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Criminal Justice on the Hill (part two)

28 January 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

2015-Criminal-Justice-ReformAs promised, for those of you who can't get enough of the legislative process, here are a few more big criminal justice issues to keep an eye on up here at the Capitol until March 12.

This update was prepared by Anna Brower, Public Policy Advocate.

For a review of the bills I shared previously, you can check out Criminal Justice at the Capitol (part one)

As a disclaimer, I should remind you that this is by NO MEANS an exhaustive list. There are many conversations occurring up here about different aspects of our system - and plenty of bills that seek to add more laws and rules and penalties to the state code with each passing day. These are just some of the bills that I and others are following, as they have a potentially significant impact on key parts of our criminal justice system in Utah. There is a lot of other good work - and some not so great work... - being done by Utah lawmakers and public administrators.

Today's issues will include some really controversial ones - the ACLU of Utah doesn't necessarily have a position on all of them, but they all definitely impact some part of the criminal justice pipeline. Some may cause more smoke than fire, while other really critical issues will go unaddressed.

Everyone's favorite issue, the prison relocation, has already made headlines (as usual)! KSL has a nice write-up of key legislative priorities including discussion of the prison relocation, but which ALSO mentions criminal justice reform. But much more interesting was this D-News article by Lisa Riley Roche which features some lawmakers talking about the possibility that NO potential site will be chosen during the 2015 session. The battle rages on...we'll see what, if anything, actually moves in this short 45-day window! It won't be the PRISON that moves in the next 45 days, but we might see legislation reauthorizing the Prison Relocation Commission, if nothing else.

Rep. Gage Froerer's "Good Landlord Program Amendments" bill file still has no public language in it, and no bill number to go along with it. Word on the street is that the bill WON'T include new language that will prevent cities from REQUIRING all landlords participating in such programs to deny housing to people based on their criminal records. Rather, there may be a small "tweak" to the statute, saying the cities can't force landlords to turn down potential tenants based on criminal convictions that are older than THREE years, rather than the FOUR years currently in state law. This change is not good enough. People who are on probation and parole need housing options that are near their families, support networks and potential employment. You can get up to speed on why so-called "Good Landlord Programs" aren't so good for criminal justice reform with this quick blog overview, or this in-depth City Weekly article from last November.

HB 0011, "Death Penalty Procedure Amendments," sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, is likely to cause lots of waves - and not just in Utah, either. This bill would allow for the death penalty in Utah to be carried out by firing squad, if in fact lethal injection drugs are not available at the time of Utah's next scheduled execution. When Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad back in 2010, the spectacle grabbed national and international headlines. Utahns are already lining up to show their lack of approval for Rep. Ray's bill, and national attention is likely to follow as the bill moves through the legislative process. HB0011 is currently in the House Rules Committee; if it does not get sent to a standing committee for a discussion, the bill might die quietly without a lot of negative national and international attention.

Sen. Howard Stephenson's "Task Force on the Use of Force by Law Enforcement" bill is not yet numbered and no language is publicly available. This bill will purportedly take a stab at establishing some state-level task force to examine the the issue of officer-involved shootings, which have been on a sharp rise around Utah in the past year. The legislature has already voiced its approval for such a task force (as reported in this recent news piece from Channel 4; this legislation will presumably create the language that will authorize the task force to start working on the problem. The jury is still out (pun intended) as to the actual impact this move will have on Utah's spate of officer-involved shootings.

The calendar is slowly developing for the session, and most CJ-related bills do not have a clear path ahead of them at this point. However, in the coming weeks, we will begin to see more of these bills introduced into legislative committees, where public input will be possible. Participating in the legislative process is much easier than most of us think, once you get the hang out it, and - believe it or not - your voice DOES matter.

I highly recommend that you check out this article in the City Weekly, all about how community members can get engaged in the legislative process. There are lots of great "Citizen Lobbyist" trainings going on - most of which are open and friendly to NON-citizens, might I add! - that can give a great overview of how the process works, as well as discussing some of the big issues at this year's Legislature. Of course, I will proudly plug the ACLU of Utah's Lobby Training - co-presented with multiple great community partners - next Monday, February 2. Check out all the details here!

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