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Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Several years ago, the Utah legislature passed a law that authorized gold and silver as legal tender in the state. Despite this movement, Utah law prohibits public treasurers from holding gold or silver.

Representative Ken Ivory is sponsoring House Bill 224 to allow treasurers to hold specie legal tender (gold and silver) in a “commercial specie repository” located within the state. Currently there are two: Brinks and the United Precious Metals Association.

Few Utahns are aware that refined gold is the state’s top export, and that Utah is the third largest gold-producing state. It seems quite in line with our state’s rich gold holdings to enable public treasurers to hold and transact in this form of money.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker.
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Libertas Institute supports this bill.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated, as its official opinion, that “There is no absolute right to consume… any particular food.” This statement, contained in a reply to a lawsuit filed against it by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, lays bare the thinking behind voluminous federal laws and regulations governing the production and sale of food, as exemplified in the contentious passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act a few years ago, which significantly expanded the regulatory reach of this federal agency.

Last year, we published a public policy brief establishing opposition to this claim, asserting that individuals do indeed have the right to grow and consume food, and that neighbors and consumers have the right to acquire food at a farm, free of burdensome regulations intended for—and properly applied only to—food meant to be acquired at restaurants or retail outlets where the consumer is totally unaware of the food’s source and safety.

House Bill 277, sponsored by Representative Marc Roberts, advances this initiative by aiming to statutorily exempt direct-to-consumer food sales from certifiation, licensure, regulation, or inspection by the state. This exemption would apply to food that is:

  1. both produced and sold within the state;
  2. sold directly to an informed end consumer (who does not resell the food); and
  3. for home consumption only (not used in preparation at restaurants, sold at retail establishments, etc.).

Before selling food that has been exempted, the producer is required to tell the end consumer that the food is not certified, licensed, regulated, or inspected by the state. Effectively, this creates a “buyer beware” scenario, and allows consumers to access local foods for lower costs, as the producer would not be required to comply with costly regulations designed and properly applied only to producers whose food is sold to individuals who have no awareness regarding the source or safety of the food.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker.
Click here to contact the sponsor of the bill to share your thoughts, or
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Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Utah is one of only 13 states that taxes social security payments as income. Social security, unlike welfare, is an earned benefit by those who work and contribute to the program, and not given to everyone. While working, workers are already taxed to pay for their social security contribution and for Utah to tax the income post-retirement is akin to double taxation on the state’s part.

Unfortunately exempting Social Security from income tax would cost the state approximately $127 million annually, causing short-term budgetary problems for the legislature. Though it would be ideal to absolve most seniors of the responsibility of paying state income tax on their social security benefits, the legislature is making a small step forward in the right direction.

Representative John Westwood’s House Bill 49 exempts seniors whose adjusted gross income is made of social security benefits by 50% or more. Retirees who have a hard time dealing with rising costs due to their fixed incomes would be provided a non-refundable tax credit which on average would come out to be about $700.

HB 49 is an important first step to future expansion of this tax credit that would promote financial security and self-reliance for seniors who have structured their retirement to depend upon these promised payments.

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Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Utah is one of the only states in the west that continues to allow water subsidies using property taxes. This has resulted in Utah not only having the “cheapest” water rates in the country, but the highest per-person municipal water use in the U.S. While there is constant talk of drought, consumers are given incentive to overuse water with little consequence.

The problem lies in how Utahns indirectly pay for much of their water. Instead of seeing the real costs on a water bill, the real costs are hidden in property taxes. Consumers have little incentive to monitor their own usage because on its face, water seems extremely inexpensive.

Senator Jim Dabakis is sponsoring Senate Bill 151 in order to fix this imbalance and bring property tax relief to Utah families. No longer would water districts be able to hide the true cost of water in your property tax bill. SB 151 would end property tax subsidies in the more urban areas of Utah, while exempting rural communities that face a more complex water reality.

In the past this idea has been suggested by a legislative audit and the Utah Foundation as a way for consumers to better monitor their own consumption of water. Utah is a desert state and conservation of this precious resource is important. Marketing campaigns and harassment by elected officials have proven ineffective. Allowing market forces to apply to water consumption will provide the change that Utah needs.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker.
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Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Utah is the only western state to require mandatory safety inspections as a condition of vehicle ownership and use. See the following graphic for which states still retain this program:

Accidents from mechanical safety failures (the reason for the program according to proponents) are rare in Utah; only 3.8% of car accidents occur due to a mechnical error. Improved roads, public education efforts, and the vehicles themselves have minimized accidents; mandatory inspections do not appear to contribute to this rate being so low. And Utah drivers collectively pay over $25 million annually due to this program—money that should be retained for them to use on actual maintenance as needed by their vehicle.

Read more in our recent Public Policy Brief on this issue.

House Bill 265, sponsored by Representative Dan McCay, would repeal this program as has been done in all our neighboring states.

Past attempts to limit this program has seen hoardes of Jiffy Lube mechanics coming to the Capitol in opposition—a clear sign, in our view, that this program serves no valid public purpose, but does serve a private purpose, helping an industry acquire guaranteed customers.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker.
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Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Under current law, a person does not have a duty to retreat from an encounter in which defensive force is justified to repeal a threat. However, prosecutors can argue that the use of force was unreasonable if the person could have retreated to safety.

Representative Cory Maloy has sponsored House Bill 259 in order to address this issue. Under the bill, a person would not be required “to retreat even if safety could be achieved by retreating.” Further, the prosecutor and judge would be disallowed from considering in a resulting court case that the reasonable force could have been avoided by retreating to safety.

The right to defensive use of force to deter a threat should not be overrided merely because a judge or jury feels that a safer option may have been available. This bill helps clarify and protect the right to repel force.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker.
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Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Our Freest Cities Index revealed that many cities have ordinances that heavily or restrict or completely ban short-term rentals—sharing your home for fewer than 30 days with a person for pay.

This action violates property rights in a very unreasonable fashion; allowing your Grandmother to stay with you for a few days is no different than allowing a traveler to do the same. The impact on neighbors is no different, and the property is not used any differently. There is no rational basis to prohibit one merely because money is exchanged.

Representative John Knotwell has sponsored House Bill 253 to address this issue in two ways. First, cities would be prohibited from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits a person from listing their home or offering a short-term rental on a website such as Airbnb or VRBO. This is a free speech issue; listing a home does not necessarily mean that a rental is actually taking place. But many cities merely peruse these websites and send out citations to property owners, rather than building a case to demonstrate that a rental actually took place in violation of the city’s ordinance. This would require a complaint-based process rather than using these websites as a proactive tool to crack down on those not causing any problems.

Second, the bill would prohibit cities from outlawing the rental of property on a short-term basis provided that it is owner-occupied. This means that so long as the owner is on the property as well (in another floor or room, for example), the rental would be allowed.

This bill does not deny cities the ability to regulate and license such rentals, but complete prohibitions would be disallowed if the bill were to pass.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker.
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Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

Utah law requires individuals to pay sales and use tax on purchases made from out-of-state companies that do not collect and remit that tax on their behalf. This is rarely done, so many elected officials have sought ways to obtain the revenue as online sales have increased over time.

These out-of-state companies are not required to collect and remit tax when they do not have a physical presence (a “substantial nexus”) in the state. Senate Bill 110, sponsored by Senator Curt Bramble, aims to circumvent this by creating a sort of “economic nexus” whereby companies with gross revenue of $100,000 or more are required to collect and remit taxes from purchases made by Utahns.

This is constitutionally problematic on its face, as explained in a note attached to the bill by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel (a non-partisan office of attorneys that serve the legislature):

It is impossible to predict the outcome of these actions and what changes, if any, they might have on the standards set forth in Quill [the relevant U.S. Supreme Court case]. However, because current dormant Commerce Clause case law under Quill requires physical presence to satisfy the substantial nexus requirement, there is a high probability that, unless the United States Supreme Court overrules its holding in Quill or Congress takes action to redefine the substantial nexus requirement consistent with the provisions of this bill, a court that considers the constitutionality of the economic presence provisions of this bill will strike down those provisions.

Apart from the constitutional concerns of a state aiming to deputize out-of-state companies as tax collectors, the bill is concerning for another reason: a windfall of cash to the government. While the tax requirement has been in place, its lack of enforcement means that the new imposition creates a new tax in experience and effect, as the taking of money is something to which the public has not traditionally been accustomed.

According to the fiscal note on the bill, up to $94 million could come to local governments if this bill were to pass. While Senator Bramble has claimed that his approach would be revenue neutral, Senate Bill 110 does not create a corresponding tax decrease to offset the new revenue being collected.

Accordingly, and because of constitutional concerns of having the state require out-of-state companies to become tax collectors, we must oppose this bill.

To track the status of this bill, find it on our Legislation Tracker.
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Libertas Institute supports this bill.

In the video above, we highlighted the innovative approach being taken by The Other Side Academy, a new non-profit in Salt Lake City helping rehabilitate drug addicts and criminal offenders. Based on a long-validated approach taken by a similar organization in California, the Academy is already helping many struggling Utahns get back on their feet and become productive and capable members of society.

This innovative approach did not fit into existing regulation, and the Academy was concerned that the state government may attempt to regulate them under the laws applicable to a different institution, which would conflict with their business model and frustrate (or even invalidate) their efforts.

Senator Evan Vickers is sponsoring Senate Bill 131 to carve out an institution of this type from existing regulatory models, and merely requiring them to register with the state so regulators are aware of their existence. These exemptions will allow the Academy to continue serving Utahns in need—and hopefully expanding their efforts in the years to come to become a model that successfully rehabilitates those in need without taxpayer funding.

Monday, January 30, 2017 | No comments

HB 239: Juvenile Justice Reform

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Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Last month the Utah Juvenile Justice Working Group released its recommendations on how to better promote the public safety and accountability of juvenile offenders, control costs, and improve recidivism. These recommendations have been incorporated into Representative Lowry Snow’s House Bill 239. With little reform over the years, there has not been sufficient oversight to control costs, reduce recidivism, and ensure that justice is actually being served through existing criminal laws and the methods by which they are enforced against youth offenders.

Libertas Institute has been particularly concerned about status offenses leading youth unnecessarily into the criminal justice system. An example of a status offense is truancy—absence from school in violation of the compulsory education law—and when a judge orders perfect attendance and the student violates that order, it can lead to punitive results such as detention in a government facility.

Two important policies addressed by HB 239 will affect students who have issues with truancy. First, it will expand effective early interventions to strengthen families and improve outcomes and second it will increase options for schools and law enforcement by investing in pre-court interventions. Rather than simply sending a student and parent directly to truancy court, early interventions and pre-court diversions will allow struggling families to explain their circumstances and find the correct avenue for the successful education for their children.

This bill is a part of an ongoing criminal justice reform effort that began several years ago here in Utah. For example HB 348, passed in 2015 (and supported by Libertas Institute), created much needed reform in the adult corrections system. The Utah Juvenile Justice Working Group’s full report can be found here.

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