Libertas Institute Op-Eds

Parents and public left out of the education policy loop

October 5, 2015  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  3 comments

The following op-ed was published this weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune. It is a condensed version of a letter sent to members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee last week.

Utah law affirms that “the state’s role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.” If you’re a parent of a child in public school, this is more theory than practice—without your consent, and likely without your knowledge, the state is collecting large amounts of data on your child in a centralized database, and sharing that information with corporations and the federal government.

In 2009, former Governor Jon Huntsman signed an application to the U.S. Department of Education, the purpose of which was to obtain federal “stimulus” dollars. Without legislative authorization or guarantee, the Governor unilaterally made four assurances to the federal government—a required step in order to receive any money. Among other policy commitments, the assurances included a binding promise to “establish a longitudinal data system.” Within a year’s time, Utah had been showered with $742 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

Utah lawmakers—and thus the public at large—were left out of the loop. This trend continued, with the Utah State Office of Education receiving a $9.6 million grant to create the Utah Data Alliance—a conglomerate of state agencies managing the database with your child’s information. Their operations are not governed by state or federal law, but only by the promises made in the grant application and a “memorandum of understanding” between Alliance members.

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Why Government Should Get Out of the Marriage Business

July 6, 2015  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  2 comments

The following op-ed by our vice president, DJ Schanz, was published this weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune.

By their own admission, many same-sex marriage proponents view the Supreme Court’s recent ruling more as the beginning—and certainly not the end—of a larger legislative and judicial war. This contention has exhausted hundreds of millions of dollars and man hours. Even worse, it has turned neighbors into enemies.

You don’t see such hostility between Mormons and Catholics regarding the form and method of baptism. The former church believes that baptizing infants is a “mockery before God” whereas the latter considers it “an immemorial tradition of the Church.” Each group disagrees with the other, but not to the point of bitterness and public strife.

Obviously, there is no government definition of baptism; one denomination has not been able to impose its doctrinal position on their peers through the force of law. As such, there is no attempt to wrest control of political power to modify and expand that definition to be more inclusive. Each group operates in a “live and let live” fashion, using persuasion to convince others.

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Death penalty is unfair, costly and an ineffective deterrent

May 22, 2015  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  4 comments

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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A Conservative Case for Medical Cannabis

March 4, 2015  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

The following op-ed was published this weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune.

In 1915 — 100 years ago — the Utah Legislature passed an omnibus narcotics bill that banned a lengthy list of substances including cocaine, heroin, novocaine, morphine, as well as “loco weed,” the common term in that era for cannabis. At the same time, the law legalized possession, use, or sales of these substances “upon the written order or prescription of a physician.”

Even at the dawn of drug prohibition in the Beehive State, it was recognized that the medicinal value of these substances merited their legal use under a doctor’s supervision. While this recognition changed over time as it relates to cannabis, Utah now has an opportunity to reverse course and once again allow suffering patients to access the significant medical benefits of this plant.

Sen. Mark Madsen is one of the state’s most conservative legislators, and is sponsoring Senate Bill 259 to create a medical cannabis program in Utah. In doing so, he’s appealing to fellow conservatives on the need for compassionate care and the freedom to choose.

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Police shootings must be addressed to restore public trust

December 2, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed was published this weekend in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Last weekend, The Salt Lake Tribune revealed an alarming data point: In recent years, police officers have killed more Utahns than have gang members. As a community we must ask ourselves: Is this an appropriate use of force?

There have been 13 fatalities so far this year from police shootings. It may very well be that officers had to use lethal force in each of these cases, but suppose for a moment that even one of these cases involved an unnecessary escalation of force — even if ultimately deemed justified by a district attorney.

That single instance should invite a frank and sincere dialogue about the entire law enforcement system: the legal authority officers are granted, training they receive, weapons they use, reporting required of them, accountability mechanisms when they run afoul of the law and the methods and makeup of investigative bodies.

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Good Landlord Programs are Not Entirely Good

October 3, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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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New Lawsuit Holds the School Board Accountable

August 11, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

The following op-ed, written by Connor Boyack, was published this weekend in the Daily Herald.

Earlier this month, Libertas Institute announced a new lawsuit against Common Core here in Utah. There are six plaintiffs: two teachers, two parents of school aged children, and two school board members. None of them were consulted prior to adopting the Common Core standards in our state.

That may sound a bit silly — who are they to think they should have been consulted? As it turns out, state law requires it; § 53A-1-402.6 of the Utah code requires the Utah State Board of Education to establish and implement standards “in consultation with local school boards, school superintendents, teachers, employers, and parents.” The point of this law is to ensure local control and buy-in of whatever standards the Board adopts.

That didn’t happen with Common Core — and it should have. Here’s what actually happened.

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New Common Core Lawsuit Fights for Local Control

August 4, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed, written by Connor Boyack, was published this weekend in the Deseret News.

Two weeks ago, Governor Herbert held a press conference to announce that he’s “listening” to Common Core critics and that he has asked the Attorney General to conduct a “thorough legal review” of these untested, yet quickly adopted, education standards.

Whether or not the Governor is seriously concerned about Common Core’s legal implications—given re-election pressures, it’s reasonable to suggest his inquiry may be more superficial than substantive—he’s right to seek a review. Libertas Institute has identified numerous violations of the law in an investigation ongoing since January.

Unfortunately, Herbert and others are primarily focused on the “federal entanglement” as a result of the strings attached to federal grants sought out and obtained by the Utah State Board of Education. This is too narrow a focus for reviewing the full legal landscape of Common Core. Other issues exist and serve as the basis for a lawsuit we have organized.

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Shurtleff raid further proof of over-militarization of police

June 30, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed, co-authored with ACLU Utah and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Laywers, was published in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The actions of law enforcement officers during their recent search of former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s home have once again raised questions about the proper role of force in executing search warrants. Tremendous public discourse also followed the search of Matthew David Stewart’s home in January 2012 that resulted in the death of a police officer. These events are an opportunity for Utahns to rethink policies on the routine use of force by police, especially in light of recent research showing that more force leads to less safety.

Shurtleff understandably complained when law enforcement officers entered his home and allegedly pointed weapons at his 17-year old daughter, who was not threatening them. While Shurtleff’s complaints come a little late in light of his previous views and policies on the police use of force when he was Utah’s “top cop,” we should still listen. It remains to be seen whether authorities violated the Constitution in their actions at Shurtleff’s home. Their actions, however, were in line with current law enforcement policies and practices, under which officers serving search warrants employ extremely forceful tactics at homes, such as breaking down doors, setting off “flash bang” grenades, displaying weapons and commanding occupants to submit to authority. These tactics are not only used in emergency situations, like hostage taking. In fact, they are more typically used during investigations of nonviolent crimes, such as drug offenses (and apparently, official misconduct). Such policies and practices are not unique to Utah. The ACLU recently released a report, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Police,” that documents this increased use of force across the United States.

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The Importance of Paying Attention

March 31, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  2 comments

The following op-ed was published in the Deseret News.

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

This well-known saying comes from Gideon J. Tucker, a lawyer and legislator who in 1866 presided as a judge over a lawsuit against a deceased man’s estate. The legal battle, said Tucker, ”arose from want of diligent watchfulness in respect to legislative changes.” In other words, somebody had violated the law because they didn’t realize that the law had recently changed.

Tucker’s point becomes especially emphatic when changes to the law are made quickly, with no public discussion or recognition that it’s even happening. If our liberty is jeopardized by transparent government activity, it’s far more threatened by subversive attempts to undermine our rights. This was the case in Utah just last year.

After a citizen initiative in 2000 to strengthen property rights by restricting civil asset forfeiture — the ability of police officers to seize property without charging its owner with a crime — forfeiture law remained unchanged (save for some hotly contested tweaks in 2004) until last year. Under John Swallow’s leadership, the Attorney General’s office pushed a bill in the 2013 general session that substantially amended forfeiture law and removed many of the property rights protections that had long been in place.

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