Welcome to the 2015 Utah Legislative Session, everyone! The Session officially kicked off yesterday, mainly with ceremonies and networking. And this first week will see mostly appropriations meetings (budgets for various agencies will be presented), with some committee meetings in the afternoons.
Criminal Justice at the Capitol (part one)
This creates a relatively slow, not-so-insane start to the 45-day session. For those of you who like to follow the legislative process, here are some "Criminal Justice Bills to Watch!," which could have a positive OR negative impact on our criminal justice system. You can always track the progress of these bills by going to le.utah.gov, the state legislative website,
CCJJ's Justice Reinvestment legislation - also known as "Criminal Justice Amendments," sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams and Rep. Eric Hutchings. The bill is not yet numbered - the office of Legislative Research and General Counsel is still working on the language. Those 18 recommendations from CCJJ touch on MANY different parts of Utah law, so this bill is going to be LOOOOONG! I'll let you know as soon as the language is available and the bill is officially introduced. This is the big one, people - and if you feel, as the ACLU does, that this a very important step in the right direction for Utah's criminal justice system, join us on February 10 to Rally for Reform!
There is still a lot of fighting over the specific recommendations to reduce some drug law penalties...but CCJJ is standing firm on those reforms. If you have not yet taken the time to voice your support for these drug law changes, consider taking action through the ACLU of Utah's website to voice your support of these changes.
Governor Herbert's Healthy Utah plan - yeah, I know, it's not really a BILL, but expansion of access to health care could have the single greatest impact on our criminal justice system of all the actions taken this year. Note the fact that Chief Justice Durrant, in his address to the legislature on behalf of Utah's judiciary, specifically noted the huge amounts of funding that could be corralled for substance abuse and mental health treatment through Medicaid expansion.
HB 0040 - "Expungement Amendments," sponsored by Rep Eric Hutchings, is moving quickly through the process, since Rep. Hutchings already did a lot of hard work on this bill during the interim. This is a great piece of legislation, which ensures that expungement of past criminal convictions includes removing records of those convictions from state agency files. But my favorite part of this legislation is that it makes an affirmative statement about the purpose of expungement:
"The Legislature recognizes that an individual who has committed a criminal act and paid his or her debt to society should, under certain circumstances, be able to move forward and rebuild their life without being hindered by the past." Doesn't that sound great? Hopefully, this one won't get much pushback and will sail through!
SB 0052 - "Asset Forfeiture Amendments," sponsored by Senator Howard Stephenson. This one sounds a little obscure, but it's really important. I haven't talked much about the problems around civil asset forfeiture as a problem in the criminal justice system in these updates or on my blog, but that's NOT because it's not a HUGE problem: it IS. The long and short of it is: by allowing law enforcement to seize and capitalize on community members' money, property and belongings, civil asset forfeiture laws create negative incentives for law enforcement to hassle people (especially from certain easily-profiled racial groups). Sen. Stephenson's common-sense bill would require that law enforcement agencies TRACK their asset forfeiture activities. The collected data should give us a much better sense of how much of a problem this practice is in Utah!
To prevent legislative overwhelm, as well as to create suspense, I am going to continue this list tomorrow. There are a few other great criminal justice bills you should be aware of....but all will be revealed in good time!
And, finally, to give all of us hope that one day the racial disparities in our criminal justice system will be resolved...here's a photo from the Youth Leadership & Activism Conference this past weekend, which focused on training youth leaders to dismantle the "school-to-prison pipeline." These youths were amazing, and their passion about these issues bodes well for our future. Check out these young men rocking their pocket constitutions!
This update was prepared by Anna Brower, Public Policy Advocate.