That’s a wrap, folks! The clock officially struck midnight on March 9th, bringing an end to the 45 days that we in Utah call a legislative session. While there were some highs and some lows, looking back we feel pretty good about the way it all went down.
Read on for the ACLU of Utah’s 10 greatest hits of the 2017 Legislative Session:
1) Reforms to the juvenile justice system!
We worked with our community partners to lobby for the passage of HB 239 Juvenile Justice Amendments, legislation based on recommendations from the state’s Juvenile Justice Working Group. The legislation passed and is headed to the governor’s desk. It was stripped of several meaningful provisions that we really liked – due to pressure from the schools, courts and prosecutors – but the policies left are still a step in the right direction.
2) Reforms to Utah’s civil asset forfeiture laws!
A compromise civil asset forfeiture reform bill, SB 87 Civil Asset Forfeiture Revisions, passed the Utah Legislature at the eleventh hour (literally! 11:58 p.m. on the last night of the session). While the measure is much more moderate than we would have preferred, the new law is substantially better than the status quo, and offers more protections for community members whose property is seized by law enforcement. Also, we worked with partners to pass SB 70 Asset Forfeiture Transparency Amendments, to expand reporting by law enforcement on civil asset forfeiture in our state.
3) Enhanced tools & protections for ensuring police accountability!
We helped pass a bill that had originally only sought to clarify that third parties could be arrested for interfering with an arrest (not just the person being arrested), but into which we inserted language that clearly states filming a police officer engaged in his/her duties does not constitute interference or resistance (SB 239 Interfering with a Peace Officer). We also helped to kill a bill that would keep the name of an officer involved in a “critical incident” hidden from the public for up to six months (HB 306 Public Safety Officer Privacy Amendments), and we worked to vastly improve a bill that addressed the nature of police body camera footage as a public record under GRAMA (HB 381 Law Enforcement Body Camera Footage).
4) No expansion of the death penalty!
We helped defeat a misguided and harmful bill, HB 176 Human Trafficking Amendments, that would have expanded Utah’s already very long list of “aggravated murder” crimes for which a person can be given the death penalty.
5) More support for people re-entering society with a criminal history
We helped to pass a cluster of very positive “re-entry support” bills during the 2017 session. We worked with Rep. Brian King to pass HB 178 Good Landlord Amendments, that will prevent cities from forcing landlords to deny housing to otherwise qualified tenants who have a criminal record. We also worked to pass HB 156 State Job Application Process, a “Ban the Box” bill sponsored by Rep. Sandra Hollins, which will remove barriers to employment for people with criminal convictions, and we supported SB 12 Expungement Amendments, a bill to increase eligibility for expungements of criminal records.
6) No expansion of “Drug Free Zones”!
We worked closely with the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Sentencing Committee to kill two bills that would have expanded “Drug Free Zone” criminal penalty enhancements. One bill, HB 365 Homeless Resource Center Zone Amendments, sought to elevate drug crimes near a homeless shelter to a first degree felony, which in Utah carries a sentence of five years to life. We created significant social pressure for the sponsor to pull this bill, and he eventually agreed to do so.
7) Disaster averted on anti-reproductive freedom bills!
We had several wins in the area of reproductive freedom this session. Two very bad bills were significantly “neutered” by the ACLU & Planned Parenthood with support from new grassroots mobilization groups. A Telehealth bill, HB 154 Telehealth Amendments, was stripped of its anti-choice language, a “medical abortion reversal” bill, HB 141 Unborn Child Protection Amendments, was altered so doctors won’t be forced to give misinformation to women, and a pro-reproductive rights bill, HB 384 Abortion Clinic Licensing Amendments, from Rep. Brian King got a favorable vote in one committee hearing, but ran out of time for passage.
8) RIP “no promo homo!”
In a nice surprise, we supported successful legislation, SB 196 Health Education Amendments, to change Utah’s so-called “no promo homo” statute, which had prohibited teachers from “advocating homosexuality” in the teaching of sex ed. The ACLU testified about the chilling effect on teachers’ ability to openly share medically accurate information and respond to LGBTQ students’ well-intentioned questions.
9) Retained “diversity” as criteria in judicial appointments!
We worked with a variety of groups, both grassroots and governmental, to successfully oppose HB 93 Judicial Nominating Process Amendments, which would have removed the ability of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to consider diversity amongst other factors when putting forth judicial nominees.
10) No new attacks on immigrants and refugees – and stated support for their civil liberties!
Despite the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the federal government since President Trump’s inauguration, the Utah legislature remained resolute in avoiding legislation that would harm or target immigrants or undocumented individuals living in Utah. We’re happy to report that there were no attempts to roll back pro-immigrant measures, such as in-state tuition for undocumented students or driving privilege cards. Not only was there an absence of bad legislation, but the legislature actually passed a resolution calling for the recognition of civil liberties and rights of all, regardless of citizenship!