Inside This Year’s
Learn how our virtual lobbying yielded
substantial results on Capitol Hill
No matter how much planning the staff at the ACLU of Utah does, the annual Utah Legislative Session always surprises us. For instance, none of us predicted that lawmakers would fail to pass new abortion restrictions in 2021, but that’s what happened. Likewise, our hopes for securing significant police reforms did not materialize. We also assumed that a COVID-19 outbreak might shut down the session early, but lawmakers and staff soldiered through to the end.
Fortunately, there is no better person to manage this unpredictability than Marina Lowe, the ACLU’s Legislative & Policy Counsel, who led our largest-ever team of attorneys, community organizers, and policy experts during the 45-day session. Working remotely to follow public health guidelines, our staff reviewed more than 150 bills, ultimately tracking 110 pieces of legislation, and either amending or testifying (virtually and in-person) on 67 bills. We also published 85 social media alerts and produced 14 videos that attracted over 6,000 views. This year we also launched a text message notification service called Legislative Action Alerts so that we could advise supports about critical bills and how to contact legislators.
Looking back from the perspective of two months, we consider 2021 as one of the most productive legislative sessions in recent years. Working across multiple issue areas from LGBTQ equality to the First Amendment, we successfully defended civil liberties and advanced the cause of equality against discriminatory and unjust policies. In January we began the session with 15 priorities, including blocking new abortion restrictions (which we did), protecting transgender minors (another win), and starting reform of the state's probation and parole system (accomplished by passing H.B. 290 to reduce the change of simple mistakes sending Utahns back to jail).
While we faced some setbacks in our efforts to 1) protect recent advances in bail reform, 2) increase limits on the use of no-knock warrants by law enforcement, and 3) enhance protections for digital privacy, we also made progress in new arenas. For example, we advocated for the successful repeal of the core of Utah's two-decade-old "English-Only" law by passing S.B. 214 (Official Language Amendments). This important bill eliminates restrictions on state funding for translation services and prohibitions against using other languages in government communications, a crucial change for state agencies trying to assist immigrant and underserved communities during a pandemic.
In another first, Smart Justice Attorney Jason Groth produced three 30-second television commercials to build support for the probation and parole reforms proposed in H.B. 290. By partnering with allied organizations, Groth crafted compelling messages spoken by Utahns personally impacted by the criminal legal system that were broadcast on local stations KUTV and KMYU. These ads, along with other lobbying efforts, help secure the passage of H.B. 290 during the legislative session. The ACLU of Utah's Campaign for Smart Justice also pushed H.B. 143 (Driver's License Suspension Amendments) over the finish line this year after running out of time 2020. This bill will prevent 30,000 Utahns from losing their driver's licenses each year for being unable to pay fines or missing a court a date, continuing our legacy of securing policy victories that create broad impacts across the state.
This summary is a snapshot of the legislation we influenced on the Hill this year. For the full report, read our 2021 Legislative Wrap-up.
Plus, you can find full coverage of the 2021 Legislative Session, including daily updates and episodes of "ACLU of Utah (Virtually) on the Hill," at our Legislative Work webpage.