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Protecting the Bill of Rights in Utah since 1958

Week 5: Updates from the 2017 Legislative Session

26 February 2017 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

This weekly compilation is assembled social media postings by our communications and policy staff during the fifth week of the 2017 Utah Legislative Session. LegisBlogWeek2017 5

These posts have been updated a bit for brevity, and to remove the urgent calls for action that accompanied them in the moment they were posted! Thanks to all our followers and supporters who took action and helped raise a collective voice for civil liberties in Utah. The most recent posts from the week are included first, moving backward in time toward the oldest, which were posted at the beginning of the fifth week.

FEBRUARY 24 >>

 It's the last day of the fifth week of the 2017 Utah Legislative Session (not that we are counting or anything)! Here are a few highlights of what we'll be working on today:Two bills related to CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE (remember: boring name, VERY important issue!) are being heard in committee this morning - one good, one not as good.  

SB70, "Asset Forfeiture Transparency Amendments," sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson (R-Draper), would expand reporting requirements in situations where private property is seized by the government under our current state forfeiture laws. We LIKE this bill!

SB87, "Civil Asset Forfeiture Revisions," sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher (R-West Valley), is a fairly moderate reform measure that would ease the burden a bit on private property owners when their assets are seized by the government. We don't DISLIKE this bill, but we don't LOVE it. We prefer HB19, "Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Amendments," sponsored by Rep. Brian Greene (R-Pleasant Grove), a more robust approach to asset forfeiture reform. You can download a quick comparison of the two bills - prepared by our Fourth Amendment pals at Libertas Institute - right here.

Two bills related to GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY will also receive a hearing this morning at the Utah State Capitol.

Being heard in the House Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Committee is a very troubling bill from Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield) that would allow police body camera footage to be treated differently than other public records.

As you may recall, the ACLU of Utah litigated this issue fiercely for months before an overwhelmingly positive decision from the State Records Committee: body camera footage IS a public record, should be treated as such, and should be made available to public review as soon as possible! HB381, "Law Enforcement Body Camera Footage Amendments," is an attempt to codify recent failed arguments that the release of body camera footage will somehow compromise the right to a fair trial (it WON'T).

The bill allows police body camera footage to be considered and treated differently than, say, dash cam or other footage related to the performance of a public servant. The ACLU of Utah is OPPOSED to HB381.

Being heard in the Senate Government Operations & Political Subdivisions is SB242, "Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) Amendments," sponsored by Curt Bramble (R-Provo), which would limit the ability of prison and jail inmates to access public records via GRAMA (Utah's state-level "Freedom of Information" act).

We are working with the sponsor and other partners to improve the language of this bill, so that inmates who are representing themselves pro se on legal matters from a correctional facility are not compromised in those efforts. The ACLU of Utah is troubled by the language in SB242 currently, but are hopeful that improvements are on the way, with a new version to be proposed in committee this morning!

UPDATE: SB70 passed successfully out of committee. HB19 did not receive a vote at this time. HB381 passed successfully out of committee. BB242 was amended with language that is much less restrictive for prisoners who request documents for pro se legal cases, while allowing the Department of Corrections to limit excessive public records requests unrelated to actual legal efforts. 

FEBRUARY 23 >>

GOOD BILL on the move! This morning, HB384, "Abortion Clinic Licensing Amendments," will be heard in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Yeah, we panicked when we saw the name of the bill, too! THEN we remembered, this is a GREAT bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake), who collaborated with ACLU of Utah and Planned Parenthood of Utah to develop the language.

This bill would bring the state of Utah into compliance with the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The SCOTUS ruling determined that two provisions in a Texas law – requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and requiring abortion clinics in the state to have facilities comparable to an ambulatory surgical center – place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and therefore violate the Constitution.

HB384 would prohibit the Department of Health from making licensing rules regarding hospital admitting privileges or a hospital transfer agreement for an abortion service provider, in line with the Whole Woman's Health decision!We encourage you to contact your Representative and encourage a POSITIVE VOTE in favor of this proactive legislation.

FEBRUARY 22 >>

Yesterday afternoon, HB176, "Human Trafficking Amendments," sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield) JUST BARELY passed the House of Representatives, on a 38 to 37 vote! We are disappointed by the outcome, but want to note that the very close vote shows REAL PROGRESS on the death penalty issue in Utah. We are hopeful that this unnecessary, ineffective proposal will end its legislative journey in the Senate, without ever being enacted into state law.

Rep. Ray's perennial legislative strategy - attaching a very serious community issues (in this case, human trafficking) to a very ineffective and expensive "solution" (always, the death penalty) - appears to be working, though not as well as in the past. It is hard to legislators to vote AGAINST something that purports to help with the very tragic (but also very complex) issue of human trafficking. But when they are informed about what the bill REALLY is - simply a "feel-good" expansion of Utah's use of the death penalty - legislators are more inclined to reject Rep. Ray's pro-government-sanctioned-execution "solutions."

FEBRUARY 21 >> 

Today we are following a few bills moving up the Reading Calendars...this means the bills may be voted on by the House or Senate sometime this week.

HB156, "State Job Application Process," an excellent bill from Rep. Sandra Hollins (D-Salt Lake) in the "Ban the Box" tradition, is #35 on the House Reading Calendar. We encourage you to contact your House Representative and ask for a SUPPORTIVE VOTE in favor of this bill!

HB176, "Human Trafficking Amendments," is actually a death penalty expansion bill from Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield). It was circled on the House Reading Calendar last week, while the representative was out of town. He is back, and this bill could be uncircled for a vote at any time. We encourage you to contact your House Representative and ask for a VOTE TO REJECT THIS BILL. Victims of human trafficking need support, resources and compassion - NOT some expensive and vague promise of retribution.

HB230, "Election Revisions," sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem), a very solid voting bill that the ACLU of Utah is supporting, is #20 on the House Reading Calendar. HB230 contains direction for counties to pay the postage on mail-in ballots when vote-by-mail-only elections are held. It's just common sense - why add one more barrier to having people participate in the voting process, especially in a state with such low voter turnout?

Another great bill moving toward a vote in the Utah House of Representatives is HB239, "Juvenile Justice Amendments," sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow (R-Saint George). It is currently #47 on the House Reading Calendar, we are hopeful it will get voted on this week. KUER's Whittney Evans just did a great story on the proposed reforms, featuring our good friend and fellow activist Christian "Chovy" Quinones!

UPDATE: HB156 passed with a vote of 40-32, with two abstentions. HB176 BARELY squeaked out of the House, with a heart-breaking vote of 38-37. HB230 passed overwhelmingly - but was amended on the House floor by Rep. Jeremy Peterson (R-Ogden) to remove the provision requiring counties to pay the postage on mail-in ballots (boo!). HB239 underwent some hearty debate before being circled (put on hold) for more discussion and a vote next week.

FEBRUARY 20 >>

HB178, "Good Landlord Program Amendments," sponsored by Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake) and Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo), will be heard in the Senate Business & Labor Committee tomorrow morning (Tuesday, Feb. 21). The committee meeting starts at 8:00 a.m. This bill, HB178, is listed #5 on the agenda. That means they could run out of time before talking about it...OR the agenda could shuffle around and this could be heard first.

What we need YOU to do is contact members of the committee and ask them for TWO things: 1) Vote in favor of the amendment that will be proposed by Sen. Bramble during the committee meeting. This amendment will make it harder for cities like Ogden to exempt themselves from the Good Landlord reforms of HB178. 2) Vote to pass HB178 favorably out of this committee and on to the Senate floor for a vote. In addition to your own personal thoughts and stories about why this reform is important, here are some quick talking points you can use in your emails and calls

  1. HB178 will reform Good Landlord Programs so that participating landlords won't be forced to reject otherwise qualified tenants based on their criminal history. Cities can still have Good Landlord Programs, they just can't tell landlords who they can and can't rent to, based on this one thing.
  2. This reform is important for reducing recidivism and helping people get on with their lives after a criminal conviction.
  3. Landlords should be able to rent to whomever they wish; they should not be penalized with high fees just because they are willing  to give someone a second chance.

UPDATE: HB178 passed successfully out of this committee. However, the amendment did not pass. The bill was amended on the House floor to exempt three cities from this important reform: Ogden, West Valley City and Salt Lake City (Salt Lake's Good Landlord Program already ALLOWS landlords to rent to people with a criminal history).