After only a few weeks into the 2015 Utah legislative session, we find ourselves deep in the political whirlwind. Luckily we have a strong and dedicated team spending their days at the Capitol fighting against bills that would curtail your civil liberties, and advocating for new laws that will expand your freedoms.
2015 Legislative Preview
This year, we are proactively advocating for bills to expand your liberties, including those that:
Establish guidelines for the use of police bodycams
Use of police body cams is proliferating; at the same time, there is little to no guidance about how and when cameras should be used, how long data should be stored and with whom it may be shared, and what should happen if cameras are not activated or if footage is destroyed or altered. Police body cameras can be a powerful tool in creating greater police transparency only, however, with significant and meaningful polices guiding their use. Our bill would require agencies that acquire and use body cams to have a policy in place that reflects these critical issues.
Reign in the ability of law enforcement to access private prescription drug information without a warrant
Existing law does not limit the ability of law enforcement to freely search through the state prescription drug database. The database tracks patients’ prescriptions for medications used to treat a long list of common medical conditions, and the records can reveal extremely sensitive health information. Our legislation would require that law enforcement obtain a warrant based on probable cause before the database can be searched.
Continue to push for transparency in the use of military equipment by police
Across the nation, communities are concerned about the increasingly militarized nature of local law enforcement. Under the federal 1033 program, local agencies have been acquiring military-grade equipment, including tanks and mine-resistant vehicles. We are pushing legislation that would require law enforcement to report when and for what purpose they use this type of equipment.
Limit the use of forcible entry by police
Police often deploy heavily-armed SWAT teams to raid people’s homes in the middle of the night, often just to search for drugs. These militarized raids have led to unnecessary deaths and destruction of property. Last year, we passed legislation to limit when these types of forcible entries can occur. We are working with legislators to amend last year’s bill to go even further; forcible entry should not be allowed simply to search for drugs or to prevent evidence from being destroyed.
Provide protections from discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity
For nearly a decade, we have actively supported legislation to protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. While same-sex couples have gained the right to same sex marriage through the courts, there is still no protection in Utah from being evicted or fired simply for being gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual. We will work closely with our allies and partners to promote this very needed legislation.
Protect against discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
In the public sphere, LGBT Utahns are not protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Therefore, one can be refused service in places of business simply for being gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual. We support amending our existing public accommodations law to add in sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics, such as race and religion, that cannot be used as a basis for discrimination.
Reform the criminal justice system in Utah, including lowering penalties for certain drug offenses
Proposed by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the result of over a year of work by various entities, the "Justice Reinvestment" legislation will enact many moderate – but very significant – criminal justice reforms that will reduce our prison population if enacted. Instead of spending money on unnecessarily incarcerating individuals, funds would be redirected towards treatment and other rehabilitative programming. We will actively support this bill as a means to begin to reform our broken criminal justice system.
As part of our advocacy efforts, we are also fighting against bills curtail our civil liberties including:
Allowing for discrimination based on religion
We anticipate fighting back against efforts to use religion to discriminate, particularly against members of the LGBT community in the wake of the many judicial decisions across the nation allowing for same-sex marriage. Attempts to allow public officials to refuse to serve members of the public based on a sincerely held religious belief cannot be tolerated. Similarly, we will push back against any bill that would allow religious belief to serve as an automatic defense to a claim of discrimination.
Reinstating the firing squad as a method of carrying out the death penalty
Utah continues to allow for the death penalty, even as the drugs that are typically used are becoming unavailable. As a result, we expect legislation resurrecting the use of the firing squad as a means of execution. Not only do we oppose the death penalty outright, we believe that use of the firing squad is a barbaric practice that offends basic human and constitutional rights.
Limit access to safe and legal abortions
Nearly every year, we see attempts at the legislature to limit the ability of women to access safe and legal abortions. In years past, this has taken the form of expanding the period of time a woman must wait before she can obtain an abortion, or creating potential criminal penalties for terminated pregnancies. Whatever the flavor this year, we will ardently and steadfastly protect the reproductive rights of women in this state.
Things move very rapidly during the legislative session. Sign up for our email list and receive action alerts and other important announcements. You can also follow our lively and timely tweets @acluutah and “like” us on Facebook at aclu.utah.