We have previously proposed legislation—which received unanimous support—that requires the government to furnish data each time it takes a person’s property through asset forfeiture.
The latest report, compiling data for 2016, was just released by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
The report finds, among other things:
Interlocal agencies, independent entities, special service districts, Associations of Governments (AOG), and conservancy districts—each of these is a type of government-sponsored or -created organization given control of some aspect of administration, localized policy making, or government service. In short, they have control over a portion of your tax dollars and/or your life.
Who are these mysterious organizations that, up until recently, have hidden their operations in the shadows? To be clear, they hold some public meetings, report to the Utah Legislature periodically, and probably even have up-to-date websites. However, they probably would rather you not know about the size of their budgets, nor their too frequent misappropriation of funds.
The average Utahn might recognize these government organizations from the media attention they have received over the past few years:
With healthcare on the front of everyone’s minds as Congress continues to formulate a replacement to ObamaCare, here is an idea that could revolutionize the industry and drive costs down tremendously.
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. In short, a person doesn’t know how much a certain procedure or test costs and even if they did, they would have zero financial incentive to investigate where to find the best price for that health care service.
This is where having the “Right to Shop” comes into the picture.
Price shopping for medical services can be very difficult and time consuming, as prices aren’t generally accurate, and they vary depending on who’s paying the bill. If you have to price shop through an insurance company, it gets even more difficult.
Health care providers rarely disclose their prices. For those that do, consumers are often not informed as to whether the posted price is for cash, with insurance, a co-pay, Medicare, etc. At times these disclosed prices do not incorporate all necessary costs—for example, an anesthesiologist’s fees.
Insurance companies often post general price ranges for their customers and contract with care providers to change pricing, which is often hidden from consumers as well.
Utah is the only state with a law requiring police transparency regarding “forcible entry” (no-knock or knock-and-announce) warrants and the use of SWAT teams. Last year’s report provided the first look into the use of force in Utah. This year’s report—showing data for 2015—has just been released.
As with last year, many law enforcement agencies did not comply with the law, and failed to complete the report when contacted by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. 149 agencies were contacted, and 110 completed the report. As the report summary notes, “the information presented… is only as accurate as the data reported by each individual law enforcement agency.”
Here is a summary of the data that was provided:
Last November, along with the Utah Taxpayers Association, we sued the state seeking to overturn a clearly unconstitutional law requiring disclosure of information about our donors. Today, due to the great work of attorneys from the Center for Competitive Politics, who represented our organizations in this lawsuit, we are happy to announce a settlement—and a victory for free association in Utah.
House Bill 43, passed by the legislature in 2013, was sponsored in response to a political consultant’s illegal use of non-profit organizations to hide the identity of the source of his donors—from the payday lending industry—to fund a negative campaign against Representative Brad Daw, who had sought to regulate the industry’s practices. The bill passed the Senate 20-8 and passed the House 60-13.
The law compels private non-profit organizations—such as Libertas Institute—to publicly disclose the personal information of their donors when the organization spends $750 or more on political activity in a single year. This creates a substantial chilling effect, harming our potential to raise funds from people who may not wish to be publicly identified with their ideological and financial support, whether for family, business, religious, or personal reasons.
Utah has a controversial history with civil asset forfeiture—a tool allowing the government to confiscate property from people not charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. Last Friday, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) issued a first-of-its-kind report providing detailed information on how this power is being used in Utah.
The report is the result of Senate Bill 52 from the 2015 General Session. Libertas Institute proposed the reforms that led to this legislation—which passed unanimously—to help the public better understand in what cases property is being seized. Civil asset forfeiture is a highly controversial practice that has received significant nationwide attention.
Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, issued the following statement in response to the publication of the report:
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 was not considered by the legislature.
Libertas Institute supports this bill.
Libertas Institute spent hundreds of man hours over the past year working on a comprehensive proposal for the use of body cameras in Utah. This effort, in conjunction with community partners and civil liberties allies like the Utah chapter of ACLU and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has culminated in House Bill 386, sponsored by Representative Dan McCay.
This bill would set statewide minimum standards for the use of body cameras in Utah protecting the rights of all Utahns and providing predictability in the use of police body cameras.
This bill passed unanimously in both chambers of the legislature and was signed into law by the Governor.
Libertas Institute supports this bill.
Whenever we have the opportunity to discuss our legislative priorities and successes with individuals, we bring up civil asset forfeiture. Without fail, the audience is astounded to learn that the government has assumed the authority to take a person’s property without charging—let alone convicting—him of a crime.
They are further shocked to learn that in Utah, the Attorney General’s office deceived the legislature into voting for complex legislation that was presented as simply “re-codifying” (not substantively changing) the law, but in fact did undermine several important property rights protections. Most are relieved to know that our model legislation to restore these changes was unanimously supported by the same legislature.
What is lacking in this discussion is data—understanding how often property is forfeited, how much, what type, and why. While we receive reports from attorneys from time to time sharing alarming instances of property seizure, it is impossible at present to contextualize these circumstances to understand if they are at all representative of widespread abuse.