“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” quipped Gideon Tucker, a judge in New York, in 1866. Each year, the Utah Legislature offers abundant evidence of the truthfulness of this judicial observation.
As noted in Jonathan Johnson’s op-ed today, the Legislature passed several tax increases, reflecting an entitlement mentality that pervades the Capitol — the state must get what it’s due.
In what might be called conservative cognitive dissonance, the same elected officials who pick-pocketed Utahns also enacted laws that freed up the market. And while it’s easy to criticize those who incrementally siphon away our hard-earned income, we should also pause to praise the positive outcomes that will help thousands of Utahns.
Let’s start with the fun one: food trucks. These mobile enterprises have faced substantial regulations from cities around the state, including outright bans in some locations. Redundant inspections, duplicative fees and confusing ordinances have made it very difficult for your favorite chefs to cook up the treats you love.
Enter Senate Bill 250, sponsored by Sen. Deidre Henderson, which streamlines these regulations, reduces fees, and creates a reciprocity system so cities and counties must honor one anothers’ licenses and permits. Once this bill is signed into law, food truck owners will save substantial costs and time, allowing them to focus on and grow their business.
Speaking of licenses, if you own a home-based business you’re also in for a cost savings as a result of Senate Bill 81, sponsored by Sen. Jake Anderegg. This bill, now awaiting the governor’s signature, prohibits cities from making you pay them a fee to get a business license as long as your business has no significant impact on your neighbors.
Kids are also freed up — for their irregular business activities like mowing lawns, selling lemonade or babysitting. Cities and counties can no longer make them get a license or permit or pay a fee. Children will thus be able to focus on learning the basics of business without having to worry about bureaucracy.
You’ve probably heard that the Legislature repealed the mandatory vehicle safety inspection program, allowing Utah to join 34 other states without this regulatory burden. Sponsored by Rep. Dan McCay, House Bill 265 will save Utahns tens of millions of dollars as a result — with no measurable decrease in safety.
Soon gone will be the days of being forced to undergo certain vehicle repairs in order to pass an arbitrary test. There are rampant stories of Utahns being required to pay for unnecessary services in order to be in compliance with the law and register their vehicle. Now that money will be freed up to focus on service that is actually necessary, keeping Utah’s roads safe.
Here’s an interesting one. Did you know that in the 1950s, only 1 in 20 Americans needed to obtain a license to work in their chosen profession, whereas today that number is roughly 1 in every 3 Americans? Known as occupational licensure, these types of laws often increase barriers to entry, discourage competition and create regulation that isn’t necessary for public safety.
So the Legislature passed House Bill 94, sponsored by Rep. Brian Greene, which empowers a committee of elected officials to take a close look at each of the many licensed occupations to ensure that they are not over-regulated. According to the Institute for Justice, Utah has the 12th most burdensome licensure laws; this legislation, once signed, can help move the needle in the right direction.
A final bill worth nothing is one that, in its original form, had several cities declaring proverbial war against the House of Representatives. House Bill 164, sponsored by Rep. Jefferson Moss, aimed to restrict cities from using their city-owned utility businesses as a slush fund for city programs.
Some cities throughout Utah charge residents more than is necessary for water, power, electricity or other services they provide. This extra money is then transferred to the general budget, where cities use it for things like parades, parks or other programs.
Facing significant opposition from the cities who wanted to continue taking money from residents without going through the legal process of raising taxes, the bill was ultimately watered down to only require cities to be transparent with residents about this overcharging — a good first step, at least, to work towards ending the practice.
Our life, liberty and property may not be safe while the Legislature is in session, but fortunately there were at least a few wins for the free market in Utah.
Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute, a free-market think tank in Utah.