Policy Papers

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The Right to Work: Taming Occupational Licensure

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.

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Flexible Education Spending Accounts: Choice Meets Innovation

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.

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Medical Cannabis: Decriminalizing Sick Utahns

Utah is one of the leading states for opiate overdose fatalities in the nation, and legislators struggle to find ways that this epidemic can be abated to save lives.

Yet at the same time, legislators refuse to legalize a plant that shows promise in reducing that overdose rate and providing relief to thousands more Utahns for whom cannabis shows a high potential, whether by alleviating pain, managing symptoms, or even reversing or altogether mitigating an underlying condition.

Throughout the state, sick and suffering individuals secretly consume cannabis for health reasons, yet do so at great personal risk, jeopardizing their employment, risking having police officers serve a no-knock warrant on their home, forfeiting their right to keep and bear arms, and giving the state a reason to potentially take their children away.

Utah’s drug laws must be amended to allow peaceful people to use cannabis for legitimate medicinal purposes.

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Vehicle Safety Inspections: Another Wasteful Government Program

The cost of vehicle safety inspections to Utah drivers grossly outweighs the intended and perceived bene ts, which themselves are dif cult to discern—to the extent they exist. Of the many studies performed on this issue, there is no conclusive evidence that vehicle safety inspections reduce mechanical-error car accidents.

Such accidents are rare in Utah; only 3.8% of car accidents occur due to a mechanical 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.

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. Tax- payer funds currently allocated for the state’s vehicle safety program should be redirected to the Department of Public Safety to patrol Utah’s roads on the lookout for unsafe vehicles.

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Civil Asset Forfeiture: The Legalization of Theft

Utah voters passed Initiative B in 2000 to protect property rights and due process by limiting the government’s authority to take ownership of a person’s property. Ever since then, police and prosecutors have attempted to undermine the expressed will of the voters.

Civil asset forfeiture allows the government to confiscate property from an individual who may not even be charged with a crime. This power has been abused around the nation, including in Utah.

Contrary to claims that this legal tool is used to go after drug kingpins and crime syndicates, 74% of forfeiture cases in Utah involve under $5,000 in assets. This low amount enables the government to easily take the property; a person whose small amount of cash was taken is unlikely to pay an attorney thousands of dollars to recover it.

Critics are correct to point out that civil asset forfeiture is legalized theft. At a minimum, it is a law in dire need of substantive reform.

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Food Truck Freedom: Removing Barriers for Mobile Businesses

Governments regularly struggle to apply antiquated laws to new, innovative businesses. Food truck owners have experienced this firsthand, with cities unaware of how to best classify and regulate their mobile kitchens.

Unfortunately, this has resulted in a patchwork of arbitrary and redundant policies that frustrate truck owners, provide no consumer protection, and in the aggregate result in significant compliance costs that threaten to undermine an upstart business.

Unnecessary regulations should be eliminated—duplicative health and fire permits, prohibitions on operating within a certain distance from restaurants, mandates to change locations frequently, costly bonding, background checks, and more. Even worse, many cities in Utah completely ban food trucks.

Food trucks are highly popular and provide a great community service and economic development opportunity. Barriers placed in their way should be reduced or removed.

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Ensuring Justice through Juror Discretion

The pursuit of justice is plagued with many problems—over-criminalization, perverse incentives, faulty forensics, and disproportionate penalties. Fortunately, police and prosecutors enjoy significant discretion throughout the process to weed out cases where justice would not be served.

Despite this discretion, agents of the government still prosecute many cases where the application of the law is clearly unjust and the alleged criminal should not be found guilty. Jurors, as the final step in the system of justice, have this same discretion—but are not told about it. People cannot exercise a power they do not know exists.

Jurors are unable to see that justice is done if they are not aware that they, like the police and prosecutors, can use discretion to determine whether a prosecution should be allowed to move forward. For that reason, jurors should be fully informed and their power of discretion preserved to ensure justice is served.

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Policy Analysis

The High Price of Retribution: A Case for Repealing the Death Penalty

In 2015, the Utah Legislature reauthorized the use of the firing squad 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. The legislature should consider abandoning the use of capital punishment in favor of life without parole.

While the death penalty might appeal to our emotional appetite for justice—or revenge—the reality is that it is not justly administered, the risk of executing an innocent is too high, and it does not serve victims very well.

Given the low value and high cost of the death penalty, capital punishment does not give taxpayers much bang for the buck. Instead it has become a bloated and bureaucratic policy that blindly seeks retribution despite a significant moral, social, and financial cost.

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Personal Freedom

Private Attorneys General: Incentivizing the Protection of Liberty

State and federal constitutions were designed by their authors to protect our rights against violation by the government. The enforcement of these protections often requires litigation and court orders—and thus a watchful guardian to protect the public’s rights.

While many believe that the Attorney General serves this function, this is not so. In a constitutional dispute between an individual and the government, the Attorney General’s primary duty is to defend the government—even when wrong. As such, the public interest requires watchful guardians who are independent of the government to challenge it in court when it is in violation of the public’s constitutional rights.

When victorious, it seems inappropriate to lay the legal costs at the feet of a few. The private attorney general doctrine resolves this inequity by allowing the court to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party, incentivizing watchful guardians to jealously protect our God-given, constitutionally protected rights.

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Property Rights

The Fundamental Right to Use One’s Own Property

Property rights were an essential and fundamental pillar of the American experiment, and their usurpation and violation were among the reasons listed in the Declaration of Independence that justified separation from Great Britain and the formation of a new country.

Unfortunately, governments at all levels of this country have become just as oppressive on this issue as the King once was; property rights, though widely regarded as a core aspect of good government, are routinely subordinated to the interests of the state. They are frequently mentioned on the campaign trail, in academia, and in debates over political theory, but in actual practice, property rights are not what they were initially intended to be.

While many states constitutionally protect the right to acquire, possess, and protect property, no state recognizes one’s inalienable right to actually use it. The need is great, and the fix is easy; Utah now has an opportunity to be a leader in restoring and protecting this right.

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