Authored by Michael Melendez, Director of Policy
Should police officers be able to conduct mass searches in privately owned or crowd-sourced DNA databases? At first glance, it might seem that this is a helpful new tool to identify suspects in pursuit of justice.
But unlike with a fingerprint or other biometric information, our DNA reveals our personal medical information, ethnic heritage, and connections to a family tree of relatives. Police officers using this data are not merely capable of matching DNA to a single individual; they are also able to uncover a person’s family connections—a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
These massive databases are an understandable temptation for law enforcement officials who want to generate leads. Nonetheless, they should be restricted in being able to do so, just as the Utah Legislature has—in the name of privacy—limited law enforcement’s use of drones, mobile tracking devices, license plate readers, body cameras, digital data snooping and other emerging technologies.Read the brief
Authored by James Czerniawski, Tech and Innovation Policy Analyst
Individuals and companies are innovating at an ever increasing pace, and regulators are struggling to keep up with all the new goods and services that are being introduced; antiquated laws don’t always apply to new, dynamic businesses.
With the emergence of innovative companies that often involve new business models, some governments are rethinking how they should regulate these entities. Rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, some agencies have turned to regulatory sandboxes in an effort to address the issue.
Regulatory sandboxes allow companies and agencies to work together in introducing new goods and services with the potential to improve market conditions for countless consumers.
Utahns would greatly benefit from regulatory sandboxes as companies try out new products and business models as they try to scale their goods and services in a dynamic marketplace.Read the brief
Should a person be held liable for damages if they harm you? The answer is a resounding yes. However, while individuals can hold one another accountable in court, the government is held to a far lower legal standard than any private individual—if it’s held to one at all. This is because in many cases, the state shields itself from being held liable for any wrongdoing.
Long before America existed, English common law relied on a principle of rex non potest peccare, that is, “the King can do no wrong.” This principle has been implemented by American governments at all levels, making it difficult for anyone to successfully sue the government.
Cases against the government are regularly thrown out by judges due to government’s imperialistic immunity. In Utah, if the government is actually held accountable, justice is artificially limited due to caps on compensation. Those harmed by their government face a profound injustice due to immunity laws—and for that reason, the laws need to change.Read the brief
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
These are the words that comprise the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Many defendants have relied on them—and similar clauses in state constitutions—but has modern technology rendered this protection ineffective? Has the traditional regard for privacy eroded to a point of no return? Can a 400-year-old idea continue to be relevant today?
The fears and concerns of the Constitution’s drafters are as pertinent as ever today. New circumstances and technologies present themselves often, but there must be balance between the law and individual rights to ensure that our digital data is protected.Read the brief
State and local governments, like the federal government, have dozens of available options to generate revenue through taxation and fees, many of which are unknown to the average person. Government officials should strive to make these obligations equitable, transparent, and avoid counterproductive taxes.
One such tax that has missed the mark is Utah’s annual tax on business supplies—the Tangible Personal Property Tax, which violates nearly every principle of fair tax policy.
To comply with this tax, business owners must annually tally up their supplies and use a number of confusing depreciation schedules to determine how much they owe. The relatively small amount of revenue generated does not justify the wasted time and effort to repeatedly report and pay this inequitable tax.
As state governments move away from taxes on business inputs that discourage investment and, consequently, economic growth, this is one of the taxes that must be eliminated.Read the brief
Authored by Molly Davis, Criminal Justice Policy Analyst
The term “big government” typically invokes images of Congress or the Legislature, but it is likewise applicable, in many ways, to laws that affect our lives in a far more direct manner, at a local level.
Hitting close to home, the rules and regulations imposed by city and county officials cover everything from the type of grass that can grow in a family’s front yard to what activities are allowed within one’s own home. While our attention is often drawn to federal and state laws, local ordinances must be checked to ensure that individual rights are not unreasonably restricted.
Failure to comply with local ordinances can bring criminal consequences including fines and jail time. A fear of these harsh consequences creates a chilling effect for people who would like to utilize their property as they wish. While local ordinances are typically intended to foster a better environment for all residents, they often neglect the rights of the individual.Read the brief
Releasing a defendant before trial using bail ensures that those who are presumed innocent until proven guilty can walk free until they are convicted or acquitted of a crime, while also ensuring they will not commit additional crimes upon release. The goal is to ensure justice while also keeping others safe.
The conditions of release are supposed to be based on an individual’s risk of flight and danger to the community. Although cash bail and bail bonds are still widely used in most pretrial hearings, they have not been used with their intended level of individualization because judges often lack adequate information to make this sort of personalized judgement.
As a result, the entire pretrial justice system has been largely inequitable—wealthier Utahns, regardless of their risk, are released on bail to await their trial while low-risk, poor Utahns are often incarcerated. By implementing a new risk assessment tool, judges can correct this unjust application of bail.Read the brief
Perpetual calls to increase funds for K-12 education generally fail to tackle the root causes of scarce funding and ignore the question of whether additional tax revenues are even needed. Often these appeals for greater funding center on increasing the state income tax.
Without a basic understanding of why Utah’s state income tax rate is where it currently is, it can be easy to wrongly conclude that simply raising the rate by a small fraction would do no harm to Utah’s economy.
Utah’s competitive advantage in attracting businesses depends on maintaining favorable regulations and taxes. This includes the state income tax, which impacts the relocation decisions of businesses and their employees.
If the state is serious about increasing K-12 education funding, we must first consider alternative options within the $16 billion budget, rather than pursuing a fruitless state income tax increase that will most certainly hurt Utah’s economy.Read the brief
A century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that “the right to work for a living … is of the essence of that personal freedom and opportunity which it was the purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment to secure.” Utah law should protect this freedom and opportunity.
But a report of occupational licensure laws by the Institute for Justice recently found that Utah has the 13th most burdensome laws compared to other states. Clearly, there is opportunity for reform.
Utah’s Constitution says that “a free market system shall govern trade and commerce,” but this principle is often violated. While reasonable regulations can protect public health and safety, occupational licensure laws in Utah often exceed this limited scope, creating unnecessary and unfair barriers to entry.
We propose a constitutional amendment to protect one’s right to work, which will require the government’s regulation of that right to be evidence-based and narrowly tailored.Read the brief
Monopolies in the education system have stifled innovation and limited a parent’s options to customize their child’s learning. Education reforms like charter schools and open enrollment have had moderate success in many states but lack the innovative nature to truly reinvent the system.
Flexible Education Spending Accounts (FSA) offer an opportunity for parents to go beyond choosing where their child is educated to having a say in how their child is educated.
Top-down, one-size-fits-all reforms fail more often than not because they do not address the uniqueness of students with different learning styles, geographic limitations, and upbringings. Instead, public education needs a marketplace for reforms that parents and teachers can turn to.
An FSA goes beyond merely reforming at the top or providing school choice by engaging parents directly in shaping how funding is used in their child’s education.Read the brief