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1999 State Legislature


March 15, 1999


1999 Legislature & Loss of Freedom:

A Civil March Toward Servitude?

By Daniel B. Newby

Now that the smoke of the 1999 state legislative session has settled, how did individual rights, limited government, and freedom fare? What sort of trend did this legislature set for Utah’s new millennium? Are we headed for limited government and greater freedom, or larger, more intrusive government and limited rights?

Fortunately, there was some positive movement toward reform of asset forfeiture, the power of the state to seize and retain property alleged to be "used or intended for use" in crime. Language in HB 127 would have: 1) required clear and convincing evidence that the property owner knowingly consented to the illegal use of his property before the state could retain his property; (2) re-instituted jury trials for those who request them; (3) placed forfeited proceeds under legislative control rather than in the pockets of the seizing agency. Unfortunately, a watered-down substitute was introduced in committee and was then sent to the interim session for further study. It is hoped that during the interim session some of the strong reforms in the original bill will be examined and supported next session.

There were other bills — mostly unsuccessful — that contained positive aspects. For example, language in SB 49 (Unfair Public Competition Act) would have created a new Privatization Review Board to examine and rebuke public agencies that provide services in competition with private sector businesses. This bill contained a statement that would have established a state policy "prohibiting government competition with the private sector." As another example, language in HB 104 would have prohibited the collection of political monies through the government payroll system.

Numerous bills containing negative language were defeated. HB 267, for example, would have expanded current forfeiture practices to include computer equipment allegedly "used or intended for use" (not necessarily by the owner) in activities that sexually exploit minors. SB 228 would have allowed a new "screening committee" to circumvent parental permission for surveys administered to children in public schools.

There was also SB 6 (Seat Belt Law Amendments), which passed the Senate but failed in the House. This bill would have allowed law enforcement to pull over cars containing unbuckled passengers under the age of 21. This bill was a sterling example of the growing "nanny state" mentality, which is that adults should not be free to be careless with their personal and/or family safety. This "if-it’s-not-safe-outlaw-it" attitude was best described by one incredulous observer: "…What’s next? Plastic surgery and fatty foods?"

Overall, there was a much larger trend toward more government and less freedom, particularly in the arena of expanding regulations, bureaucracies, and quasi-governmental entities. For instance, HB 237 allows the Department of Public Safety to raise all sorts of fees for firearm-related and concealed carry expenses. Laying the gun rights debate aside, in passing this bill the legislature surrendered power to an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy. HB 119, the "Quality Growth Act," sets up a new commission with quasi-legislative powers including the power to loan or grant "Critical Land Conservation Fund" monies to both public and private entities. Monies would come into this fund not only by legislative appropriations but also through a variety of administrative machinations that would bypass legislative scrutiny.

One of the most perplexing examples of bureaucratic expansion was contained in SB 122. This bill expands the powers of the curious "Olympic law enforcement commander" created last session. This person will now be able to arbitrarily impose rules and regulations in portions of Utah from January 25, 2002, to April 1, 2002 — without legislative control.

The new powers of this "commander" are somewhat confined by "Olympic venues," defined as an area that is "secured by a perimeter." The Salt Lake Tribune and others have implied that large portions of Salt Lake City and Park City would be encompassed by this "perimeter." Unlike an airport or federal building, this "commander’s" realm could grow to incorporate a very large geographic area. This new legislative-executor can perform searches and seizures without a warrant (the bill states: "...[using] reasonable means, which may include...") and conduct other loosely-defined security activities.

In a situation not unique to this year, over 200 bills were passed in the last three days of the legislative session. Most of these laws passed without a committee hearing in both the House and Senate. Frighteningly, many legislators have remarked that they did not even read many of those 200-plus bills for which they voted. How then did these legislators decide which bills were positive, and which were negative? Mostly by word of mouth.

Perhaps the tell-tale mark of this session is that 409 new laws were passed. The question begs to be asked, "Do Utahns actually need 409 bills enacted into law every year in order to improve their lives?"

This session has been characterized in the media as orderly and civil. Unfortunately, though there were some attempts to curtail a sad trend, the 1999 legislature has increased the march toward less freedom, rule by unelected bureaucracies, and a chaotic nanny state requiring government permission to breathe.

For the sake of future generations, citizens and elected officials must abandon government expansion and learn to place responsibility back in the hands of the people in their communities. All proposed legislation should be painstakingly and cautiously read, studied, and debated. And most of all, there should be broad recognition that individual freedoms and societal successes are historically eroded by civil, well-intentioned people.

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Daniel B. Newby wrote this article while employed as Director of Operations & Development for the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based public policy research institute.

Permission to reprint this article in whole or in part is granted provided credit is given to the author and to the Sutherland Institute.

Disclaimer: Newby left the Sutherland Institute on January 28, 2003, and has conducted all his efforts since that time as a private citizen.  The Sutherland Institute has officially and publicly disavowed and distanced itself from Newby's political views, tone, and activities.  As a courtesy to the Sutherland Institute, we have posted their e-mail on the matter.


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