Joint Statement from Members of the Utah Legislature and Count My Vote

SALT LAKE CITY – Tonight, leaders in the Utah Legislature and Count My Vote issued the following statement:

For several weeks, the Utah Legislature and Count My Vote have been negotiating toward a common goal: greater citizen participation. The discussions have been productive. We have reached an agreement on landmark election reforms that promise to improve citizen engagement in Utah’s electoral process.

The agreed-upon reform language will be written as 2nd Substitute Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble and Rep. Dan McCay. The new legislation will preserve Utah’s caucus-convention system and provide a direct primary alternative based on gathering a threshold of voter signatures. Such a dual system exists in some form in five other states and provides the voting public with the best features of both systems. 2nd Substitute SB 54 will also open primary elections to non-affiliated voters.

Leaders in the Utah House and Senate have announced their intent to act on the legislation this week. Count My Vote will continue gathering signatures until the bill is passed and signed by the governor.

These historic election reforms will be shared in more detail at a joint news conference tomorrow, March 2, 2014, at 4:30 p.m. in the Capitol Presentation Room, located in the Visitor’s Center on the first floor.

The news conference will be live-streamed on YouTube.

The Realities of Medicaid Expansion

Government programs are complex, and government programs that involve healthcare are no exception. The debate over Medicaid expansion has already begun, and with it, so has the gossip. Let’s separate the rumors from the facts.

 Here are the facts:

On Tuesday Representative Jim Dunnigan and Representative Dean Sanpei presented HB 141 (substituted) to the House Business and Labor Committee. This bill contains an innovative alternative to full Medicaid expansion.

The bill creates a state-based program called, “Access.” Access will begin in January 2015 and continue to January of 2017. Right now, the state of Utah has two different waivers, given to them by the Bush Administration. These waivers are for Utah’s Premium Partnership Program and the Primary Care Network. Utahns covered under Access, will be part of those two existing state programs.

 Access is for Utahns who are below 100% of the federal poverty level and not eligible for traditional Medicaid. This includes the medically frail, and parents of children. Utahns over the 100% of the federal poverty level will receive premium tax credits.

If Utahns eligible for Access have a job, they’ll get health benefits through employer coverage. If they don’t have a job, the Access program will help pay the premium for other health coverage, services, or products. It also allows the state to better understand the below 100% population and who needs what type of health care.

 Now to the rumors:

Rumor: “GOP members voted to deny affordable healthcare to 123,000 Utahns.”

Fact: The reality is, we voted to provide coverage to tens of thousands of Utahns who do not currently have any form of health coverage.

Rumor: “GOP members want to tax you an additional $35 million.”

Fact: This is just plain wrong. Money for the Access program comes out of the general fund; there are absolutely no increases in taxes to pay for this smart, and innovative solution.

Rumor: “Taking full Medicaid expansion is ‘common sense.’”

Fact: Is it common sense to ask your children’s children to pay for your Medicaid? If the state of Utah accepts federal money, 40% of what we accept is already debt. This means you’re taking out loans in your posterity’s name.

Is it common sense to continue to fund a program that is so inefficient and fraught with fraud that it has an Inspector General whose only job is to recoup money the state of Utah, and the federal government, erroneously spent? Let’s spend our money on a program that covers Utah’s most needy effectively, and that isn’t subject to the whims of the federal government.

Is it common sense to continuously tell the federal government to manage its spending and pay down the debt all while increasing their spending and debt burden? If we want the federal government to be fiscally responsible, we as a state need to be prepared to be pioneering in our own approach to policy-making.

Rumor: “Accepting federal money is less expensive.”

Fact: 40% of federal money may be debt, but 100% of federal money is taxpayer money. Both programs cost the taxpayer, because that’s what government programs do. Full Medicaid expansion will cost the state of Utah at least 30 million dollars, because in order for Utah to be eligible for $300 million federal dollars, it has to put up 10%. So 30 million in Utah taxpayer dollars + 300 million in federal taxpayer dollars = $330 million taxpayer dollars for full Medicaid expansion. The Access program will cost the state between $30-35 million dollars.

The fact is, Access is an innovative, efficient, state-based solution that provides health care based on individual need and not the definition of a faceless bureaucracy.

You can read HB 141 and listen to its committee debate, here.

HB128: Electronic Device Location Amendments

Just this morning, the Massachusetts Supreme Court has issued a decision protecting cell phone location data from being collected without a search warrant. It’s Utah’s turn.

House Bill 128, Electronic Device Location Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Ryan D. Wilcox, would protect a person’s certain stored, transmitted, and location electronic data.

The 4th Amendment declares: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” Can there be any doubt today that the modern equivalent of our “papers and effects” are now housed in the digital world, and found in our pockets? Yet, despite the rash of violations across the country, there have been few protections, establishing privacy standards for private citizen’s electronic data.

HB128 works to clarify what electronic data needs to be protected to better inform law enforcement officials and citizens. This data includes GPS locations, call and messaging records, and other personal information stored on a phone or tablet.

There will be circumstances in which a user’s information will need to be collected. This bill addresses that need by allowing law enforcement to request search warrants be issued based on probable cause. However, that does not give authorization for a collection free-for-all. All other data collected that is outside the scope of the search warrant, or, more importantly, that pertains to a person who is NOT the target of the warrant, must be permanently deleted within a 24-hour period.

HB128 is working to provide a much-needed privacy boost for the electronic data that is so heavily integrated in our daily lives. It also provides a balance for law enforcement to still protect our neighborhoods while establishing set rules in an era where electronic data regulations are ambiguous.

The following study and subsequent story published in USA Today just this past December highlights many of the privacy concerns that HB 128 seeks to address.

UPDATE: The bill passed unanimously out of committee and moves to the House floor.

HB128, sponsored by Rep. Ryan D. Wilcox and will be heard in the House Public Utilities and Technology Committee tomorrow at 8:30 in 20 House. You can listen at le.utah.gov.

Press Release: Press Conference Outlining Proposal to Place Breathalyzers in Bars

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 14, 2014

Press Conference Outlining Proposal to Place Breathalyzers in Bars

Salt Lake City – Rep. Greg Hughes will hold a press conference to outline and clarify a proposal to place breathalyzer machines in bars and clubs. Rep. Hughes will be available along with several bar and club owners in the House Lounge at 1:30pm on February 14, 2014. A question and answer session will immediate follow the statement.

The proposal would place breathalyzers in certain establishments and does not require a patron to check their blood alcohol content. Rep. Hughes believes it would be a helpful tool to allow patrons to determine whether they can legally operate a vehicle.

The bill would make any blood alcohol test at the machines test by patrons completely anonymous and voluntary.

“It’ll help people make better choices when they’re deciding whether to operate a vehicle or not,” Rep. Hughes said.

Rep. Greg Hughes represents district 51, as well as serves at the majority whip for the Utah House of Representatives.

Bar and clubs establishment staff in attendance:

• Bob McCarthy – Owner, The Garage, Stoneground
• Lisa Barlow – Owner, Silver
• Pete Grimm – General Manager, ‘Bout Time

Download (PDF, 34KB)

HB 70: Forcible Entry Amendments

Over the past few decades, communities throughout America—including here in Utah—have seen a rise in “forcible entry” raids conducted by SWAT teams or task forces. Usually the raids are successful and professional, and  we are grateful for that.

The purpose of HB 70 is to minimize the risk both to law enforcement, and citizens, through better judicial oversight, because occasionally there are errors regarding the place to be searched, or the person or things to be seized.

Or, even when the right house is forcibly entered (for example, with a “no knock” warrant), a family member or other innocent person—or one or more police officers—is injured or killed in the ensuing chaos. These circumstances can be extremely dangerous, and as representatives of the people, our job is to make sure that they are minimized to the extent possible.

In the same way the legislature has established sentencing guidelines across the state, the purpose of House Bill 70 is to enact basic guidelines for judges and officers when seeking a warrant – or legal permission – to forcibly enter a private citizen’s home.

Before the Revolutionary War, American colonists were searched using vague “general warrants,” the soldiers easily infringed upon the private property of colonists. Which is why the Fourth Amendment specifically addressed the issue of searches and seizures:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Utah’s own Constitution contains the same language. These guarantees of our liberty require a few important things. A judge could not issue warrants unless:

1.     There was probable cause, or legitimate evidence of wrongdoing

2.     The officer requesting the warrant swore to his “evidence” under oath or positive affirmation and was held accountable to that oath

3.     The officer had to be specific. The place, the person(s), and/or thing(s) to be searched or seized had to be particularly described

It is important for our own safety, and the safety of our officers, to adhere to the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution. Law enforcement is valuable and crucial to our communities, but so is peace and our individual rights.

And that’s an idea I think all Utahns can get behind.

House Bill 70 was heard in committee February 10, 2014, it is currently being held and is under revision. You can find a copy of the bill here and listen to the committee presentation here.

RELEASE: Press Conference Announcing Amendments to Voter Records

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 12, 2014

Press Conference Announcing Amendments to Voter Records

Salt Lake City – Rep. Becky Edwards will be unveiling a substitute bill for HB302, Voting Records Amendments, in the Presentation Room of the Utah State Capitol at 1:00pm, February 12, 2014.

The first substitute of HB302, Voting Records Amendments, moves to allow a voter to have their information placed as a private record via a signed form with a respective county clerk.

House Bill 302, originally proposed that a person’s date of birth is private record, but age is not.

The first substitute for House Bill 302 will be heard in the House Government Operations Committee at 2pm, at committee room 20, in the House Building.

Rep. Edwards will be available for questions immediately following the press conference, and Rep. Perry will be available prior to the committee hearing.

More information can be found at le.utah.gov.

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