Thursday, March 14, 2013

2013 Legislative Session - Week Six Update

With time quickly running out at the State Legislature, there was a lot going on, at the Capitol last week. In the House, H.B. 91 Election Day Voter Registration, passed 53 to 14. The vote took place late Friday afternoon, and the circumstances were all the more interesting because the bill had been sponsored by members of both parties, before it was finally pushed through by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D). We are excited that H.B. 91 is progressing through the Legislature with strong support, as it would make voting rights more accessible to citizens. Other states with same day voter registration have typically recorded a five to seven precent increase in voter turnout after passing similar laws. Additionally, Utah already allows people to cast provisional ballots, that can be verified after Election Day. H.B. 91 would simply allow the state to count votes cast by individuals who registered on Election Day. With a system of verification already in place, counting the votes cast is a matter of common sense at this point. 

Also in the House, H.B. 387 Vital Statistics Act Amendments, passes with 65 yea votes and no votes in opposition. H.B. 387 amends the definition of "dead fetus" by lowering the threshold to only 16 weeks of gestation. This is down from the typical 20 week threshold used by the CDC. Of course, such a bill could have important consequences for women seeking abortions. Fortunately, lawmakers were very receptive to these concerns, and the bill was amended to exclude abortions. Instead, the stated purpose of the bill is to allow death certificates to be issued for miscarriages, to give families a sense of closure. We are very happy that lawmakers stuck to their stated intentions, and limited the bill accordingly.

In the Senate, lawmakers made history by passing S.B. 262 Housing and Employment Antidiscrimination Amendments, out of committee. S.B. 262 protects individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a big step towards protecting the rights of the LGBT community, and is a big step forward for Utah on this issue. While a growing number of local governments and businesses have already recognized that such discrimination is a problem, we do not currently have a state wide law addressing the problem. We are very excited that the vote in committee was bipartisan, and are hopeful that we can continue to make progress on this issue, as more people start to embrace the task of ensuring equal protection under the law for all groups. 

As the final four days of the legislative session unfold, we will be fully engaged as law makers make the final push to the end. Check in next week for a recap of the final week, and the session as a whole.

Monday, March 4, 2013

2013 Legislative Session Week Five Update

With the legislative session winding down, things are picking up on the Capitol Hill. This change of pace was tangible last week, as bills started to move through the process much more quickly.
In the Senate, S.B. 196, License Plate Reader Amendments, passed out of committee and will be heard on the floor. S.B. 196 is important because it limits the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPR) by private groups, and sets up guidelines for use by law enforcement. The bill was given a favorable recommendation after a diverse collection of groups testified in support of the bill. The broad and diverse collection of groups supporting the measure is a testament to just how important the bill is. While ALPR systems are a legitimate tool that can aid law enforcement efforts, they can also be a serious threat to privacy if left unregulated. Because the system has the ability to scan hundreds if not thousands of license plates per minute, and automatically submit that information to a database, ALPR systems allow law enforcement to track a vehicle’s location over time. The consequences of this are serious, as law abiding citizens should be able to move about freely, without being tracked by the government. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that ALPR systems can reveal very private information such as visits to a doctor’s office, participation at political events, and even one's religious affiliation. Unfortunately, these concerns are not merely hypothetical. In the most famous case of abuse, the NYPD and U.S. intelligence agencies were caught using ALPR systems to track the movements of individuals attending mosques in New York City. Making matters worse, 60% of law enforcement agencies surveyed reported that they keep ALPR data indefinitely. In such cases, citizens’ locations are being tracked and recorded with virtually no oversight. Thus, S.B. 196 is critical to protecting Utahns’ right to privacy, and ensuring oversight for law enforcement. We will continue to support S.B. 196 as it moves through the process, and will keep you informed as things unfold.

Unfortunately, not everything moving through the legislature is having a positive impact, and H.B. 44, Election Polling, is one such example. H.B. 44 imposes regulations on organizations that conduct polls in an effort to fight “push polls” . Unfortunately, the bill is written in a way that allows push polling to continue through various loopholes, while organizations with legitimate purposes are potentially harmed. The ACLU has concerns with the burden on speech that this the bill will create if signed. H.B. 44 has now passed both chambers and is awaiting Governor Herbert's signature. We will encourage a veto of the bill.

Finally, in the Senate S.B. 225, Immigration Trigger Dates, passed out of committee. The bill would push back the date that the Utah Immigration Accountability and Enforcement Act takes effect. The ACLU of Utah supports the move to push back the start date, as it gives the state more time to look at underlying problems with the law. While we maintain that the underlying Guest Worker program is unconstitutional, it seems that moving the date of implementation is a concession by the legislature of our position.
We will continue to work on these, and other issues over the coming week. Check in again next week for a summary of what will surely be an eventful week.
Check out all of the bills we are actively engaged on or tracking during the 2013 Utah General Legislative Session >>

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

ACTION ALERT! Protect Privacy And Good Law Enforcement Practices - Support S.B. 196 - Email committee members now

The ACLU of Utah supports SB 196, “License Plate Reader Amendments” because it will protect the privacy rights of Utahns whose movements should not be tracked by law enforcement without cause.
  • SB 196 would limit the use of Automatic License Plate Reader (“ALPR”) technology to law enforcement and would require that data collected be kept for no more than 6 months. Access to collected data would require a court-issued warrant.
  • Currently, ALPRs are used to collect and store information, not just on people suspected of crimes, but on every single motorist, and are increasingly becoming a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance.
  • ALPR is a legitimate tool when used for narrowly tailored law enforcement purposes, such as identifying vehicles that are stolen, involved in a crime, or associated with fugitives. These are reasonable uses of technology because they are focused on people suspected of wrongdoing. But law enforcement agencies are routinely collecting and storing license plate reader-harvested location information on all of us, sometimes indefinitely.
  • The tracking of people’s movements is a significant invasion of privacy that can reveal many things about our lives, such as what friends, doctors, protests, political events, or churches we visit.
  • A core principle in our society is that the government does not invade people’s privacy and collect information about citizens’ innocent activities just in case they do something wrong; we are innocent until proven guilty in the United States, not the other way around.
SB 196 is being heard in the Senate Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Committee today; contact your Senator to encourage him or her to support this needed legislation!
Senator Kevin Van Tassell
Senator Margaret Dayton
Senator Wayne Harper
Senator Karen Mayne
Senator J. Stuart Adams

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2013 Utah General Legislative Session - ACLU of Utah Bill Tracking

The decisions made by state lawmakers have a lasting impact on our communities. During the legislative session the ACLU of Utah maintains an active presence at the State Capitol tracking and advocating for, or against, bills that raise civil liberties issues to ensure that legislation strengthen, rather than compromise, our constitutional rights.

2013 Legislative Session - Week Four Update

As promised we have more information on H.B. 43, Campaign Finance Reporting by Corporations, in the House. Last week H.B. 43 passed out of committee. As we previously discussed, H.B. 43 has very serious implications as it would lead to less transparency in the political process, while jeopardizing the privacy of individual citizens. As of Monday afternoon of this week, H.B. 43 passed out of the House, in spite of some very pertinent concerns raised during debate. Some of the key concerns raised during the floor debate included; the fact that the bill would chill First Amendment speech for smaller organizations, without sophisticated legal teams, the inevitable formation of countless new "shell corporations" that complicate and obscure the political process, and finally the idea that people exercising their most basic rights will now be subject to retaliation and intimidation. As we have previously reported, we are extremely concerned about the damage this bill could do to our political process in Utah, because of all of these unintended consequences and more. As the bill moves forward, we will be fully engaged with senators to avert the kind of damage that would come with passage of H.B. 43. (Read the ACLU of Utah's talking points on H.B. 43)

Also in the House, H.B. 127, Motor Vehicle Event Data Recorders,  regarding event data recorders in motor vehicles was passed out of committee. We are particularly interested in the bill because of the potential privacy implications "black box" data recorders can have. H.B. 127 establishes that the owner of the vehicle is the legal owner of the black box and information contained in it. The bill also places restrictions on how and when data can be retrieved in the event of an accident. As with all privacy and due process issues, the details surrounding this bill are complex and we are keeping a close eye it to ensure that your rights are not inadvertently jeopardized.

Finally, in the Senate, S.B. 77, Availability of Government Information, is being considered. The bill is being sponsored by Senator Henderson and would amend guidelines regarding the posting of meeting minutes from legislative hearings within a set timeframe. The primary change dictates that meeting minutes must be made available to the public "within seven business days" of the meeting. This is an improvement over the old language that only required minutes to be provided "within a reasonable time". This is a welcome change and will hopefully improve government transparency and accountability.

As always, check in next week to find out how key issues such as H.B. 43 and others unfold over the coming days.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

2013 Legislative Session - Week Three Update

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Last week was as busy as ever at the Utah State Legislature, as we continued to work with law makers on several issues.

In the Senate, House Bill 34, Special Group License Plate Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Val L. Peterson that would create a special group license plate reading "In God We Trust", was amended to remove a $25 annual fee that would have been distributed to groups that celebrate "god family and country". As we previously reported, there were concerns over this aspect of the legislation because it would have been in conflict with the establishment clause. Fortunately, the amended version of the bill proved to be a very viable solution to the problem.

In the House, H.B. 43, Campaign Finance Reporting by Corporations, sponsored by Rep. Gregory H. Hughes, requires organizations to disclose their donors when participating in political activities was removed from the agenda, but was rescheduled for a hearing during week four.  Stay tuned for our blog post next week to find out what happened. We have been following H.B. 43 very closely, as it raises issues concerning privacy, and political participation. While the bill is aimed at improving transparency in elections, there is a broad consensus that it will do just the opposite. By requiring organizations to disclose their donors, the bill incentives the use of shell corporations to conceal who is behind a political campaign. Although shell corporations are already used today, H.B. 43 would make them a necessity for any group that wants to participate in the political process and protect its members. To gain a better understanding of why this issue is so important, we can look to what happened in California, where donors' names were revealed after the Prop 8 campaign. In that case, California law required organizations that participated to reveal their donors' information, just as H.B. 43 would in Utah, and the consequences were alarming. With donors' personal information made public, many received threats, suspicious packages in the mail, and endured other forms of intimidation. To this day, will provide the address of every Californian who donated to a group supporting Prop 8, should somebody want to engage in harassment or political intimidation. Based on this precedent, there are two likely consequences of H.B. 43 becoming law. First, large organizations with access to resources and a good legal team will participate in elections via shell organizations. This will hinder transparency by making it harder for citizens to know who is responsible for ads and initiatives sponsored by ambiguously named shell organizations, instead of the more well known groups that are actually behind their efforts. Second, smaller organizations without the resources and knowhow to play the "shell game" will have to choose between abstaining from the democratic process, or potentially exposing their members to harassment and betraying their privacy. The balance between privacy and transparency is always a delicate one in a democracy, and H.B. 43 appears to be bad for both.

Also in the house, a bill concerning what employers can and can not access when it comes to electronic devices and accounts is being considered. H.B. 100, Internet Privacy Amendments, sponsored by Stewart Barlow, starts out on a good note, laying out a laundry list of things employers can not access from their employees. Unfortunately, the second half of the bill is riddled with loopholes and broad language that could mean the bill would cause more harm than good. Fortunately, the bill is still in the early phases of the legislative process, and we are actively working with various law makers to seize this opportunity to protect employees privacy in the workplace. Some of the issues at stake include whether or not an employer can require an employee to provide user names and passwords to social media accounts such as Facebook, and whether or not an employer should have the right to search an employee's device just because it connected to the employer's network. We are working very hard on this issue, because we view it as critical to privacy rights in our rapidly changing world. Look for more updates on H.B. 100 over the coming weeks, as we go through this process.

Finally, In the Senate Todd Weiler has introduced Senate Bill 196, License Plate Reader Amendments, to regulate the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPR). Currently the use of ALPR systems by law enforcement, and even private companies is essentially unregulated in Utah. The bill would put a limit on how long data can be retained, and define under what circumstances it can be accessed. Of equal importance is a provision that would prohibit the use of ALPR systems by private companies. As with so many rapidly emerging technologies, ALPR systems have the potential to lead to grievous violations of privacy rights, and the regulation of their use is critical. We are hopeful that Sen. Weiler's bill will pass as a common sense measure to protect Utahns from such invasions of privacy.

As always, check back every week for more updates on these and a host of other issues we are working on as the legislative session progresses.

Monday, February 11, 2013

2013 Legislative Session - Week Two Update

This week was busy for the ACLU of Utah, as we worked with legislators on several issues concerning civil liberties. 

In the Senate, a House proposal to create a special group license plate displaying "In God We Trust" was given a favorable recommendation in committee. Concerns over the language of the bill, specifically pertaining to how the funds from license plate sales would be distributed, were raised By the ACLU at the hearing. Because the bill calls for the funds to be distributed to groups that, among other things, "celebrate god", it conflicts with the Establishment Clause. As written, the bill does not pass the "Lemon Test" established in the Lemon v. Kurtzman case in 1971. Consequently, the legislature's effort to provide the "In God We Trust" plate as an option to Utahns could be hamstrung by minor details in the bill's wording. We will continue to work with legislators over the coming weeks, to ensure that this bill does not violate the First Amendment.

In the House, Rep. Hughes's H.B. 44, Election Polling, would require the disclosure of the person or group who pays for a poll regarding a candidate or ballot proposition.  HB 44 passed on the house floor. While the bill is clearly intended to address the issue of "push polling", there are potential problems with its implementation. Because the definition of a poll is worded so broadly, scenarios as benign as a conversation between two people could be covered under the new regulation. Additionally, the bill will almost certainly not achieve its goal of promoting transparency, as organizations can easily use shell corporations to pay for polls with which they do not wish to be associated.

Also in the House, H.B. 253, Employment Verification Amendments, a bill that would have required the Utah Transparency Advisory Board to report, whether or not a company was in compliance with E-Verify requirements, was tabled in committee. This is welcome news, as it could mean that E-Verify requirements will expire in Utah in 2013. The hearing was noteworthy because of the unprecedented opposition expressed by the business community. With many due process issues, and the potential to lead to a national I.D. card as cause for concern, the expiration of E-Verify would be very encouraging.

Finally, Sen. Dayton's S.B. 60, Abortion Statistics and Reporting Requirements, concerning abortion statistics based on race, was given a favorable recommendation during a committee hearing. The hearing was dominated by an exchange between Sen. Robles and Sen. Dayton over inaccuracies in the bill's language regarding "race and ethnicity." Ultimately, it was agreed that the language would have to be adjusted. While it is well known that the motivation behind the bill is to raise the issue of race and gender selective abortion, it is not at all clear that this is actually a problem in the first place. While there are cases of gender selective abortion in countries such as China, America's gender ratio at birth of 1.05 males for every female indicates that it is not an issue here. Thus, S.B. 60 appears to be a solution in search of a problem at best, and a thinly veiled effort to restrict women's choices in the worst case.

As always, will continue to keep you informed of our efforts, as things unfold over the next week of the legislative session.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

2013 Legislative Session - Week One Update

As the 2013 legislative session got under way last week, the ACLU of Utah was present to work with law makers and address various civil liberties issues.  

On Wednesday, the ACLU was in attendance as Representative Patrice Arent's bill to end straight ticket voting in Utah elections was presented to the House Government Operations Committee.  In her testimony, Rep. Arent gave several examples she had personally encountered where straight ticket voting led voters to cast votes for candidates they did not intend to support.  Other testimony was offered by members of the public, who made the case that straight ticket voting was particularly confusing to voters who did not understand the difference between primary elections that have party restrictions, and general elections that do not.  While some members of the committee engaged with those offering testimony, and even claimed to be undecided up until the vote, the bill ultimately failed to get out of committee on a 3-4 vote.  As an organization that firmly supports voting rights, the ACLU of Utah supports any bill that encourages greater voter participation.  Thus, we were disappointed that the bill did not make it out of committee, as it could have been an important step towards addressing voter apathy in Utah. 

The ACLU is also following H.B. 64, Felon's Right to Hold Office, being sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss.  If passed, the bill would restrict sex offenders from being elected to positions on the State Board of Education and local school boards.  While the bill was inspired by a recent school board election, there are concerns surrounding the practical consequences of the bill.  The definition of sex offender is of particular concern, as it is very broad.  As the law is written today, one could be charged with a felony and be classified a sex offender for "lewdness" or "statutory rape", neither of which might affect one's ability to serve on the school board.  Most importantly, however, the question of a candidate's suitability for office should be left to the voters.  There's no need for the legislature to substitute their best judgment for that of the voters, which is in essence what this bill would accomplish.  Over the coming weeks we will continue to stay engaged with legislators regarding this issue, as we work to ensure citizens are not wrongly excluded from the political process.        

Of course, these are only a few of the issues that we are engaged with as we work to protect your civil liberties throughout the legislative session.  We will continue to post updates to keep our members and the public informed about our work as the session unfolds over the coming weeks.  

Thursday, January 31, 2013

2013 Citizen Lobbyist Training

Download a flier (PDF) >>

How does a bill become a law? How can I be involved in the legislative process? Don’t know the answer to these questions? Looks like you better attend the Citizen Lobbyist Training at the Utah State Capitol on February 6th.

With the 2013 Utah legislative session under way, we invite you to attend so that you can prepare to be an engaged citizen during the legislative session. The free session will cover, among other issues:

  • How the legislature works
  • How citizens can have an impact on their elected representatives
  • The issues the ACLU of Utah and other groups in Utah will be following during the 2013 Legislative Session
  • Free refreshments!

Here's the important information you need to know:

What: Citizen Lobbyist Training at the Capitol
When: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Time: 5:30 – 7pm

Where: Utah State Capitol, Multipurpose Room

Sponsored by: ACLU of Utah, Equality Utah, Alliance for a Better Utah, Planned Parenthood of Utah, Enriching Utah Coalition

Free pizza and refreshments

January is always the time to reflect on resolutions and here at the ACLU of Utah, we have a few of our own. As the 2013 legislative session gets underway, our lawmakers are already providing us with opportunities to renew our commitment to protecting the civil liberties of all Utahns.

Our 2013 resolutions are:

Promote Equality

  • Press for fair and humane immigration reform.
  • Encourage the passage of non-discrimination protections in housing and the workplace for all Utahns, including those who are LGBT.

Defend Liberty

  • Keep politicians from coming between women and their doctors in personal medical decisions.
  • Prevent politicians from using religious freedom as an excuse to break important laws such as those that protect against child abuse, domestic violence and discrimination.

Stand Up for Justice

  • Protect our privacy and our personal data, including establishing guidelines and oversight regarding the use of Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs).

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook to take action
and help us make these resolutions a reality!