It’s Fall, so right about the time when the ACLU of Utah looks into our crystal ball to predict the focus of the upcoming legislative session. While we can’t know for sure the direction our state legislature will head, we know that the ACLU of Utah will be busy in 2017 to promote legislation that will uphold YOUR constitutional rights. As with past years, criminal justice efforts are likely to dominate our legislative agenda. We also intend to work on measures to improve women’s rights and to expand voting opportunities.
The ACLU of Utah, along with various partner organizations, is committed to reforming the practice of civil asset forfeiture in our state. Civil asset forfeiture is the practice whereby police are given the authority to seize property believed to be used in connection with criminal activity, regardless of whether any criminal charges are ever filed. For several years now, we have worked to advance a legislative proposal to limit the ability of law enforcement to seize assets. We expect significant opposition to our bill, from both law enforcement and prosecutors, but intend to advocate vigorously for reform nonetheless. (See page 1 for more information and to learn how to take action to support asset forfeiture reform.)
The Utah State Legislature came very close to repealing the death penalty during the 2016 session. In 2017, we will build upon our efforts; we will continue to push for repeal, while also defending against any proposals to expand the circumstances in which the death penalty may be imposed. The ACLU of Utah is also currently involved with a group of government and other stakeholders tasked with assessing the costs associated with the death penalty in our state.
We continue to believe that state legislation is needed to improve so-called “Good Landlord Programs,” or city-level programs that offer financial incentives for landlords and property owners to participate in trainings and comply with various requirements. The most problematic of these is the prohibition on renting to individuals with a criminal record within the last four years, and the requirement to evict any individual (as well as family members) if they are arrested by the police. For people transitioning out of the criminal justice system, this provision can result in the inability to find stable housing while trying to restart their lives in a productive fashion. During the 2015 legislative session, we teamed up with Rep. Brian King to introduce a bill that would end this practice. We agreed to give several jurisdictions time to develop alternative programs, and so did not seek legislative change in 2016. It is very likely, however, that legislation will prove necessary to ensure that people, especially those who most need a stable living environment, can find housing.
Other criminal justice issues we will work on in 2017 include: a bill to require annual reporting on school resource officer interactions with students, efforts to decriminalize medical marijuana for patients, a bill to reform aspects of the Utah juvenile justice system, and proposals to increase funding for indigent defense.
Working with the Utah Women’s Coalition, in 2015 and 2016 we successfully passed legislation to improve the lives of working women in our state, focusing on protecting the rights of pregnant and nursing women in the workplace. In 2017, we will continue to seek ways to level the playing field for women in the workplace.
We will advocate for state legislation to expand upon the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which currently requires Utah employers who employ 50 or more employees to provide job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Our bill will lower the employee threshold, so that employees at smaller businesses may also take advantage of time off in the event of pregnancy or other medical conditions, or to care for family members.
For the past two years, the ACLU of Utah has supported legislative proposals that provide for paid time off for certain employees after the birth or adoption of a child. They say the third time’s the charm, and we’re certainly hoping that this will be the case for our paid parental leave bill. This legislation will provide for 6 weeks of paid leave for executive agency employees in the state of Utah. While this is a narrow category of employees, we’re hoping that this bill will pave the way for longer and broader paid leave opportunities, so that Utah women aren’t forced to choose between a career and having a family.
In 2014, after many years of advocacy, the ACLU of Utah worked with Rep. Chavez-Houck to pass an Election Day Registration bill. Election day registration allows a voter to both register to vote AND cast a ballot on election day. The 2014 legislation created a 3 year, opt in pilot program, which is due to expire at the end of 2016. This year, we intend to work again with Rep. Chavez-Houck to make the pilot program both statewide and permanent.
As always, the ACLU of Utah stands ready to work on legislation impacting the LGBT community, reproductive rights, and the right to privacy. Keep up to date with our legislative efforts at www.acluutah.org/legislation.