Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Utah County Convention coming, mail and now packets of paper pouring in -- HB 150 is unconstitutional and overreaching

The county convention is Saturday and the county wide races are being hotly contended. I haven't had as much time to research as I would wish, so I am still working on what to do with assessor, auditor, etc., but I've got a pretty good feel of where I'm going with the two county commissioner spots and county sheriff. I tend to cast a favorable eye toward challengers, favoring term limits and non-career politicians, but I am leaning toward 2 of 3 incumbents in those races. The challengers are either less qualified or too arrogant and partisan for me to vote for.

I have received lots of email and postcards--5 or 6 color cards just today--and then tonight, a whole packet of papers delivered to my house with a collection of articles about the Brad Daw vs. Calvin Harper race for House representative. There were copies of 12 newspaper articles/blog posts criticizing Daw's HB 150. These were hand-annotated and highlighted in red marker. Impressive effort if all the county delegates are receiving this.

I heartily agree with the criticism of HB 150. Court review of forced searches is crucial. Rep. Daw keeps pulling out "The fed's have been doing this for 20 years and always had it upheld in court" defense, but that seems kind of hypocritical for a member of the Patrick Henry Caucus. I have not heard Rep. Daw or any attorney general give one instance of a child safety case being jeopardized by having to get a judge's approval before obtaining internet information. If the process is too slow, work on improving the process to obtain a warrant--don't bypass it. The very legitimate "slippery slope" argument in this case is augmented by Rep. Daw's original version of HB 150 allowing administrative subpoenas for any "criminal activity" using a computer. The bill was amended on Feb. 23rd or 25th to apply "only" to felony charges. It failed a House floor vote. The bill was substituted Feb. 26th to now allow government lawyers to obtain internet information without a warrant in the cases of child kidnapping and "an offense of stalking under Section 76-5-106.5." (Line 71 of the substitute bill at the link above) It now passed another floor vote and later a Senate floor vote, but interestingly, it split the Patrick Henry Caucus.

Also, if it is up to just a city, county, or state attorney's discretion, what happens when the stalking ordinance referenced in the law is applied politically? Mark Shurtleff may be the most egregiously political government lawyer, but administrative subpoenas are ripe for abuse because of politics or personalities at all levels they are permitted. Can you imagine if Lohra Miller (Salt Lake County district attorney) and that other guy in her office that have been publicly suing and attacking each other in the press for a couple years could get the other's internet information via an administrative subpoena obtained at their discretion? The particular stalking ordinance given administrative subpoena power was recently beefed up to give prosecutors extremely wide latitude in what constitutes stalking. Read some excerpts from Section 76-5-106.5 of Utah Code. The person could be charged if they violate the following conditions:
(b) "Course of conduct" means two or more acts directed at or toward a specific person, including: (i) acts in which the actor follows, monitors, observes, photographs, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about a person, or interferes with a person's property:

(F) uses a computer, the Internet, text messaging, or any other electronic means to commit an act that is a part of the course of conduct.
And this broad standard, communicating "about a person" on the Internet in a manner that would cause them "emotional distress" [(2)(b) in code], can now be used to get the internet information, including credit card information, of any internet poster a politically motivated government attorney deems to cause his/her buddies distress...without a judicially reviewed warrant." That's wrong.

There was only one item in the anti-Daw packet about something besides HB 150. It was a copy of the executive summary of Daw's 2007 HB 141 and a paper comparing it to "Obamacare" because it mandated catastrophic health insurance coverage. This was pretty dumb in my opinion. I do not support health insurance mandates, but much of the partisan opposition to them blithely ignores that they were a Republican idea to try and protect the market in the face of government mandates. I don't support Bob Bennett either , but his acknowledging the huge financial problems in healthcare and fiddling with possible solutions in his bill are not the reasons I won't vote for him (unless he ends up facing Cherilyn Eagar in a primary). So in this instance, one could ding Rep. Daw and many on the right for opposing ideas based on who proposed them rather than their merits, but this guilt by association doesn't fly with me. I've got other, more legitimate reasons to vote against Brad Daw.

I'll probably post again about these county races before Saturday, and possibly some more Daw/Harper comparisons if anyone is interested. (Well, very possibly if no one is interested too.) =)


Thursday, April 15, 2010

The UEG's attempt to keep the initiative signers anonymous reveals the true injustice of SB 275, the extended time period for opponents

The Utahns for Ethical Government organization and its lawyers are trying to prevent initiative opponents from learning the names of those who signed and then badgering them to remove their names. I agree that it will be inconvenient for some of them (The Utah County Republican Party plans to distribute flyers claiming the initiative is anti-LDS.), but I think the names should be public. Otherwise, it won't be possible to verify that true signatures were gathered. I know I wouldn't want to have to just trust the county clerk. I'll even agree with Howard Stephenson that the initiative backers are worried they won't reach the high numerical thresholds for signatures. (I predict that both the ethics and Fair Boundaries initiatives will fall just short in paper signatures and the battle will move to the certification of e-signatures. Even that may end up being a moot point due to the requirement to get 10% of the voters in 26 of the 29 State Senate Districts. The petitions could hit the 95,000 total required with the online signatures, but be a little behind in too many of the specific districts.)

However, I also agree with one small aspect of Carl Wimmer's blast at the end of the Tribune article:
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, co-sponsored the bill that streamlined signature removal. On Wednesday he had harsh criticism for the initiative backers and their lawsuit.

"This is Chicago-style politics at its worst," Wimmer said, "and precisely what you can expect from an organization that is trying to usurp the rights of the voters and the republican form of government in our state."

"The public should have a right to know who is attempting to change law," Wimmer said. "There's no difference between who signed a petition and how a legislator voted."
I think it is revealing that Rep. Wimmer thinks citizen initiatives "usurp the rights" of voters, but that's not my main point. It's Wimmer's last comment, that the signers' signatures are like legislators' votes. This comparison probably doesn't hold 100% true, but in this case, it represents the public's right, protected by the State Constitution Article VI, to initiate legislation.

Rep. Wimmer continually argued this bill was making things more fair and more just for signature removals. I agree that allowing easier removal not requiring a notary was fair, but allowing initiative opponents to access the names of signers and target them for one extra month was a transparent "power grab," to use the language of opponents, grabbing power from the people by eliminating months of work by taking a few names off a petition in one Senate District. It is hypocritical and unfair, and I honestly don't believe that Rep. Wimmer truly believes his own words from the House presentation.

The House Floor debate is kind of long, but sadly interesting. Here's the link. You have to scroll down halfway through Part 1 to SB0275S02 and you can either listen or watch the debate. I watched the video on RealPlayer. You have to first fast forward through a 40 second procedural deal first. Then the video resets to the 42 minute floor debate and vote. In his bill introduction, Rep. Wimmer talks about removing the notary requirement, but conveniently does not mention the extended month for opponents to remove signatures with no ability for proponents to add signatures, nor the fact that this bill differs from 95%+ bills and takes effect immediately. He also said the initiative signature gatherers are likely deceiving people and not giving them all the information. This claim was repeated by Rep's Gibson, Morley, and Hughes.

All of the debate is revealing, but at about 9:20 Rep. King proposes an amendment moving deadlines for both signing and removing names to April 15th. Rep. Wimmer really tries to stretch the truth in his rebuttal, claiming the rights of those who sign late in the process are taken away, and so it's fair to have the month of time just for removals. Rep. McIff, who ended up voting for the bill, makes the best comments starting at the 13:00 minute mark. Listen--it's only 2 minutes. He explains indisputably why this bill unbalances the rights of initiative proponents in favor of initiative opponents. (He doesn't mention that initiative opponents will almost always be incumbent legislators.) In my opinion, his points put to shame Wimmer's silly arguments. The vote on the amendment takes place at about 17:00. It failed by a 34 to 38 margin. (The final vote was 50-24 in favor of the bill, showing that a number of Representatives thought removing the notary requirements was a good idea while opposing the extra month of time.) This is voting material for me as my Rep. voted against the amendment and for the bill.

One final high(low)light: Rep. Kerry Gibson gives a long, rambling series of questions and a speech at 19:00. California is baaaad. Any initiative will turn us into California. California...Booooo...Blah, blah. He attacks the same strawman as Wimmer, focusing on deceptive signature gatherers and how his wife might illegally sign his name to a petition. Rep. Gibson also states that he opposes any citizen initiatives. I think this says out loud what many legislators are thinking. At 24 minutes, he justifies the extra month by comparing the signatures to committee hearings or bill co-signers rather than votes. I didn't know him as more than a name before--this makes me glad he's leaving the legislature, but possibly sorry for Weber County if he wins his County Commissioner race.

I think Rep. Gibson's comparison is wrong. The signatures gathered are the public's right to put a law on the public ballot, exactly like the legislators' right to vote to put their version of an ethics commission on the ballot this November. The extra time extended in SB 275 is the equivalent of allowing opponents of that commission or of bills passed on the last day of the session to persuade/inform/manipulate/bully for one month after the session ends, and any bill that loses support retroactively doesn't pass. It's unfair. It's bad process. It's wrong. Legislators would never allow such an affront to their prerogative. But despite Wimmer's admission that the state constitution is right and we do get to "vote" via signature to put measures on the ballot, the legislature doesn't actually respect the voice of the citizens or the "plain language" of the State Constitution giving us equal legislative power to place bills on the ballot.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two reasons to sign the ethics initiative on the last day, April 15th

Two reasons:

1. In current Utah law and practice, lobbyists can be legislators.

This really shocks 90% of people I talk to along with the fact that a senator representing Utah Valley is currently both a lobbyist and a state senator. As they ask for more info, I tell them that Howard Stephenson is one of the most influential policy makers in our state, and his "taxpayers association" is really a 4-employee lobbying firm with a secret list of business clients. Stephenson's sole basis for employment is his effectiveness in achieving legislation favorable to his clients. If he votes the "wrong" way or does not push bills his clients favor, he will be fired. This is not the normal and inherent bias of a citizen legislature, but basically a man paid for his votes. Worse, since the Utah Taxpayers Association's clients are secret, you never know on a given bill whether Stephenson is being employed to vote a certain way. He cannot be objective or risk his livelihood. How can it be interpreted any differently? Recent reform bills did nothing about this practice.

2. The latest ethics reform bills passed by the legislature will not only fail to stop the vast majority of the lobbyist money coming in, but new loopholes would allow half of it to go unreported if spending spending patterns remain similar.

Bernick's analysis in the Deseret News of lobbyist gifts and meals this year reveals the distinct lack of reform.
"Despite Utah legislators' claim that they took large steps in lobbyist gift-giving reforms this year, a Deseret News analysis of new lobbyist disclosure reports finds that a new reform bill they passed would ban just $1,100 of the $71,700 spent on lawmakers so far this year...

However, the newspaper also found if the lobbyist gift-ban restrictions found in a citizen initiative petition were in effect, 99 percent of the gifts given to legislators in January, February and March of this year would not have been allowed."

The purposeful loopholes in the law just passed are even worse:
Meals costing more than $10 must come with the accepting lawmaker's name attached, unless large groups of legislators are invited. If the whole Legislature, the House or Senate, a legislative committee or a party caucus are all invited to the meal, then that expense is exempted, no matter how many actually attend. In fact, the all-invited expense will no longer even be reported by the giving lobbyist, as is the case under the old lobbyist law. Gone from the public record will be how much was spent by this or that special interest group hosting a meal for an identifiable number of legislators, no matter what that expense may be.

In the first three months of this year, $35,168 — nearly half of all gift-giving that was reported, the newspaper found — went for meals where all members or some caucuses were invited, an amount that won't be seen in future lobbyist reports.

In addition, in the 29-member Senate, the president can authorize lobbyist-paid-for trips and expenses for a senator of either political party, and that lobbyist expense won't be reported, either, under the new law. The speaker of the House also may give such a trip exemption for any representative, but by internal House rule (which was not adopted by the Senate), the speaker must disclose that expenditure and the representative who took it in a timely manner.

Bernick explains that gift giving is down 20% from last year's 1st quarter, but I have difficulty praising the legislature for accepting "only" $71,000 of gifts in a three month period rather than $89,000.

The legislators can take offense and (falsely) call the proposed restrictions and independent commission a "power grab" all they want, but that doesn't change these numbers. The state legislature wants us to believe that the vaunted free market they value so much is spending tens of thousands of dollars in just a 3 month period to accomplish nothing; these firms and special interests are so blind to their own interest that they just throw this money away without making a profit on the expenditure; and Howard Stephenson has been employed for the last few decades to not influence the incorruptible legislature. Think about that premise and either find a last minute petition to sign, or go online and sign electronically as that battle rev's up. Here are the links to the Utahns for Ethical Government initiative and also the Fair Boundaries initiative.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Revealing conversation while gathering initiative signatures

One afternoon, I was gathering signatures for both the Utahns for Ethical Government initiative and the Fair Boundaries initiative. I ran into two professionally dressed people wearing real estate nametags. I explained the Fair Boundaries petition to polite interest and nods, and then I started explaining the ethics petition.

"If this were to pass, next year state legislators could not take any gifts from lobbyists, period. Including meals."

One of their eyes lit up and the person said "I'll sign that" while grabbing a pen. I continued to explain that it would prevent a person from being a lobbyist while serving in the legislature and that one of our state senators representing Utah Valley is a lobbyist. They nodded and grinned. But as the person started to print their name, they paused.

"Wait. Maybe we shouldn't. Don't we do this?"

"Lobby? Yes. The realtors' associations are the biggest lobbyists in the state."

They discussed if anyone would be mad they signed the petition. I told them that they should be aware that Taylor Oldroyd is strongly opposed to the initiative and in fact had mixed his Republican Party interests with his County Realtor Association position and gotten signature gatherers kicked out from in front of the Home Expo. I also explained SB 275 and the GOP plan to call people after the fact and convince them they should remove their names from the petition because it is anti-Mormon.

"So yes. If this gets enough signatures to get on the ballot, you probably will get a call from Taylor Oldroyd."

"Listen. These are both good. But we're both new in the profession."

"Yea. We can't afford to get on the wrong side of Taylor right now."

I told them it was sad, but I understood that they didn't want to risk their livelihoods. I explained the rest of the leadership arguments about supposed loss of free speech, invasion of privacy, and their twisting to pull the anti-Mormon stuff out of the bill, and why I thought they were good provisions that improved the political process. They both said they agreed, but didn't want to antagonize Oldroyd. I thanked them and sent them home with information to give to others they knew.

I spoke with some other realtors I knew about the incident, and they laughed. They explained that Taylor is not even a realtor, but merely their hired gun to lobby and administrate.

(I hope some of you comment, but I may not respond for a couple days. It's not you; it's me. I'll respond when I can in a few days.)