Outdoor Retailer should avoid ultimatums on lands policy

Today, some leaders from the outdoor retail industry are making demands and issuing ultimatums to Utah’s elected officials, threatening to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from the state.

Their aggressive actions highlight how the discussion around public land management has been absolutely degraded. So, while questioning our state’s values and love for public lands, their ultimatums are actually restricting and undermining real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So, those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions.

Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue, and making our state a great place to work, live and play.

To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns – especially those who live in our rural communities. And despite the false claims often depicted on the internet and in the media, responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.

The type of bullying rhetoric currently coming from some in the outdoor retail industry is creating the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.

We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple – often complementary – uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. We must remember that ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.

We call on Utah’s elected officials, the outdoor retail industry, and other key voices to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policy that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for many generations to come. That is the Utah way.

Utah State Capitol is the house of government for the U.S. state of Utah in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is the capital and the most populous city in the state of Utah. Salt Lake City has  a strong outdoor recreation tourist industry and is well-known as the center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

2017 Utah Legislature gets underway

The Utah Legislature is now meeting in its annual general session, which started Monday and will continue through March 9.

The state of Utah has an excellent legislative website with a wealth of information available to Utahns. Click here to learn the quickest way to find and read the text of a specific bill. To learn more (with pictures!) about how a bill becomes a law, click here. As a citizen, your voice and perspective are included in the legislative process if  you communicate with your legislators. To find your representative and senator and their contact information, click here.


In his introductory remarks (video), Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser addressed the critical need to rebalance the power of the states and the national government. Regarding the “intense partisanship and inability of Washington to effectively pass and deal with issues,” Pres. Niederhauser said,

…this is because the federal [national] government was never intended to be so comprehensive. … The vision of the Founders was to spread power over multiple layers of government in order to prevent any concentration of power. Most issues should be dealt with in our state houses and our city halls, not Washington, DC. … Centralized government was the very thing the Founding Fathers were trying to eliminate. … I call upon my legislative colleagues across this country to join together and build a barrier around state jurisdiction and guard it jealously. Even though I am encouraged by the talk coming from Washington, D.C., now, I don’t think they will give up the power on their own. We will need to hold their feet to the fire.

Underscoring the hard work and decisions of those who have gone before, Speaker Greg Hughes highlighted (video) several of the challenges and issues he and his colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives will address over the next 45 days. Among the more pressing matters will be:

  • The urgency to confront, in appropriate and effective ways, the homelessness crisis in our state
  • Intrusions of the national government and its executive-branch overreach – as manifest in the recent Bears Ears national monument designation – and the efforts now underway to rescind that designation
  • Continuing the prudent balancing of public education funding requirements and preservation of the state’s tax-policy competitiveness with other Western states – a critical element of which is the public land still under the control of the national government

Again, as citizens of Utah, you can participate in the processes of deliberation and decision-making on matters of public policy – if you will – and thereby equip your representatives in the House and Senate to be your voice in the legislative processes of our democratic republic.



Testimony in opposition to SB 101 (High Quality School Readiness Program Expansion)

Testimony presented by Christine Cooke, Sutherland Institute education policy analyst, on Feb. 4, 2016, before the Senate Education Standing Committee of the Utah Legislature regarding SB 101:

Thank you, members of the committee. I’m Christine Cooke, education policy analyst for Sutherland Institute.

Sutherland appreciates and sympathizes with the intent of SB 101 to create an early intervention educational program to target children most in need. However, the language of the bill does not adequately align with this intent. For example, lines 124-125 allow the children to be deemed “at risk” without independent or objective verification that the child falls into an at risk category. To draw an analogy, this is akin to targeting Medicaid to low-income families without objectively verifying family income. In both cases, the absence of the verification mechanism fails to align the policy with the intent of the targeted program.

While we have other concerns, we think the bill first needs to be amended so that its language aligns with its intent. Until that is done, we would recommend that the committee hold SB 101. If the committee chooses to delay action, we are committed to working with the bill sponsor to address our other concerns with the bill.

Thank you.


2016 Utah Legislature begins

Starting today, the Utah Legislature is in session through March 10.

The state of Utah has an excellent legislative website with a wealth of information available to Utahns. Click here to learn the quickest way to find and read the text of a specific bill.

To learn more (with pictures!) about how a bill becomes a law, click here.


Hysteria over Indiana’s protection of religious liberty: Elites take leave of their senses

The reaction to the Indiana Legislature’s enactment of a generic religious liberty law seems increasingly unhinged. The long knives of business, entertainment and political elites are coming out. Even, amusingly, “gamers.” This does little to assuage concerns that proponents of sexual revolution are motivated by animus towards people of faith.

The basic reality is that the law passed by Indiana is almost the same as a law approved by the U.S. Congress in 1993 with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill simply directs courts considering religious liberty claims to ensure that when the government, or a private party bringing a lawsuit, does something that creates a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion, it is doing so to further a “compelling interest” in the narrowest way possible to protect that interest. At least 19 other states have similar laws.

Indeed, the legal rule codified in Religious Freedom Restoration Acts reflects the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment for decades (before the court abandoned the principle). The federal RFRA was Congress’s attempt to restore the old rule.

Law professor Daniel O. Conkle, who notes his own support for gay rights and same-sex marriage, showed great integrity recently by pointing out that labeling Indiana’s law “a license to discriminate” does not comport with reality.

One will search far and wide for any example of people being thrown out of restaurants because of a state or federal Religious Freedom Act, though that is being urged as a foregone conclusion by opponents of the law. Why would Indiana’s law create a different result than any other state’s laws, or the federal government’s for that matter? As Stanford Law Professor Michael McConnell notes: “In the decades that states have had RFRA statutes, no business has been given the right to discriminate against gay customers, or anyone else.”

In fact, Professor McConnell and Professor Conkle both note that courts are likely to prioritize discrimination laws over religious liberty if there were to be a conflict.

That may be why Utah opted to pursue a different approach to religious liberty protections this last session. Rather than leave to courts to balance religious liberty with conflicting claims, Utah’s law straightforwardly limited the application of laws that might otherwise impact religious liberties to prevent the litigation in the first place.

But whatever approach a state chooses: stating a principle for courts to apply, like Indiana, or creating rules to prevent attacks, like Utah — protecting religious liberty is not an attack on the rights of others, whatever demagogues may claim to the contrary.

An open letter to Utah legislators

March 20, 2015

Dear members of the Utah Senate and House of Representatives,

Thank you for your service in the recently concluded legislative session. As we reflect on the important policy decisions you made this year, we wish to acknowledge – without regard to your philosophy or political party – the significant sacrifice it required from you in time away from your families, neighbors, workplace associates and many other priorities. Over the course of 45 days, you successfully resolved a raft of difficult and sometimes contentious issues: balancing protections for religious liberty and the LGBT community, increasing funding for public education, equalizing property taxes, strengthening accountability in public education, addressing the transportation funding gap, and reforming the criminal justice system, just to name a few.

Of course, not everyone – including Sutherland Institute – agreed with every particular of how these issues were resolved. Nevertheless, to your credit you sought to take these issues on rather than avoid them, and more often than not did so with prudence, graciousness and good humor amid seemingly endless meetings, thousands of emails, phone calls, tweets and handwritten notes, and hundreds of people daily importuning you for your time and support. Such is not the case in many legislative bodies, whether national, state or local, and the fact that you choose to do things differently here is something for which every Utahn can and should be grateful.

As policymakers, you fulfill the vital responsibility of the legislative branch in our inspired, distinctly American form of self-government. This includes the often-thankless task of maintaining the proper balance between paying careful attention to the views of those who elected you, and living up to your role and duty as elected representatives, well described by the great Irish-born statesman and member of British Parliament:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

– Edmund Burke, 1729-1797; Speech to the electors of Bristol, November 3, 1774

Because of our focus on promoting conservative principles, encouraging sound public policy, facilitating robust public dialogue and maintaining good policymaking processes, we are pleased to acknowledge the careful attention, passionate engagement and thoughtful debate you contribute toward making Utah a better place to live, work and raise a family.

– Sutherland Institute

Top 5 highlights from the 2015 Utah legislative session

sutherland file pictures 005Of the 833 pieces of legislation that were introduced this session, below are five that are especially noteworthy.

HB 333—Budget Reserve Account Amendments

Utah lawmakers once again showed they are serious about their fiscal stewardship by raising caps on state “rainy day” funds. HB 333 will put more taxpayer money into savings, instead of using it to grow government via new state programs or agencies. The result will be a state government that is able to sustain critical services that Utahns rely on – like public education, transportation and public safety – rather than being forced to cut them or to raise taxes when lean economic times lead to falling tax revenues.

HB 348—Criminal Justice Programs and Amendments

With this bill, legislators enacted serious criminal justice reforms that will reduce costs to taxpayers from Utah’s state prison system, while simultaneously helping low-level offenders change their lives and become productive members of society. Additionally, as similar reforms in Texas and Georgia have demonstrated, Utahns will see less crime, reduced prisoner recidivism and improved public safety. In short, with HB 348 everyone is genuinely better off – something that can be said of very few pieces of legislation.

SB 104/SB 195/HB 186—State School Board Election Bills

After a federal judge signaled that Utah’s existing state school board elections process was unconstitutional, a flurry of alternative proposals made their way through the Legislature. SB 104 called for partisan elections. SB 195 would have implemented partisan elections unless an amendment to the Utah Constitution passed to create a governor-appointed school board. HB 186 would have established nonpartisan elections. Ultimately, none of these bills passed, so this issue will receive a lot of attention in the interim.

SB 164/HB 446—Medicaid Expansion Bills

Members of the Utah House wisely rejected a plan to expand Medicaid under the provisions of Obamacare, commonly called the Healthy Utah plan. Despite enormous pressure from the governor’s office and some of Utah’s largest, most well-financed special interest groups, representatives rejected the program’s financial unsustainability and harmful impacts on the low-income children, single parents and disabled Utahns currently on Medicaid. Over the next several months, a select group composed of legislative leaders, Gov. Herbert and Lt. Gov. Cox will work to develop a proposed resolution. In late summer, the full Legislature will be convened to consider the proposal.

SB 296/297—Nondiscrimination and Religious Freedom

SB 296 created protections in employment and housing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, while including religious liberty protections for religious organizations, employers, and employees. SB 297 ensured that couples seeking marriage licenses would have access to an authorized government employee to perform that service, while allowing government employees the ability to designate someone other than themselves to perform that duty if they prefer. The two bills did not attempt to nor did they address all the questions arising from a federal judge’s decision striking down Utah’s marriage law, and there are sure to be continued efforts to resolve these issues in the future.

Utah’s elected officials displayed remarkable statesmanship as they dealt with hundreds of important – often contentious and sometimes historic – issues during the 2015 session. We are fortunate to live in a state that, more often than not, values prudence, freedom and compassion.


Why Senate Bill 297 is necessary

At this time, the state of Utah has been required to recognize same-sex marriages by court order. The court order did not address some of the foreseeable consequences of redefining marriage in the state, such as implications for religious liberty.

By contrast, the anti-discrimination legislation (SB296) contains provisions that attempt to balance the response to mistreatment of individuals in housing and employment with the need to preserve crucial religious freedoms.

The fact that same-sex marriage has come to Utah by court order has prevented this kind of balance, so the Legislature needs to act to ensure that religious liberties are considered in the context of same-sex marriage.

SB297 provides necessary religious liberty protections:

  • No public official will be forced to perform marriages if it would violate their religious beliefs (while still allowing any person to get their marriage solemnized).
  • Religious officials and religious organizations will not have to recognize or perform marriages that conflict with their teachings.
  • Religious officials and religious organizations will not be prohibited from solemnizing marriages just because they will not perform marriages that conflict with their teachings.
  • Religious officials and religious organizations will not be forced by the state to “provide goods, accommodations, advantages, privileges, services, facilities, or grounds for activities connected with the solemnization or celebration of a marriage that is contrary to that religious official’s or religious organization’s religious belief.”
  • Religious officials and religious organizations will not be forced to promote marriages that conflict with their teachings in any programs or activities.
  • Government cannot penalize a religious official or religious group for exercising these rights.
  • Licensing, certification and accreditation processes can’t be used to punish people for their beliefs about marriage, family and sexuality.
  • Religious officials and religious organizations will not be forced by individuals to “provide goods, accommodations, advantages, privileges, services, facilities, or grounds for activities connected with the solemnization or celebration of a marriage that is contrary to that religious official’s or religious organization’s religious belief.”

The bill also provides legal remedies for those whose rights are violated under the new law.

Of course, these are not the only religious liberties that need protecting (note: there are also significant exemptions and religious speech protections in SB296) but SB297 is an important start to minimize the potential harms of radical court decisions on marriage.

Sutherland Institute endorses SB 297

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

In our statement about SB 296 yesterday, we noted a need for additional religious liberty protections for “the ability of people of faith to act on their beliefs related to marriage without fear of retribution.” Today, Senator Stuart Adams introduced SB 297, which does precisely that.

SB 297 provides important protections for the religious liberty of churches, religious organizations and individual people of faith.

Some of these key protections relate to those who might be asked to solemnize a marriage inconsistent with their beliefs; those who are threatened with retaliation for expressing or acting on their beliefs; and the professional and business licenses of those who speak up for marriage. It further prevents any coercion of religious organizations or officials to facilitate marriages contrary to their beliefs.

It is a robust protection of a foundational freedom: the ability of all citizens to hold, express and live in accordance with their core beliefs about marriage.

Taken together, SB 296, SB 297 and HB 447 represent a sound, balanced approach to protecting the rights of all Utahns. We encourage their passage.

Sutherland Institute statement on SB 296

At the time of the press conference by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on religious liberty, Sutherland Institute expressed its support for the principles those leaders outlined. Today, SB 296 has been introduced in an effort to (1) address concerns about mistreatment of individuals in housing and employment, and (2) ensure that the religious liberty of those who recognize and honor standards of morality related to marriage and sexuality are not sacrificed.

As a statement from the Church notes, SB 296 is an effort to balance those considerations. It is clearly a significant improvement over the token religious liberty protections in previous proposals, and it deserves thoughtful consideration from policy-makers.

If this housing and employment law goes into effect and the provisions of SB 296 in practice prove to be inadequate protections for religious liberty, the Legislature will need to act to correct the problem. At that time, we hope we can expect the support of those who have been calling for changes in discrimination laws to remedy any unintended consequences.

Additionally, it is important to recognize that the protections in SB 296 are limited to the context of a discrimination law. We hope that in the short time remaining in the session, or as soon as possible, the Legislature will address other significant religious liberty concerns not confined to the employment and housing context.

For instance, the ability of parents to pass on moral standards to their children; the ability of people of faith to act on their beliefs related to marriage without fear of retribution; and the ability of all citizens to be free of coercion to participate in or endorse conduct contrary to their consciences.

For Sutherland Institute, the crucial issue is that people of faith must be free to teach about and maintain standards of conduct related to marriage and sexuality. This is a fundamental tenet of a free society.