Grass Roots
Committed to Promoting the Principles of Limited Government, Constitution, Representative Government,
Participatory Republic, Free Market Economy, Family and Separation of Powers

Legislative Updates - 15 February 2016

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Dear Friends:

This is GrassRoots’ third weekly legislative update of this year’s General Session of the Utah State Legislature.

At this time (three weeks into the session), there are about 550 numbered bills for this session. Here are some bills that we consider to be noteworthy.

Bills catching our attention this week

HB22, “Civil Asset Forfeiture - Procedural Reforms”, sponsored by Representative Greene and Senator Howard Stephenson, would:

  • modify the elements of qualifying as an innocent owner regarding property subject to forfeiture, so that the innocent owner does not have to “prove his innocence”;
  • require a direct nexus of the property to a specific alleged criminal exchange or transaction, in order for the property to be forfeited;
  • remove the cap of 20% of the value of the property subject to forfeiture when awarding legal costs and attorney fees;
  • provide that the proceeds from civil forfeiture actions shall be placed in the Uniform School Fund, and that proceeds from criminal forfeiture actions shall continue to be placed in the Criminal Forfeiture Restricted Account for use by the State Asset Forfeiture Program;
  • modify the allocation of the proceeds from asset forfeiture to provide for: a) victim restitution; b) reimbursement of direct costs by the prosecuting agency and the law enforcement agencies involved in the case; and c) allocation of remaining proceeds to the Uniform School Fund; and
  • provide that if the defendant is acquitted of the criminal charge subsequent to the civil forfeiture proceeding, the forfeited assets shall be returned and the defendant shall be reimbursed for costs including interest on the fair market value of all forfeited property, and court costs and reasonable attorney fees incurred in defending against the civil forfeiture action.

HB22 passed the House 56-17 on February 8th, and awaits consideration by Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee.

Civil forfeiture, when used to take away property from innocent owners, is a violation of our state and national constitutional provisions directing that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law” (Utah State Constitution, Article I, Section 7; see also United States Constitution, Fifth Amendment). And “due process of law” should require that the prosecutor prove the government’s case—not that the property owner prove his innocence. HB22 brings Utah forfeiture code at least a little closer to this ideal.

Furthermore, when well-funded government attorneys abusively pursue forfeiture against innocent owners, justice would indicate that the innocent owner be reimbursed for all reasonable costs, including reasonable attorney fees that would not have had to be expended if not for the abusive forfeiture action. HB22 brings Utah forfeiture code closer to this ideal.

We continue to be concerned about the distortion and corruption of law enforcement priorities when the proceeds of forfeiture actions go to those who bring such actions. All funding of law enforcement agencies should be provided by explicit appropriation by appropriate legislative bodies. We therefore consider the movement of proceeds of civil forfeiture actions to the Uniform School Fund (as prescribed by HB22) to be an improvement over current practice. And, though we dislike any continued funneling of forfeiture proceeds directly to law enforcement budgets, we still view HB22 as an incremental improvement on this point.

GrassRoots favors a “yes” vote on HB22.

HB69, “Qualified Political Party Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Fred Cox and Senator Jenkins, would ease a burden on a “Qualified Political Party” in relation to the requirement that it allow delegates to vote remotely or provide for the appointment of alternate delegates. Under HB69, the party would only have to provide for an alternate delegate to be seated if “at least one week before the day on which the convention begins, the delegate notifies the registered political party, in writing, that the delegate will not be present at the registered political party's convention. . . .”

HB69 passed the House Government Operations Committee 9-0 on January 29th, and awaits consideration by the full House.

Wherever there is no compelling need for the state to regulate political parties, the parties’ membership should be left alone to regulate the affairs of their respective parties.

If it comes to a floor vote, GrassRoots would favor a “yes” vote on HB69 as currently drafted, as a slight improvement in the law.

There is also a proposal by Representative Fawson to substitute HB69 First Substitute (hereafter “HB69Substitute”) for the original HB69. HB69Substitute would amend the definition of a qualified political party by:

  • removing the provision that requires a qualified political party to allow unaffiliated voters to vote for the party's candidates in a primary race; and
  • providing that a qualified political party may choose whether to allow the qualified political party's candidates to be nominated by convention, signature gathering, or both.

HB69Substitute would clarify Utah elections law to more clearly leave the internal affairs of a political party, including the party’s candidate nominating processes, to the party’s own membership.

GrassRoots would favor a “yes” vote on HB69Substitute as a much needed improvement in our election law, to undo the damage done in 2014 by SB54 of that year’s General Legislative Session.

Note: Another bill that appears to make similar changes to those proposed in HB69Substitute is HB131, “Election Modifications”, sponsored by Representative Anderegg, and currently awaiting action by the House Rules Committee. We have not sufficiently digested HB131 to take a position on it at this time, but, again, we like the idea of allowing a political party’s membership to choose that party’s candidate nominating processes without unwarranted interference from the state.

SB28, “Water System Conservation Pricing”, sponsored by Senator Jenkins and Representative Lee Perry, would require a retail water provider to “establish a culinary water rate structure that: (a) incorporates increasing block units of water used; and (b) provides for an increase in the rate charged for additional block units of water used as usage increases from one block unit to the next. . . .” In other words, SB28 appears to require a progressive rate structure for culinary water usage.

SB28 passed the Senate 26-2 on January 26th, and the House 64-9 on February 10th, and awaits action by Governor Herbert.

SB28 has the appearance of specifying unequal treatment in the marketplace for those using larger amounts of culinary water—possibly including larger families.

GrassRoots opposes SB28 and would favor a veto of SB28 by Governor Herbert.

SB65, “Sales and Use Tax Reporting Requirements”, sponsored by Senator Harper, would:

  • require that “The owner of a selling platform shall, on or before the last day of each calendar quarter, file a report with the [State Tax Commission] that includes the name and physical or email address of each noncollecting seller that used the selling platform during the previous calendar quarter”; and
  • direct the State Tax Commission, after receiving this report, to “send a notice to each noncollecting seller identified in the report: (i) informing the noncollecting seller of a Utah purchaser's obligation to remit the state use tax due for the remote goods or services purchased by the Utah purchaser from the noncollecting seller; and (ii) encouraging the noncollecting seller to inform the Utah purchaser of the obligation to remit to the state the use tax due for the remote goods or services purchased by the Utah purchaser from the noncollecting seller.”

SB65 awaits consideration by Senate Revenue and Tax Committee.

Various legislators’ desire to collect sales tax on various online purchases is understandable. However, SB65 has the appearance of being an unfunded mandate on “the owner of a selling platform” that may not even be located in Utah.

GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB65.

SB107, "Hate Crimes Amendments", sponsored by Senator Urquhart, would:

  • amend the statewide uniform crime reporting system in the Bureau of Criminal Identification to specify additional criteria (including disability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation) to be reported regarding crimes that indicate evidence of prejudice; and
  • modify the definition of a hate crime to mean “any criminal offense against an individual or property regarding which the actor intentionally selects . . . the individual against whom the offense is committed [or the property damaged] in whole or in part because of the actor's belief or perception regarding an individual's ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation, or the association of that individual with another individual or group of individuals who have one or more of these characteristics, whether or not the actor's belief or perception was correct”;
  • repeal existing language in Utah Code subjecting a criminal to enhanced penalties when an act is done “with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person or with reason to believe that his action would intimidate or terrorize that person”; and
  • expand enhanced penalties for “hate crimes.”

SB107 passed the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee 5-1 on February 11th, and awaits consideration by the full Senate on the Senate 2nd reading calendar.

It is a proper role of government to punish crimes such as assault, battery, theft, and murder. Part of due process preliminary to punishing such crimes, should be the establishment of criminal intent to hurt, intimidate, and/or terrorize another person. However, any attempt to punish someone for his belief—even an incorrect belief about some ethnic or religious group or those of a given sexual orientation—is inappropriate, and brings people of different beliefs onto unequal grounds before the law.

GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB107.

Updated status on bills mentioned in earlier GrassRoots updates

HB67, “Weapons on Public Transportation”, sponsored by Representative Thurston and Senator Christensen, would eliminate the prohibition of carrying a firearm on a bus, by deleting current language in Utah Code that “A person who boards a bus with a concealed dangerous weapon or firearm upon his person or effects is guilty of a third degree felony.”

HB67 passed the House 59-12 on February 9th, and awaits consideration by the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee.

HB67 is a welcome step to undo an affront to the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB67.

SB12, “Passenger Carrier Requirements”, sponsored by Senator Mayne and Representative Paul Ray, would:

  • define "private passenger carrier"; and
  • prohibit a person from driving a motor vehicle as a private passenger carrier unless the person has a valid taxicab endorsement or a commercial driver license.

SB12 passed the House Business and Labor Committee 11-1 on February 8th, and the House 57-15 on February 10th, and now awaits action by Governor Herbert.

We still do not believe there is a compelling need for government to punish people who peacefully give other people rides without a government-issued license.

GrassRoots still opposes SB12 and would favor a veto by Governor Herbert.

If you have any questions about these bills, GrassRoots’ position on these bills, or related matters, please contact either of us or any other member of the Board of Utah GrassRoots.


Steve Stromness
Vice-Chairman, Bill Review Coordinator, Utah GrassRoots

Don Guymon
Chairman, Utah GrassRoots

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