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.

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