Legislative Updates - 27 February 2017

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Dear Friends:

This is GrassRoots’ fifth weekly legislative update of this year’s General Session of the Utah State Legislature.

At this time (five weeks into the session), there are about 770 numbered bills for this session. Following is updated status on bills covered in earlier GrassRoots updates, along with some more thoughts on the very important topic of jury trial.

Updated status on HB332 and some more thoughts on jury trial

HB332, “Criminal Procedure Revisions”, sponsored by Representative Roberts, would, as amended, specify that “The jury shall be informed of: (a) the potential sentence for a guilty verdict; and (b) the jury's power to find a defendant not guilty when a guilty verdict would be manifestly unjust.”

HB332 was considered in each of two meetings of the House Judiciary Committee (February 22nd and 24th).

One argument presented against HB332 (by one Mr. Boyden, of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors) was about as follows: Expecting juries to consider anything more than just the facts of the case, and allowing them to be distracted by matters of law, legal consequences, and conscience, puts a burden on juries that they are not up to.

Those arguing in favor of HB332 gave examples of grave injustices that might have been avoided by a jury that was not discouraged from avoiding a manifestly unjust guilty verdict, and made reference to the long-standing (if largely forgotten) tradition of expecting juries to avoid manifestly unjust guilty verdicts.

Finally, HB332 passed the House Judiciary Committee 7-4 on February 24th, and awaits consideration by the full House.

GrassRoots thoughts on HB332: The opposition’s argument, that juries are not up to “the distraction” (from their fact-finding mission) of considering matters of law, legal consequences, and conscience, seems rather elitist—maybe even an argument against one of the principal foundations and ideals of American government: that the people are capable of self-government, that the people do not need "overlords" to tell them what to do and to shield them from difficult information and difficult decisions.

It seemed at least a little ironic when Mr. Boyden said that it is OK for prosecutors to exercise "prosecutorial discretion" in deciding not to prosecute a case (maybe because of his conscience telling him that justice would not be served by so doing), while implying that jurors are not up to using their conscience in a very similar way. The claim that prosecutorial discretion and exercise of conscience is OK, while juror discretion and exercise of conscience are dangerous, sounds contrary to the idea that “all men are created equal.”

To us, it seems self-evident that jurors should be expected to deliver a verdict in line with their conscience. We should encourage that, and not encourage judges and attorneys to manipulate juries against their duty to act in good conscience. GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB332.

Updated status on other bills covered in earlier GrassRoots updates

HB19Sub2, “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Greene and Senator Howard Stephenson, is still a similar bill to HB19Substitute and to the HB19 described in our weekly legislative update of January 30th, and still constitutes a good step in the direction of needed asset forfeiture reform.

HB19Sub2, having passed the House 58-10 on February 17th, has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee.

GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB19Sub2.

HB159Substitute, “Amendments to Voter Registration”, sponsored by Representative Handy and Senator Adams, would:

  • provide that an individual who applies for or renews the individual's driver license or state identification card will be registered to vote unless the individual opts out;
  • provide that an individual is not guilty of fraudulent registration if the individual is ineligible to register to vote but is inadvertently registered to vote under this bill.

HB159Substitute passed the House 40-28 on February 23rd, and awaits action by the Senate Rules Committee.

Voting is a serious privilege with serious consequences. Registration to vote should not be viewed as just another automatic occurrence when one visits the DMV for a driver license renewal. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB159Substitute.

HB198, “Concealed Carry Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Lisonbee and Senator Weiler, would:

  • establish a provisional permit to carry a concealed firearm;
  • stipulate that individuals must be at least 18 years of age, but no more than 20 years of age, to obtain the permit.

HB198 passed the House 63-12 on February 21st, and awaits consideration by the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee.

Extending recognition of rights of self-defense, in this manner, to those 18 to 20 years of age, is a sound step. GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB198.

HB306, “Public Safety Officer Privacy Amendments”, sponsored by Representative McKell, would, as amended in committee, specify that “At the discretion of the agency”, the name of a law enforcement officer involved in a critical incident “may not be released to the public by any public official or public employee conducting or participating in an official investigation of an officer-involved critical incident, or any person acting on behalf of a public official or public employee, until the official investigation is concluded” . . . except that the officer's name “shall be released not later than four months after the incident.”

HB306, as amended, passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee 5-3 on February 22nd, and awaits consideration by the full House.

HB306 appears to make government less transparent. Also, it seems to provide for unequal treatment under the law, since a private citizen is not similarly shielded from having his name released to the public when he is involved in a critical incident. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB306.

SB110Substitute, “Sales Tax Collection Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Bramble and Representative Schultz, would require an out-of-state company, with annual sales of $100,000 or more to Utah residents, to collect sales taxes on purchases made by Utahns.

SB110Substitute passed the Senate 25-1 on February 21st, and awaits consideration by the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Forcibly deputizing out-of-state companies to enforce, or to help enforce, Utah tax law, seems to us ill-advised and constitutionally questionable. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on SB110Substitute.

If you have any questions about these bills, GrassRoots’ position on these bills, or related matters, please contact either of us or any other member of the Board of Utah GrassRoots.

Sincerely,

Steve Stromness
Vice-Chairman, Bill Review Coordinator, Utah GrassRoots
steven.stromness@gmail.com
435-637-5248

Don Guymon
Chairman, Utah GrassRoots
donguymon@gmail.com
801-574-9461

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