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ON THE HILL: Lobbying For Liberty in 2018!

19 October 2017 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

The leaves are changing colors along the Wasatch Front, and that signals to us that it’s time to start thinking about the 2018 legislative session. The Utah Legislature is often unpredictable, but some themes are likely to emerge as priority areas for the ACLU of Utah’s legislative team. As with past years, criminal justice efforts are likely to dominate our legislative agenda.  We also intend to work on measures to improve women’s rights and to expand voting opportunities.  Read on for a preview of just some of the bills we’ll be pursuing in the upcoming legislative session!

Criminal Justice:

The Utah State Legislature came very close to repealing the death penalty during the 2016 session.  In 2018, we will continue to push for repeal.  At a time when our state is struggling to find defense attorneys willing to take on defending capital cases due to lack of funding and resources, our state should be reexamining whether having the death penalty at all makes any sense.  

Justice Court judges in Utah have the power to sentence defendants to pay fines.  We’ll be working with partners from across the political spectrum to move legislation allowing for defendants in justice court to opt for community service in lieu of paying a fee or a fine.

Along with a variety of partners, we’ll be exploring legislative reforms to the way our Board of Pardons and Parole (BOP) operates. Utah’s indeterminate sentencing system affords the BOP with broad discretion to make determinations about an inmate’s actual length of stay in Utah prison, as well as the conditions of release and parole. While the State does provide some sentencing guidelines, the BOP is allowed to make decisions outside those guidelines, at any time, on a case-by-case basis. This means that inmates who were convicted of similar crimes, with similar sentencing guidelines, may receive very different decisions from the BOP regarding release, rehearings, parole requirements and overall length of stay. In 2018, we’ll be examining whether a legislative fix may help to resolve this concern.

Women’s Rights:

Working with the Utah Women’s Coalition, in 2015 and 2016 we successfully passed legislation to improve the lives of working women in our state, focusing on protecting the rights of pregnant and nursing women in the workplace.  In 2018, we will continue to seek ways to level the playing field for women in the workplace and throughout our state.  

We will advocate for state legislation to expand the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which currently requires Utah employers who employ 50 or more employees to provide job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Our bill will lower the employee threshold, so that employees at smaller businesses may also take advantage of time off in the event of pregnancy or other medical conditions, or to care for family members.   

We’ll be working with lawmakers and a variety of advocacy groups to modify our state antidiscrimination statute to reduce the number of employees required before an employer must protect those same employees from unlawful employment discrimination. 

Finally, 47 states already acknowledge that places of business should not expel a woman simply for breastfeeding.  Surprisingly, Utah is not one of those 47! We’ll be working with lawmakers to ensure that Utah makes good on its promise to be a truly family friendly state.

Participatory Democracy:

In 2014, after many years of advocacy, the ACLU of Utah worked with Rep. Chavez-Houck to pass an Election Day Registration bill.  Election day registration allows a voter to both register to vote AND cast a ballot on election day.  The 2014 legislation created a 3-year, opt-in pilot program, which expired at the end of 2016. This year, we intend to work again with Rep. Chavez-Houck to make the pilot program both statewide and permanent.   

We’ll also work to pass state legislation that allows for Automatic Voter Registration, the process by which a voter would be automatically registered to vote (unless they choose to opt out) when applying for a driver’s license at the DMV. 

As always, the ACLU of Utah stands ready to work on legislation impacting the LGBTQ community, reproductive rights, and the right to privacy.  

Keep up to date with our legislative efforts at www.acluutah.org/legislation.

This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2017 Fall Newsletter >>

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