Policy Papers

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Policy Analysis

Government Accountability for Causing Individuals Harm

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

“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

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

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

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

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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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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