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 >>