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Top 10 POSITIVE CIVIL LIBERTIES EFFORTS to Follow During the 2017 Utah Legislative Session

09 January 2017 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

Every year, the ACLU of Utah actively follows dozens and dozens of bills during the Utah Legislative Session.statecapitol 1

With some of these bills, we have to play defense…fighting hard to defeat legislative proposals that threaten to restrict your civil liberties. But with others, we get to work proactively to protect and expand civil liberties!

It can take years to nurture these proactive efforts all the way to full fruition: inclusion in Utah state law, for the future protection and expansion of our civil liberties. But while these efforts are far from easy, they are amazingly rewarding…and a major reason the ACLU of Utah is up at the Capitol from the end of January to the middle of March, working for you!

In that spirit, here’s a list of ten PROACTIVE LEGISLATIVE EFFORTS that the ACLU of Utah will be supporting in 2017. Of course, a lot can happen over the course of the crazy 45-day session – some proposals get dropped, some unanticipated ones spring up! At the moment, however, we are looking forward to supporting these positive proposals along with our many supportive community partner organizations. 

(And remember, if you want to learn how YOU can be engaged in supporting these efforts alongside us, be sure to attend our Community Lobbying Training on Wednesday, Feb. 1, at the Salt Lake City Main Library).

1. Abolish the Death Penalty

The ACLU of Utah and its many partners – on both the left and the right sides of the political spectrum – will be supporting legislation to abolish the death penalty in our state. Last year, we came within one vote of passing abolition legislation before running out of time in Utah’s quick-paced 45-day session. This year, we are going for it again.

2. Expand Women’s Equality in the Workplace

Across the nation, Utah boasts one of the highest percentages of working moms - while ranking among the worst in how those superwomen are treated. Last year, we worked with the Utah Women’s Coalition to successfully pass legislation protecting women’s rights to receive reasonable accommodations in the workplace for working women who are nursing or pregnant. This year, we are looking to expand access to Family and Medical Leave for working families, as well as secure paid parental leave for state employees.

3. Removing Barriers to Abortion Access

During 2016, reproductive freedom fighters saw some important victories, including the Supreme Court decision in Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstedt. This decision struck down two TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) laws from Texas, ruling that the provisions put an unnecessary burden on access to abortion. In response to this positive decision, the ACLU of Utah will push to rollback two local TRAP provisions: a requirement that abortion providers have very narrow admitting privileges, and the state law that forces women to endure a 72-hour “waiting period” between their initial consultation and eventual medical procedure. We will also support efforts to expand funding for family planning services for low-income Utahns through Medicaid.

 4. Protect Private Property from Government Seizure

Did you know that the government can keep and seize your private property, under our current state “civil asset forfeiture” laws, without ever proving that you used that property in a crime? Asset forfeiture laws were meant to give our police a tool to fight large-scale criminal enterprises. But in Utah, most property seizures never result in a criminal conviction…or even criminal charges! Still, the government keeps the property anyway in most cases. Last year, we worked hard with our fellow Fourth Amendment advocates to close these loopholes, and came close before falling a couple of votes short of passage. We’ve made improvements to the legislation, worked hard to listen to law enforcement, and will be pushing for reform again in 2017.

5. Expand Election Day Registration to ALL Counties in Utah

It was a seven-year labor of love to get a pilot program for Election Day Registration passed in Utah in 2014, and the program has been a great success. Around 80% of all voters in Utah now have access to Election Day Registration, which allows voters to register to vote and cast their ballot on Election Day. The pilot program sunset at the end of 2016, though, so we will be working closely with Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck to make sure this Election Day voting opportunity is extended to the rest of the state…permanently!

6. Reform Utah’s Juvenile Justice System

This year, the ACLU of Utah will be supporting a serious state effort to make long-needed reforms to Utah’s juvenile justice system. Data collected and analyzed by a specially-convened Juvenile Justice Working Group has revealed that Utah’s juvenile arrest rate is driven largely by low-level, non-violent offenses – and that young people are being locked up in our state for simple “status” offenses like running away, getting caught with alcohol or missing school. Even more tragically, some young people are placed in state custody simply because they are unable to pay off court fines or court-ordered restitution. The Juvenile Justice Working Group made several strong recommendations for system improvements, which will be bundled into a single robust piece of legislation.  The ACLU of Utah, along with multiple community stakeholders such as Voices for Utah Children, the YWCA Utah, NAACP of Ogden, Racially Just Utah, will advocate for passage of these reforms.

7. Make Comprehensive Sex Ed Available to Utah School Children

Access to comprehensive, factual sexual health information – including information about contraception – is an important aspect of full reproductive freedom. This year, Representative Brian King will sponsor legislation to help ensure that young people in Utah are able to realize this right through public school health classes, and we plan to support his effort.

8. Make Community Re-Entry More Accessible for People With Criminal Records

Continuing the momentum of the last couple of years of bipartisan criminal justice reform, the legislature will consider a suite of bills that aim to make it easier for people to become fully-participating, constructive members of our communities after paying their debts to society. We expect to see legislation in 2017 to reduce housing discrimination against people with criminal histories, lower barriers to state employment for people with past criminal convictions, and ease the process of expunging criminal records.

9. Expand Access to End-of-Life Options

The ACLU of Utah has long supported the rights of individuals to make responsible, informed decisions about when and how to end their lives. In recent years, we have lent our support to efforts by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck to allow terminally ill patients to obtain assistance, from willing physicians, in selecting the time and manner of their death. We intend to support this multi-year effort again in 2017.

10. Allow Seriously Ill Utahns to Use Medical Marijuana

We believe that nobody should be locked up for using marijuana – especially not those individuals who are using marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of very serious chronic illnesses. That is why we have supported efforts by the Utah Drug Policy Project, TRUCE and the Libertas Institute to bring access to medical marijuana to Utah. After a thoughtful regulatory proposal for medical marijuana access was rejected by the Legislature last year, activists have continued to push for different ways to ensure that very sick people are not criminally prosecuted for treating their symptoms with medical marijuana.

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