Policy Papers

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Policy Analysis

Permit Freedom: Reducing Regulation in Everyday Life

Authored by Aerin Christensen, Policy Analyst, Local Government

You can’t make it far in life without the government insisting you apply for a permit. Because these processes are so common, they should be governed by consistent and reasonable guidelines.

Unfortunately, many local and state governments have permit granting processes that are unclear and unreasonable. When this is the case, those applying for permits can find it nearly impossible to attain the permissions and approvals they need.

The departments and governments that issue permits are numerous and diverse. Consequently, the respective permitting processes and policies will vary. However, there are a few basic guidelines and standards that should apply to each process.

The approval or denial of a permit should be determined based on clear requirements and criteria. After a complete application is submitted, a decision should be made subject to a specific timeline set forth in advance. In the case that an applicant feels their permit was wrongfully denied, an appeal process should be in place to allow for an independent judicial review.

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Policy Analysis

Protecting the Right to Privacy in a Digital Era

Authored by James Czerniawski, Policy Analyst, Tech and Innovation

Private companies are constantly finding new and innovative ways of incorporating new technologies into their offerings. As they do, Americans are moving their lives into the digital realm.

While many of these products tout enhanced security protections for their consumers, the reality may be different than what they think.

Biometric technologies specialize in using identifying human features for verification of the user. From fingerprints to DNA to voice recognition, technology has opened up vast possibilities that were previously unimaginable.

While commercial uses of the technology can yield positive results, law enforcement is also using these tools to achieve their stated goal of protecting the community.

But the public is not always aware law enforcement is using these technologies in this fashion. There was no public buy-in, no discussion, and no process to establish guardrails to protect an individual’s constitutionally protected rights.

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Policy Analysis

Protecting Your DNA From Government Fishing Expeditions

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.

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Policy Analysis

Utah Innovates: Regulatory Frameworks for the Future

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.

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Policy Analysis

Government Accountability for Causing Individuals Harm

Authored by Molly Davis, Policy Analyst, Criminal Justice Policy Analyst

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.

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Policy Analysis

Protecting Your Digital Data from Warrantless Searches

Authored by Michael Melendez, Director of Policy

“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.

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Policy Analysis

Phasing Out the Annual Tax on Business Supplies

Authored by Michael Melendez, Director of Policy

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.

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Policy Analysis

Keeping the Peace Between Neighbors Without Restricting Rights

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.

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Policy Analysis

Pretrial Release: Restoring Due Process and Reforming Bail

Authored by Molly Davis, Criminal Justice Policy Analyst

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.

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The Cost of Raising State Income Taxes to Fund Education

Authored by Michael Melendez, Director of Policy

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.

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