Legislative Updates - 4 February 2019

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Dear Friends:

This is GrassRoots’ first legislative update of this year’s General Session of the Utah State Legislature. We hope to be sending weekly updates on legislative happenings during the session, and will be concentrating on bills that we find to be friendly to the principles of limited, constitutional government on one hand, or, on the other hand, friendly to big, intrusive government. As you may know, the principles of GrassRoots are summarized as Limited Government, Constitution, Representative Government, Free Market Economy, Participatory Republic, Family, and Separation of Powers.

We would encourage and challenge you, if you see one or more bills that interest you, contact your representative and/or senator about it/them. We think they usually hear enough from paid lobbyists (some would say more than enough), but they may not hear enough from you.

At this time (one week into the session), there are about 420 numbered bills for this session on the Utah Legislature website, maybe about half of the bills that will be numbered by the end of the session which, under the Utah Constitution, will go for 45 days. Here are some bills and issues that we consider to be noteworthy.

The Right of Self-Defense, and 3 bills catching our attention

Defense of self and others is an unalienable right, recognized by our state and national constitutions:

“The individual right of the people to keep and bear arms for security and defense of self, family, others, property, or the state, as well as for other lawful purposes shall not be infringed; but nothing herein shall prevent the Legislature from defining the lawful use of arms” (Utah State Constitution, Article I, Section 6).

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” (United States Constitution, Second Amendment).

Keeping our code consistent with these constitutional provisions is part of each legislator’s duty under his or her oath to uphold our state and national constitutions. And, as implied in the Second Amendment, non-infringement of rights of self-defense is necessary to the maintenance of a free society.

Here are three bills that, we believe, have some relation (whether friendly or unfriendly) to our natural rights of self-defense.

HB87, “Safe Storage of Firearms Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Weight, would:

  • make it a criminal (class B misdemeanor) offense to store a firearm in a place that the firearm owner knows or has reason to believe a minor or person legally restricted from possessing a firearm has access; and
  • require a firearm dealer to post written notice of possible prosecution for negligent storage of a firearm and provides a penalty for failure to post the notice, and make failure to post the required notice a class C misdemeanor.

HB87 awaits action by the House Rules Committee.

This appears to be another proposal to make criminals of people who have no criminal intent. When we make up new crimes, we should, with due diligence, ensure that we limit criminal punishment to people with criminal intent. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB87.

HB114, “Self-defense Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Maloy and Senator Hinkins, would:

  • provide that an individual is not required to retreat from an aggressor even if there is a safe place to which the individual can retreat; and
  • provide that an individual's failure to retreat is not relevant when determining whether the individual acted reasonably.

HB114 awaits consideration by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

Already existing statute states that “A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that force or a threat of force is necessary to defend the person or a third person against another person's imminent use of unlawful force” (Utah Code Section 76-2-402(1)(a)).

The clarifications to Utah Code proposed by HB114 would be helpful in avoiding a situation in which aggressors might assume that their intended victims have a legal duty to retreat. GrassRoots favors a “yes” vote on HB114.

*HB190, “Liability of Firearm Custodian”, sponsored by Representative Stoddard, would make a “firearm custodian” (meaning “a person who owns or knowingly possesses a firearm”) “strictly liable for personal injury or property damage proximately caused by the discharge of the firearm custodian's firearm if the discharge results from conduct that constitutes a felony, regardless of whether the individual who engages in the conduct is charged with a felony.” Some limited exceptions are also specified in the bill.

HB190 awaits action by the House Rules Committee.

HB190 appears to be another attack on citizens who choose to lawfully own or possess firearms. In the absence of clear negligence or criminal intent by the “firearm custodian”, why should he or she be strictly liable for the criminal acts of another person? Would we apply such a standard of strict liability to police officers, military personnel, and other government agents and bureaucrats? GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB190.

Proposals to limit Medicaid Expansion in Utah

We are concerned about continued Medicaid Expansion. We consider this welfare program to be an inappropriate use of government force.

The desire to take advantage of federal handouts (for which we have been heavily taxed) is understandable, but we are also concerned about loss of sovereignty.

We agree with former US Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson that “no State or local government can accept funds from the Federal and remain independent in performing its functions, nor can the citizens exercise their rights of self-government under such conditions” (speech on “The Proper Role of Government”). Indeed the states (including Utah) have become some of the largest, most dependent welfare recipients around. And the corrupting influence of the federal Medicaid handouts (understandably with numerous strings attached) was apparent in much of the recent pro-Proposition 3 advertising.

We support prudent efforts to roll back Utah’s Medicaid Expansion in an orderly, principled manner.

*SB96Substitute, “Medicaid Expansion Adjustments”, sponsored by Senator Christensen and Representative Dunnigan, would:

  • make changes to eligibility for and administration of the state Medicaid program;
  • direct the Department of Health to continue to seek approval from the federal government to implement the Medicaid waiver expansion;
  • direct the department to submit a request to the federal government to provide Medicaid benefits to enrollees who are newly eligible under the Medicaid waiver expansion in a manner that: a) incorporates a per capita cap on federal reimbursement; b) limits presumptive eligibility; c) imposes a lock-out period for individuals who violate certain program requirements; d) gives enrollees continuous eligibility for a period of 12 months; and e) allows Medicaid funds to be used for housing supports for certain enrollees;
  • amend provisions related to various hospital assessments; and
  • amend provisions related to the state sales tax.

SB96Substitute passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee 6-2 on January 29th, and the Senate 2nd Reading 22-7 on January 30th, and awaits consideration (circled) on the Senate 3rd Reading Calendar.

This bill appears to us to be a good step in the direction of limiting Medicaid’s growth in Utah. However, it is a fairly complicated bill (at about 900 lines and with numerous cross-references), and we are still studying it. GrassRoots tentatively favors a “yes” vote on SB96Substitute as currently drafted.

SB97, “Medicaid Program Revisions”, sponsored by Senator Anderegg, would:

  • repeal: a) authorization for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act; b) certain sales tax increases; and c) the Medicaid Expansion Hospital Assessment Act; and
  • amend the Inpatient Hospital Assessment Act.

SB97 awaits consideration by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

SB97 is more clearly (than SB96Substitute) a much-needed roll-back of Medicaid Expansion. GrassRoots favors a “yes” vote on SB97.

Other bills catching our attention

SB103, “Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements”, sponsored by Senator Thatcher, would provide for an enhanced penalty for a criminal offense if the offender acted against an individual (or against an individual’s property) because of the offender's perception of the individual's ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

SB103 awaits consideration by the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee.

Criminal actions, especially premeditated criminal actions, with criminal intent, should be punished. We do not believe that SB103 does anything to advance this principle.

Beliefs and perceptions, even racist or nationalist or sexist or other beliefs and perceptions that we may find offensive, should not be punished. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB103.

SB109, “Asset Forfeiture Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Weiler, would:

  • address grounds for seizing property by removing “incident to an arrest” as a sufficient ground for seizure;
  • provide for release of property held for forfeiture on certain grounds, including failure by the seizing agency to timely (within 30 days of seizure) “serve a notice of intent to seek forfeiture upon any claimant known to the agency”; and
  • repeal language specifying that “A state or local law enforcement agency awarded any equitable share of property forfeited by the federal government may only use the award money after approval of the use by the agency's legislative body.”

SB109 awaits consideration by the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee, and is currently Item 4 on the agenda for the committee meeting that is scheduled for Monday, February 4th at 2pm at 250 State Capitol.

SB109 contains some good tightening of forfeiture statute to prevent abusive asset forfeiture, and we mostly view it as a step in the right direction.

But we are also concerned about the repeal of language requiring that the use of award money (forfeiture proceeds shared by the federal government to a state or local law enforcement agency) be approved by the agency’s legislative body. We have long been concerned about the corruption of law enforcement priorities when forfeiture proceeds go to the seizing (or a cooperating) agency. The Legislature should ensure that law enforcement is funded by legislative appropriation, and is not “self-funded” by forfeiture proceeds.

Asset forfeiture has been, and can be, horribly abused. For this reason, we are very interested in this bill. But based on our study of the bill so far, we take no position on it yet.

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

PS Do you want to contact a legislator? Go to le.utah.gov and click on “Legislators”.

Do you want to read and follow legislation yourself? Go to le.utah.gov and click on “2019 General Session Page” then click on “2019 Bills”.

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Would you like to help us with review of legislation in a small or large way? Consider taking a special look at bills sponsored by your own representative or senator. Please contact us with your findings and/or with any questions we might be able to help you with.