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LegisBlog #4: ACLU Priorities at the Capitol (Part #1)

15 February 2018 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

This week Marina Lowe, the ACLU of Utah’s chief lobbyist at the Utah Capitol, provided a rapid-fire update on five legislative priorities for the ACLU of Utah. Ready to learn more?

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Here is part #1 of what Marina told us:

Death Penalty Repeal

After coming very close to repealing the death penalty in 2016, a new bill is attempting to move this issue across the finish line to make Utah the 19th state to abolish capital punishment. HB379, “Death Penalty Amendments” is sponsored by Rep, Gage Froerer (R-Huntsville).

This new effort to repeal the death penalty is led by groups like Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty and is focused on the exorbitant cost of death penalty convictions and appeals.

Marina explained that many lawmakers and organizations in Utah are concerned about the financial burden the death penalty puts on counties, especially the rural counties that often lack the funds to pursue capital cases. 

It also comes after the recent publication of a study by Utah’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, this report detailed how the state and counties have spent “almost $40 million to prosecute the 165 death-penalty eligible cases that have been filed in the last two decades. Only two cases in that time have resulted in a death sentence.”

In addition, the Deseret News reported how a 2012 evaluation by the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimated that from trial to execution, “a death penalty case in Utah costs nearly $1.7 million more than a case ending instead in life in prison without parole, the commission's study notes.”

Employment Discrimination

Currently Utah’s employment discrimination statute currently mirrors the federal statute, and only provides legal recourse for discrimination when an employer has 15 employees or more. HB 283, the Workplace Protection Amendments bill sponsored by Becky Edwards (R-North Salt Lake), would lower the threshold to one employee. This new legislation tracks with the modern sentiment that discrimination in any workplace is unacceptable, especially in the current time period when discrimination is facing increased scrutiny. 

At first, however, the bill was saddled with fiscal note (the estimate of how much enacting the bill would cost the state) of $1.9 million—which is 20% more than the entire annual budget of the state agency charged with investigating workplace discrimination. But the sponsor to lower the fiscal note to the more realistic total of $141,000—vastly improving the chances that the bill will pass.

This week HB283 was assigned for a first hearing at the House Business and Labor Committee. Once we learn the hearing date, we will need to mobilize ACLU of Utah activists to support this bill.

Note: For more information about HB283, check out our ACLU on the Hill video from last week.

In part #2 of this legislative update, we’ll discuss several more bills including HB196 (Breastfeeding Protection Act); HB205 (Down Syndrome Nondiscrimination Abortion Act); and HB83 (Forcible Entry and Warrants Amendments)