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Tuesday, February 21, 2017 | No comments

SB 250: Food Truck Freedom

This Bill passed the Senate 23-1 and the House 73-0.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

In a public policy brief late last year, we outlined the many regulatory burdens faced by food truck owners throughout Utah as a result of duplicative and redundant ordinances and fees required of them by city governments.

To respond to this concern, Senator Deidre Henderson has sponsored Senate Bill 250, which would streamline these regulations, eliminate redundancy, and prohibit problematic city regulations.

Specifically, this bill would:

  • establish a reciprocity system so food truck owners don’t have to obtain a business license in each city in which they desire to operate;
  • prohibit cities from establishing protectionist boundaries around restaurants in which food trucks are denied the opportunity to operate;
  • prohibit cities from denying a business license for a food truck on the basis of the applicant’s criminal history;
  • require that counties honor health and fire permits issued in other counties; and
  • streamline event permits and other regulations.

This is a great start towards freeing up the market for food truck owners who currently struggle to succeed.

This Bill did not reach a vote in the House.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

In 2015, the Utah Legislature passed HB 362 which not only raised the gas tax by 5 cents a gallon, but also authorized counties to place a .25% sales and use tax increase on the November 2015 ballot in order to fund local transportation projects and the Utah Transit Authority (UTA). When the dust settled, 10 counties passed the increase.

Now Representative Brad Daw is resurrecting the concept with House Bill 367 which would allow cities and townships whose counties did not (and do not plan to) implement the tax increase to place a .10% sales and use tax increase on the ballot in order to fund local transportation projects.

If local municipalities truly were in such need of funding for transportation, then they should find ways to adjust their budgets to find the funding they need. Lavish recreation centers, golf courses, and fitness equipment are just some of items that cities sometimes prioritize above needed transportation projects. At a time when Utah taxpayers are already dealing with numerous new taxes and facing still more, another sales tax increase is unnecessary and irresponsible.

The following counties could be affected:

Box Elder
Salt Lake

This Bill did not reach a vote in the Senate.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

Senate Bill 210, sponsored by Senator Jake Anderegg, forces companies to adopt and disclose to employees a written policy that is used by the employer to determine how employees are compensated, or which benefits are provided, based on the employee’s performance. The sponsor’s intent is to address the issue of women not being paid as much as men for similar work.

The mandate applies to companies that employ 15 or more individuals in Utah for 20 or more weeks of the year.

The bill also prohibits employers from changing the criteria in these policies within six months of when they apply to an employee, to delay the ability of an employer to change the compensation expectations of each employee.

Additionally, the bill requires the Department of Workforce Services to “conduct a study that analyzes any difference in pay between men and women in the state” and present the findings to the legislature. The department is also required to “create and maintain an index of the current pay range for individuals employed in [each] occupation in the state.” Finally, the department is required to (using taxpayer dollars) “conduct an advertising campaign to promote the availability and utility” of the index.

It is not the proper role of government to compel a business owner to adopt and disclose a compensation policy, nor is it a justified use of taxpayer dollars to study and catalog employee wages, nor conduct an advertising campaign of the same.

This Bill passed the House 67-0, but did not reach a vote in the Senate.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

One of the largest factors driving up health care costs today is the lack of transparency of the true costs of health care services and the lack of incentives for consumers to pursue high quality, low-cost options. Representative Norm Thurston has an idea to change that dramatically.

The first substitute of House Bill 127 authorizes insurance companies to create savings reward programs. This would allow a member of a health benefit plan to shop for low cost options, while receiving financial incentives when the final cost of a service ends up being lower than the average cost of that particular health care service. It is important to note that this does not mandate insurance companies to comply with this law.

HB 127 does mandate that PEHP, Utah’s public employee insurance program, create these savings reward programs to allow government employees to shop for low cost options. The success of similar public employee programs in other states has led private consumers to urge their own insurance programs to offer similar services.

Often, the costs of health care services vary drastically from one provider to the next. Programs and tools that encourage average citizens to weigh their health care options and consider cheaper avenues will help lower the costs of health care over time for everyone. If HB 127 passes, it might not be too long before you see innovative services like this one from New Hampshire appear in Utah.

This Bill passed the House 67-0, but did not reach a vote in the Senate.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

We believe that Utahns have the right to work and engage in their occupation free from government mandates to obtain a permission slip from bureaucrats. Too often, industries seek to create barriers to entry for new practitioners using government regulation via increased occupational licensing requirements.

In a past study, Utah was cited as the 12th most onerously licensed state in the nation. This circumstance harms free enterprise in our state. House Bill 331, sponsored by Representative Norm Thurston, focuses on one important aspect of reducing licensing: reciprocity with licensing from other states.

While we are opposed to licensing in general and oppose barriers to entry, we see reciprocity as a common sense way to reduce existing licensure burdens by providing an opportunity for individuals that move to Utah to obtain a license here without having to duplicate the efforts they have already made in another state to qualify for a similar license.

It is time for Utah to reform its occupational licensure regulations—not just in order to preserve free enterprise, but also to avoid legal liability. Last year we wrote about a Supreme Court ruling that calls into question the actions of licensure boards that restrict competitive markets. In light of this ruling, it is imperative that the legislature continue to look at ways to severely reduce the unnecessary burdens of occupational licensure.

This Bill did not reach a floor vote in the Senate.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Currently, if an individual or police officer intentionally conceals or withholds important evidence in an attempt to cause someone to be charged with a crime, they are in violation of the law. But what if a prosecuting attorney does something similar by concealing or withholding “exculpatory” evidence which would alter the outcome of a case?

At this time in Utah, there is no punishment or significant consequence for a prosecuting attorney who deliberately withholds this kind of evidence. Senator Todd Weiler aims to change this circumstance in court rule with SJR 7. Court rules are regulations that govern the procedures of a court and how various matters pending before court are handled and processed.

SJR 7 changes court rule to direct prosecutors to reveal exculpatory evidence (evidence that may exonerate the defendant). Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t make this kind of behavior a crime. More work is needed on this issue and we believe that this type of act should be punishable with the penalty of a felony. SJR 7 is a step in the right direction, but expect to see weightier legislation next year.

This Bill passed the House 46-21, but did not reach a vote in the Senate.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

As healthcare costs continue to skyrocket, cheaper alternatives for consumers are needed for many traditional services. Compounding pharmacies are one important example. These pharmacies prepare personalized medications for patients by using a practitioners’ prescription to correctly mix together the necessary ingredients to create the exact strength and dosage form needed by a patient. Compounding individualizes medication to fit the needs of any given patient.

As is typical of the healthcare industry today, these types of pharmacies are over-regulated. Representative Ray Ward has introduced House Bill 189 to change that and offer consumers more choice. HB 189 would allow a compounding pharmacy to prepare any “prescription drug in a dosage form which is regularly and commonly available from a manufacturer in quantities and strengths prescribed by a practitioner.”

In layman’s terms, this would allow a compounding pharmacy to sell generic brand drugs to the public and allow a consumer more access to cheaper medicines that still fit the specificity of their prescription. As advocates of a free market, we support this measure to remove this unnecessary regulation that unfairly protects name brand drugs.

Friday, February 10, 2017 | No comments

SB 98: Ending Government Immunity

This Bill passed the Senate 26-1 and the House 71-1.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Historically under the monarchies of England, the Crown could not be held fully liable when the government caused catastrophic injury or death. Unfortunately today in some states, including Utah, these types of government immunity laws have still not been repealed. When the actions of one of Utah’s 150,000 state or local government employees leads to such a devastating tragedy, there is a cap that prevents individuals and families from being made whole for medical bills, treatments, or even death.

Senator Jani Iwamoto is running Senate Bill 98 to severely weaken Utah’s current government immunity laws by setting up a process by which a citizen can basically appeal to the Utah Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee for excess damages beyond the cap. This committee (which normally deals with budgetary matters) would have the authority to award additional payment beyond the cap after deliberating over a submitted claim.

Long-term medical bills after an accident could be financially devastating to any family and normally the Federal government or a private company would compensate the victims of such an accident. Utah’s state and local government offer no such guarantee, but we believe that it is time to start holding them accountable by eliminating the arbitrary cap on government immunity.

This Bill failed the House 29-45.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Jurors have rights of which they are not made aware—and this is detrimental to the cause of justice. Specifically, jurors can determine a person not guilty of a crime they may ahve actually committed, if the particular circumstances of the case create a manifest injustice.

We laid out this situation in detail, providing the history and importance of juries, in a recent public policy brief.

Representative Marc Roberts has sponsored House Bill 332 in order to codify these juror rights, enabling attorneys or judges to ensure that jurors understand their importance and power, all in an effort to ensure justice is served.

The bill would establish that a defendant in a criminal case as the right to a jury that is informed of:

  1. the potential sentence and direct legal consequences of a guilty verdict; and
  2. the jury’s power to find a defendant not guilty when a guilty verdict would be manifestly unjust.

Utah has an indeterminate sentencing system, meaning that rather than imposing a specific sentence, judges impose a range—for example, five to life. The Board of Pardons and Parole gets to make the final determination, holding a person’s life—and justice—in their unelected hands. If jurors knew that sentencing a person would lead to a much longer sentence than they otherwise consider just, they might render a different verdict. But right now, jurors are not made aware of the consequences of their decision. This bill would change that.

It’s also important to realize that legislators cannot anticipate every consequence of their action. Often times they are presented a situation that leads to a law being passed, but that law unintentionally applies to a different situation the legislatore had not anticipated. This bill would therefore create a general escape valve of sorts, such that the application of any law which would be unjust in a particular circumstance could be dealt with under this provision, ensuring justice and allowing the defendant to escape the unintended legal consequence.

A new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, and commissioned through the Utah Justice Coalition, reveals changing attitudes toward the death penalty by Utah residents. The survey of 784 Utah voters, conducted from January 13 to 15, shows that 64% favor alternatives to the death penalty for people convicted of murder.

The results contrast against a poll conducted last year by Dan Jones and Associates which contended that 52% of Utahns say the death penalty is the proper punishment for heinous crimes like murder. Today’s poll finds that only 29% prefer the death penalty.

Read the poll results here.

Libertas Institute previously published a public policy brief explaining the problems with a government execution policy and suggesting the need for repealing the law to reduce costs, spare victim’s families, and most importantly, ensure that innocent people wrongly conicted are not then executed by the state.