HB 103 Amendments to Child Welfare (Rep Nora Stephens) imposes an absolute ban on private and public adoptions to “a person or persons who are cohabiting in a relationship that is not a legally valid and binding marriage under the laws of the state.” HB 103 exhibits the same problems as a similar policy adopted by the Division of Child and Family Services in January 1999 and that is at issue in our lawsuit Utah Children v. Utah Division of Child and Family Services. Like the administrative policy, this legislation is based on an irrational fear and prejudice towards same-sex and unmarried couples, and therefore violates the Equal Protection rights of children who are seeking adoptive parents, and of adults who are unnecessarily and arbitrarily prohibited from providing good adoptive homes. Click here to view the letter we sent to Governor Leavitt urging him to veto HB 103.
HB 155 Amendments to School Uniform Standards (Rep Karen Morgan) institutes some good procedural requirements for public schools wishing to adopt school uniform policies. Namely, it requires schools to hold a public hearing on such a policy, which offers those families concerned about civil liberties the chance to request that the policy allow both protected political speech and religious articles of clothing, and include provisions for students who cannot afford the uniforms. Importantly, HB 155 also requires that all school uniform policies have an opt-out clause for those parents and students who do not wish to participate in the program. HB 155 will go a long way in ensuring that school uniform policies are based on the voluntary cooperation of students and their parents, thus allowing public schools to avoid contentious battles over freedom of expression and parental rights.
HB 343 Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman (Rep Evan Olsen) has drawn nationwide attention by creating the country’s first Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman. Working under the direction of the Attorney General, Utah’s new “pornography czar” will advise county and city governments and citizens about ways to “restrict, suppress, or eliminate obscenity and pornography in their communities,” and will create a comprehensive state moral nuisance law for the legislature’s review. Our fear is that the creation of such a position will cause an increase in costly litigation like the recent lawsuit against the American Fork and Lehi Movie Buffs video rental stores, in which the manager was charged with distributing pornographic films. While ultimately the lawsuit was unsuccessful and the manager was acquitted of all charges, the case threatened both privacy and First Amendment rights and drove the stores out of business (see Roe v. Utah County).
HB 395 Private Prison Amendments (Rep Brad King) expands the definitions of community correctional centers and correctional facilities to include not only those facilities that are directly operated by the Department of Corrections, but also those that are under contract with the department. HB 395, therefore, takes the first step in codifying the fact that private correctional facilities must abide by the same state and administrative polices as those directly operated by the state, and that private correctional companies are accountable to the public in the same ways as the state department.
SB 21 Patriotic Education (Sen Leonard Blackham) requires that the pledge of allegiance be recited at the beginning of each day in all elementary schools, and encourages its recitation once a week in secondary schools. While it provides that students be advised of their right not to participate, we are troubled that they can be excused from reciting the pledge only “upon written request from the student’s parent or legal guardian,” and that the bill does not account for a teacher’s right not to participate in the mandatory pledge ceremony. Our concern is backed by a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which recognized that everyone, including students, has a First Amendment right to sit silently during the pledge of allegiance. This and subsequent court decisions make it clear that it is not for a parent or guardian to grant a student permission to decline to participate in the pledge, but rather, that each student has the right to make that important decision based on his or her conscience. It is ironic that in an effort to instill patriotism in Utah students, the legislature has enacted a law that is counter to their constitutional rights. Click here to read the letter we sent to Governor Leavitt urging him to veto this legislation.
SB 38 Notary Public Qualifications (Sen Gene Davis) repeals the requirement that notaries public be registered voters and allows the Division of Corporations and Commercial Code to commission as notaries individuals who have permanent resident status, thus doing away with the unnecessary distinction between residents and U.S. citizens.
SB 75 Identity Fraud (Sen Gene Davis) provides for important privacy protections by creating penalties for identity fraud, which the bill defines as occurring when a person “knowingly or intentionally: (a) obtains personal identifying information of another person without the authorization of that person; and (b) uses, or attempts to use, that information with fraudulent intent, including to obtain, or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services, any other thing of value, or medical information in the name of another person without the consent of that person.” In a time of increasing privacy concerns, SB 75 takes a step towards ensuring that our medical and financial records remain protected and private.
SB 174 Use of Driver License Information (Sen Karen Hale) changes the current law regarding the classification of motor vehicle records by declaring that this is protected information unless the vehicle owner submits a written request that it be public. Before the passage of SB 174, records were public unless an owner specifically requested that their information be protected. The legislation therefore, shifts the responsibility from the vehicle owner to the state, and many privacy experts advocate for just this sort of “opt-in” as opposed to “opt-out” policy when it comes to publicizing or selling personally identifying information.
SB 270 Sex Offender Registry (Sen Michael Waddoups) addresses some of the issues at stake in our lawsuit Femedeer v. Department of Corrections by instituting some good procedural requirements for the Department of Corrections if it chooses to post sex-offender registry information on the Internet. Specifically, SB 270 requires that before being allowed to gain access to registry information, website users must agree to a disclaimer that states in part that they “are not allowed to publicize the information or use it to harass or threaten sex offenders or members of their families,” and that “harassment, stalking, or threats against sex offenders or their families are prohibited.” In addition, the department must redact information that could identify a victim.
HB 46 Disease Testing Amendments (Rep Brent Goodfellow) would have granted an emergency medical services provider who “has a significant exposure in the process of caring for a patient” the right to “require that the individual’s blood be drawn immediately,” and to “petition the district court for an order that the blood be tested” for HIV and Hepatitis. What was troubling about HB 46 was that it did not include any provisions for the destruction of the blood sample if the court refused the service provider’s petition, and it therefore threatened the patient’s due process and privacy rights. Click here to read our letter urging senators to veto HB 46.
HB 106 Traffic Stops Statistics (Rep Duane Bourdeaux) offered a pragmatic and effective response to the increasing allegations of racial bias in law enforcement practices by requiring Utah law enforcement agencies to collect and report race data for all traffic stops. While HB 106 did not pass, we are encouraged by that fact that both the Salt Lake City and St. George police departments have since decided to voluntarily collect race data specifically because they view this as an effective way to address community concerns about racial profiling. Click here to read our letter supporting the orginial version of HB 106.
HB 201 Population Standards for Redistricting (Rep Matt Throckmorton) would have prohibited the state from using the most accurate census data for redistricting federal, state, and local legislative districts by requiring that these boundaries be based solely on enumerated census data (information from the actual census forms returned to the Bureau). HB 201 expressly prohibited the use of data resulting from the Bureau’s use of scientific statistical sampling, which corrects the inevitable undercounting that occurs and brings a community closer to the constitution’s goals of one person/one vote and equal political representation.
HB 237 Abortion by Gynecologist (Rep Matt Throckmorton) would have limited a woman’s right to a safe abortion by establishing the unnecessary requirement that all abortion providers be licensed gynecologists.
SB 243 Minor’s Access to Harmful Material on the Internet (Sen Scott Howell) attempted to regulate the intentional distribution to children of material harmful to minors via the Internet. This bill was very similar to a New Mexico statute regulating the “dissemination of material that is harmful to a minor by computer,” and that was successfully challenged by the ACLU. In a unanimous decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that that law violated both the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause of the constitution. Like the New Mexico law, SB 243 had the potential to criminalize expression that is constitutionally protected for adults who do not have a realistic means of limiting the audience only to other adults. In addition, the legislation purported to regulate expression that occurs outside of the state, and it therefore could have caused an unreasonable and undue burden on interstate commerce. Click here to read our letter urging the Senate Human Services Standing Committee to vote against SB 243.