means that state could save nearly $2M for each case in which the state forgoes seeking the death penalty. That savings would go right back into the local county budgets for higher priority public safety expenditures. When retribution costs that much, we need to rethink our policy.