The 2016 legislative session kicked off yesterday with much ceremony and anticipation, with several controversial issues – medical cannabis, defunding Planned Parenthood and equality in the workplace for Utah’s working moms – receiving attention well in advance of the opening day ceremonies.
The ACLU of Utah always has plenty of issues – all over the civil liberties map – to keep tabs on when the legislature is in session. Sometimes we’re working proactively to advance positive legislation that will protect and expand your rights (like last year’s bill to limit law enforcement’s warrantless use of the state prescription drug database)!
Sometimes we are working desperately to stop negative legislation that could seriously constrain your rights or keep certain people from being treated equally under the law (like that misleadingly named “Religious Liberties Amendments” bill).
With all the different issues at play during our surprisingly (thankfully?) short 45-day legislative session, we know that even the most ardent civil libertarians and ACLU supporters sometimes struggle to keep up. So this week we’ll be posting a few installments of “Watch to Watch in 2016!” so you know what we’re gearing up for as the session gets rolling.
WORKING MOMS & EQUAL RIGHTS
Yes, this is indeed the year 2016. And yes, the ACLU of Utah is still working hard to protect and expand the rights of women to be treated fairly in the workplace. Utah’s rate of working mothers is above the national average, but we rank near the bottom of states for equal pay.
As part of the Utah Women’s Coalition, the ACLU will be pushing several proactive bills to build on the success of last year’s legislation to protect breastfeeding mothers on the job. Keep an eye out for bills that require 1) all employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, 2) that breastfeeding women be added to the state’s public accommodations law (so they can’t be discriminated against for breastfeeding in public) and 3) state agencies to provide paid family leave for the parents of newborn children.
POLICE BODY CAMS
The struggle continues: how to craft a model policy for use of body-mounted cameras by law enforcement agencies throughout Utah? The ACLU of Utah believes that with the right policies in place, police use of body cams can indeed be a benefit to the community, protecting the rights of community members to be free from abuse of power by law enforcement. However, enacting legislation that makes clear such a policy has been a long and complicated process.
Rep. Dan McCay will once again sponsor a thoughtful piece of legislation aimed at establishing policy guidelines for law enforcement agencies who opt to utilize body cameras, seeking to balance the broad need for government transparency with concrete rules about when officers must turn on their cameras, and how footage will be stored and made available to the media (here's Rep. McCay's proposed legislation from 2015).
The ACLU of Utah has participated in the development of this legislation for nearly two years. The language for the bill has not been finalized yet, but we’ll let you know.
There is another body-camera-related bill being discussed, which would only require law enforcement agencies to have some sort of policy for body camera use, but would allow law enforcement to control the development of any policy, with no guidelines or standards from the state.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: ROUND TWO OF SENTENCING IMPROVEMENTS!
Last year we were pleased to be involved with the successful passage of HB348, a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that included moderate sentencing reforms, funding for reentry support, new guidelines for community supervision by the Department of Corrections, and more.
That landmark legislation, sponsored by Rep. Eric Hutchings, only went into effect last October, but lawmakers are already ready to take the next step! Senator Daniel Thatcher will sponsor an important complement to HB348, a bill which will change several traffic-related and other minor offenses – such as removing a government survey monument, prohibited sales at a swap meet, and tire width violations – from Class C Misdemeanors to “infractions.”
A Class C Misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or up to a $750 fine. These minor infractions, when reclassified, will retain their fines and fees, but the threat of jail time will be removed (helping to alleviate, to a small degree, our current statewide Sixth Amendment crisis).
Another important piece of sentencing reform will be sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, of St George. Rep. Snow is expected to propose legislation to end the practice of sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole – definitely in the spirit of criminal justice reform and redemption!