S.L. Tribune op-ed: No reason to rush a Utah anti-discrimination law

sutherland file pictures 007(Salt Lake Tribune) Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last week made an informative, thoughtful statement about the need to take a balanced approach to the connected issues of protecting the employment and housing rights of LGBT individuals and protecting everyone’s religious liberty and rights of conscience. They suggested a set of prudent principles to guide legislators’ consideration of these issues — principles Sutherland Institute endorsed shortly thereafter.

But to read the statements of the ideological left in Utah, one would think the church leaders simply said, “We support Sen. Steve Urquhart’s anti-discrimination bill, period.” In fact, the church did not announce support for any specific piece of legislation. And while political spin can be expected from those well-practiced in the craft, it gets a little awkward when the church says “Mormon leaders call for laws that protect religious freedom” (the headline on mormonnewsroom.org) but the spin machine mutates that into “In major move, Mormon leaders call for statewide LGBT protections” (the headline of The Salt Lake Tribune’s story on the news conference).

Click here to read the rest of this op-ed in the Tribune by Sutherland’s Derek Monson.


Rebecca Lockhart – Sutherland Soapbox, 1/27/15

lockhartuvuThis post is an expanded transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

Much has been said over the last several days since the passing of former Utah Speaker of the House Rebecca Lockhart, and appropriately so. In a state accustomed to bidding farewell to significant leaders in their advanced age, Becky Lockhart was relatively young. But for those of us who have known and been privileged to associate with her, our feeling of loss and the genuine sense of mourning accompanying Becky’s passing arise out of more than sadness that a youthful, vibrant colleague has been taken from us in her prime. Becky Lockhart was a leader – “in every sense of the word,” as Governor Herbert emphasized in his Capitol memorial-service remarks. She was the real deal: a person whose compass, courage, capacity and compassion naturally attracted and influenced; whose work and example helped people recognize and protect what’s truly important and to preserve it, now and for posterity.

Upon the sudden death of Pres. John F. Kennedy, whose remarkable life also concluded in his 47th year, associates published their reflections under the title “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye.” Gratefully, because of her 16 years of public service in elective office – more than a third of her life – we knew Becky; that she was, in fact, as distinctive as she has been warmly described in posthumous expressions of praise. The many glowing tributes are not hyperbole; she was a wonderful wife and mother, a cherished friend and neighbor, and a great public servant.

Eleven years ago, my associates and I became better acquainted with Representative Lockhart when she participated in the inaugural season of the Sutherland Transcend Series, a program for elected and civic leaders grounded in dimensions of effective community and political leadership – character, intellect, and process. Taking to the opportunity like a fish to water, Becky actively engaged and in so doing enriched the experience for fellow participants and helped define the format and refine the quality for all who followed. Read more

Sutherland Institute endorses LDS Church’s principles on religious freedom and nondiscrimination

For Immediate Release: Jan. 27, 2015

Sutherland Institute welcomes the helpful comments from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this morning on religious liberty and nondiscrimination. We endorse the principles outlined in the press conference and look forward to continuing a constructive role in ensuring respect for these principles as the Utah Legislature considers these issues.

Sutherland Institute has long called for protection of religious freedom for individuals and organizations. This principle must be reflected in any proposed legislation. Residents of Utah and citizens everywhere are entitled not just to belief, but also to the free exercise of their religious beliefs and moral conscience—both in private and in public.

Our views and those of others will be refined as a civil conversation proceeds. An early version of Sutherland Institute’s efforts on these issues is included on the Institute’s website, FairToAll.org.

We also reiterate our position that Utah can address valid concerns of mistreatment in employment and housing and public services without contributing to an environment of intolerance toward people of faith and moral conscience.

Sutherland Institute is a state-based, independent public policy organization located in Salt Lake City. Its mission: protecting the cause of freedom, constructively influencing Utah’s decision-makers, and promoting responsible citizenship. Sutherland Institute is recognized as the leading conservative think tank in the state of Utah.


Click here to watch the press conference.

The (legislative) game is afoot

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

We’ve collected some great little tools to get you primed for this year’s legislative session:

Fundamental reform must precede increases in generally applicable taxes

Reymerswaele_Two_tax_collectorsSome Utah policymakers are proposing legislation this year that would increase generally applicable taxes on income and gasoline. Not surprisingly, these proposals have drawn the attention of the media and Utah pollsters, who have found that Utahns oppose raising income taxes for education.

Utahns’ hesitancy regarding tax increases is well founded. Government has a history of inefficiency (driven by a relative lack of systematic accountability for government-funded programs) and seemingly endless expansion (due to natural political forces). So it is very reasonable for Utahns to balk at the idea of giving more of their hard-earned money to government.

On the other hand, meaningful freedom requires limited government – or good government, in other words. And that has to be paid for with taxpayer dollars. Given the natural conflict between the freedom-based need for tax dollars and the reasonable impulse to be skeptical of tax increase proposals, how should Utahns and Utah policymakers evaluate such proposals?

One fundamental question (but certainly not the only question) to ask is: “Will this tax increase proposal bring fundamental, beneficial reform to government that serves the common good?” If a proposal to take more money from taxpayers cannot answer at least this question with a clear and convincing “yes,” then it is probably not a proposal worth considering further.

So take the proposal to raise individual income taxes by 20 percent (upping the rate from 5 percent to 6 percent). The money generated by this proposal (estimated to be $585 million in 2016) would go mostly toward providing bonuses to teachers based on performance, with the remainder being invested in digital learning.

Certainly, these reforms are steps in the right direction for public education. But are they truly fundamental and beneficial reforms that merit a tax increase? Read more

Graphic: A bill's long and winding road

Here’s a fun, easy-to-understand graphic on how a bill becomes a law in Utah. (Click to enlarge.) You can print it out and follow along with the 2015 Legislature …


Our sympathies to Speaker Lockhart's family

We extend our condolences to Speaker Lockhart’s family. We are deeply saddened that her serious illness and sudden passing bring to a close her remarkable life of personal and public service. Our prayers on her behalf now become expressions of gratitude for Becky’s friendship and example of integrity and courage.

— Sutherland Institute

Sutherland commends Gov. Herbert for not calling Medicaid special session

Sutherland Institute commends Governor Herbert for his wise and prudent decision not to call a special session to consider his proposed Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion plan. The question of whether Utah should add a second, private-insurance tier to its Medicaid program for the sake of federal funding is a momentous one. This decision has significant implications and consequences for the most vulnerable Utahns – the single parents, disabled individuals, and children who would be left behind in the lower tier of traditional Medicaid coverage. Additionally, given the long-term fiscal implications of creating a new entitlement program such as Healthy Utah, this decision ought to be considered within a budget process that sheds light on whether future state funding for Healthy Utah could be better utilized if instead spent on essential roles of government such as higher education, transportation, and corrections.

Despite calls from some to short-circuit thoughtful consideration of the details and impacts of Healthy Utah because they believe the decision merits no further evaluation, Governor Herbert made the correct decision and should be commended for recognizing the importance of a thoughtful process for making sound public policy. Sutherland looks forward to continuing this important policy dialogue where it ought to be engaged: in a general session of the Utah Legislature.

Behind the Legislative Scorecard – Mero Moment, 4/1/14

sutherland file pictures 009This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

About 10 years ago, when Sutherland Institute made it a part of our mission to “constructively influence Utah’s decision makers,” we were very reluctant to create a legislative scorecard. For several years our thinking was that legislative scorecards tend to be more divisive – less constructive – than helpful. Several advocacy groups in Utah use these scorecards to demonstrate how aligned a state legislator is with whatever a particular group is advocating. At the time, we didn’t feel the need at Sutherland to become just one more “critic” of the Legislature.

That said, we were pressed increasingly by citizens to create a scorecard that would reflect the conservatism of the Legislature. Sutherland is Utah’s conservative voice, and the many requests for us to somehow measure the Legislature’s conservatism didn’t seem unreasonable. Still, and to this day, Sutherland Institute is sensitive to how these scorecards can be used by others for political and partisan purposes.

Two years ago we decided to try our hand at producing a scorecard that would measure the level of conservatism at the Legislature without encouraging its misuse by others. The 2014 Legislative Scorecard is our third iteration and we feel confident that we’ve accomplished our goal.

Of course, the Utah Legislature is a conservative body in a conservative state. And for that very reason, the term “conservative” is used broadly and indiscriminately. Evidently conservative can mean anything from a champion of government-generated economic development all the way to a libertarian. The Sutherland scorecard attempts subtly to help citizens understand that conservatism has specific meaning.

For the 2014 legislative session recently concluded, 784 bills were introduced at the Legislature. Sutherland tracked nearly 50 bills as a part of our regular work and we’ve isolated 17 Senate votes and 18 House votes for our latest scorecard. Our measurement is simple: Did a legislator vote the conservative way?

Read more

Sutherland releases 2014 Legislative Scorecard and Lifetime Legislator Scores

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

SALT LAKE CITY – Sutherland Institute released today its 2014 Legislative Scorecard. Using 17 pieces of legislation considered during the 2014 legislative session for the Senate and 18 for the House (not all bills overlap between chambers), Sutherland produced an individual score for each legislator and an overall score for each body. In 2014, the Utah Senate scored 79 percent on average (79 percent in 2013 and 81 percent in 2012) while the Utah House came in at 75 percent (58 percent in 2013 and 75 percent in 2012).

Of note during this session was the wide bipartisan agreement on several pieces of transparency legislation. Additionally, the so-called “moratorium” on bills dealing with religious freedom and nondiscrimination laws contributed to a less controversial session.

The 2014 Legislative Scorecard can be found here.

2014 Senate highlights:

  • “High Five”
    • 100%     Margaret Dayton
    • 100%     Mark Madsen
    • 94%       Deidre Henderson
    • 94%       Stuart Reid
    • 93%       Scott Jenkins
  • “Low Five”
    • 50%       Jim Dabakis
    • 56%       Patricia Jones
    • 59%       Gene Davis
    • 59%       Karen Mayne
    • 64%       Luz Robles
  • 20 of 29 senators scored 75 percent or better

Read more