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ACLU ON THE HILL: 2018 Legislative Review

18 01 Capitol 14Our experienced lobbyist team won several major victories on the Hill this year—and set the stage for future success

The Utah legislature met earlier this year for 45 days of rapid-fire hearings, debates, and lawmaking. The ACLU of Utah was there for it all.

This year the legislature hit a new record in number of bills introduced. Accordingly, we also hit a high mark for number of bills tracked: 115! In this review we highlight 24 of the more important of those bills that demonstrate some of the highs and lows of the 2018 session, from a civil liberties perspective. 

Six Victories to Celebrate (At the bottom of the page) 

18 03 08 MarinaSpeaking sq#1. Voting Reforms - HB 218 Modifications to Elections Law - We worked diligently to pass HB 218, which eliminates many barriers to voting. Because of this bill, all Utah citizens can now register and cast a ballot on Election Day. Also, registering to vote when renewing or applying for a driver’s license will be more straightforward. Plus, counties can no longer require vote by mail without providing other voting options. The bill does allow for the vote by mail list to be affected by inactivity, but we believe the bill’s overall impact will increase voter access and participation.

#2. Victories for Reproductive Health - HB 12 Family Planning Services Amendments; HB 205 Down Syndrome Nondiscrimination Abortion Act; SB 118 Abortion Law Amendments; SB 184 Pharmacist Dispensing Authority Amendments - After years of work, we helped pass HB 12 to increase access to free contraception (including IUDs) for low-income women. We also helped defeat the extremely controversial and unconstitutional HB 205 which sought to criminalize physicians who perform abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Our staff intervened to improve a third reproductive health bill, SB 118, which updated mandatory information provided to women seeking abortions in clinics. Finally, we quietly supported SB 184, which expanded access to oral contraception dispensed by pharmacists, a significant improvement in birth control access in Utah. 

#3. Chipping Away at the Death Penalty - HB 379 Death Penalty Amendments; SB 30 Aggravated Murder Amendments - Building on several years of reseach and coalition-building, we pushed for HB 379’s attempt to repeal the death penalty in Utah after almost succeeding in 2016. New champions, including Speaker Greg Hughes and conservative activists, led this year’s effort, along with a new report about the substantial costs of death penalty cases and appeals. While HB 379 eventually stalled, the progress made this session indicates that Utah will eventually repeal the death penalty. We also opposed the misguided and harmful SB 30 that expanded Utah’s already very long list of “aggravated murder” crimes for which capital punishment is available, but we were unsuccessful in stopping it from becoming law.

#4. Progress for Gender Equality - HB 156 Family Leave Amendments; HB 278 Paid Family and Medical Leave Tax Credit; HB 196 Breastfeeding Protection Act - A cluster of gender parity bills earned our support, including paid family leave for some state workers (HB 156) and a tax credit for employers offering paid family and medical leave (HB 278). Although both bills failed, we did pass forward-thinking legislation with HB 196 to add breastfeeding to public accommodation laws, building on a 2016 victory to extend breastfeeding accommodations in many workplaces.

18 02 20 E2 Marina Screenshots15#5. Jail and Prison Transparency - SB 205 Incarceration Reports - In response to distressingly high numbers of deaths in Utah’s county jails in recent years, we helped pass SB 205 to require annual reports of every death in jail or prison.  The new law also requires jails and prisons to report on medications provided and withheld to individuals in custody. 

#6. Safeguarding Privacy - HB 43 Blood Testing Amendments; HB 83 Forcible Entry and Warrants Amendments; HB 260 Professional Licensing Revisions; HB 330 Communication Interception Amendments - We helped pass legislation to clarify the process for hospital blood draws by law enforcement, finalizing one of the most talked-about Utah stories of 2017. We also partnered with the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute to support HB 83, a positive, but ultimately unsuccessful, bill to curtail no-knock and forcible entries by law enforcement and to strengthen judicial review of warrant applications. In addition, we were able to defeat HB 260, a determined effort to roll back a 2015 law that required warrants for law enforcement searches of Utah’s prescription drug databases. Though we remained neutral on an unsuccessful HB 330, which would have made it illegal in Utah to record a conversation without the other party’s knowledge, we used the situation to educate many people about the vital role of privacy in personal communications.

#7. Smart Criminal Justice Reforms - HB 291 Sentencing Commission Length of  Supervision Guidelines; HB 336 Fine Amendments; HB 248 Compensatory Service in Lieu of Fine Amendments - Efforts to reduce incarceration in Utah received a boost from the success of three bills we championed. HB 291 increases discretion and allows for case-by-case assessments of the length of probation and parole for adults. HB 336 caps late fees and interest chargeable on criminal fines so more Utahns can pay their fines and avoid crushing debt or incarceration. Lastly, HB 248 allows community service to satisfy a conviction for an infraction or misdemeanor.

 #8. Improving Police Practices - SB 154 Prohibition of Law Enforcement Quotas; SB 198 Public School Disciplinary Action Amendments; HB 132 Juvenile Justice Modifications - We successfully backed SB 154 to eliminate quotas for law enforcement, arguing that all stops should be justified and tied to public safety rather than revenue generation. Additionally, we helped draft and pass SB 198, which requires public and charter schools to collect and report data, including race, age, disability status, and gender, on disciplinary interactions between law enforcement and students. We also successfully amended HB 132 to require that school resource officers have probable cause before engaging in searches.

#9. Time’s Up for Discrimination - HB 283 Workplace Protection Amendments - Partnering with several new business organizations and community groups, we sought protections against discrimination in all workplaces, regardless of the number of employees by supporting HB 283. This bill faced many hurdles, including an unrealistic initial fiscal note that we lobbied to reduce. This legislation, although unsuccessful, did achieve the goal of educating lawmakers and the public about loopholes in current laws.

#10. Wins for the First Amendment - HB 36 Free Expression Regulation Amendments; HB 72 Communications of Governmental Entity Employees and Officers - We supported the goal of HB 36 to require that all political subdivisions respect the First Amendment when restricting expressive activity on public grounds, including peaceful assemblies, distributing literature, and gathering signatures. Our First Amendment alarms went off when we realized that HB 72 would make private emails sent by public employees about political matters a public record, creating a chilling effect on what is otherwise constitutionally-protected speech. Working with lobbyists for media and local governments, we convinced the sponsor to amend HB 72 to remove our objections and create a better bill.◄

Six Victories to Celebrate

Breastfeeding  HB 196: Breastfeeding Protection Act - Extends nursing protections to places of public accommodation like retail stores
Jail standards  SB 205:  Incarceration Reports - Mandates data collection on inmate deaths, drug treatment, and withdrawl policies at county jails
School Resource Officers SB 198: Public School Disciplinary Action Amendments - Requires reporting of data on student interactions with school resource officers 
Abortion Ban  HB 205: Down Syndrome Nondiscrimination Abortion Act - This unconstitutional abortion ban was defeated
Voting  HB 218: Modifications to Election Law - Adds statewide Election Day registration and improves automatic voter registration
Drug Database  HB 260: Professional Licensing Revisions - This attempt to give warrantless access to state prescription drug databases was defeated


This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2018 Spring Newsletter >>

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