1999 State Legislature
March 15, 1999
Legislature & Loss of Freedom:
A Civil March
By Daniel B.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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
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
# # # # #
Daniel B. Newby wrote this article while
employed as Director of Operations & Development for the
Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based public policy research
Permission to reprint this article in
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Disclaimer: Newby left the Sutherland Institute
on January 28, 2003, and has conducted all his efforts since
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