Category: Blog Post

Legal Opinion

Earlier this year, several serious questions regarding separation of powers and the role of the Executive Branch arose after the Governor overstepped his constitutional duty and set the time, place and manner of a special election to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

The Legislature requested a legal opinion from the Attorney General regarding the process to fill a vacancy when a Utah Congressperson resigns.

The opinion was completed, signed and ready to be delivered. But the Governor’s Office urged the Attorney General to not release the opinion claiming a conflict existed due to an attorney-client relationship, though, according to Section 67-5-1 (7) Utah Code: “The attorney general shall: (7) give his opinion in writing and without fee to the Legislature … when required, upon any question of law relating to their respective offices[.]”

On several occasions, the Legislature requested the legal opinion completed earlier this year be provided by the Attorney General and several media outlets requested the document be released under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). The Attorney General’s Office denied those requests.

The Salt Lake Tribune appealed their denial to the State Records Committee, and that committee voted in favor of the Tribune getting access to the opinion. The Attorney General’s Office is now deciding whether to appeal the records committee ruling.

On Wednesday, October 18, the Legislative Management Committee unanimously passed a motion to “authorize legislative legal counsel to initiate litigation, as necessary, to obtain the requested legal opinion from the attorney general and to address any other legal issues that could arise or have arisen from that request.”

The Legislature believes that the Attorney General is required by law to provide the Legislature the legal opinion. The Legislative Management is seeking clarity as to the role of the Attorney General and whether court rules pertaining to attorney-client privilege exist, and if those rules trump the statute that has been defined in law directing the Attorney General to give the Legislature an opinion. Having this clarity will help to avoid similar situations in the future should they arise. Obtaining the legal opinion will be useful to have when drafting and considering legislation to establish a process for filling potential Congressional vacancies during the upcoming session.

Listen to the entire committee here.

Additional information:

Separation of Powers and Constitutional Concerns

Legislative Leaders Issue Statement on Separation of Powers

Two-Month Update on Operation Rio Grande

On Wednesday, October 18, 2017, Speaker Greg Hughes, Senator Wayne Niederhauser, Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox, Commissioner Keith Squires, Chief Mike Brown and homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson held a news conference to provide a two-month update about Operation Rio Grande (ORG).

Before ORG, many individuals who needed help found themselves in danger due to the lawlessness the existed in the Rio Grande district. Crimes were occurring on a regular basis.  However, because of ORG, the district is safer, law and order are being restored and services continue. During the news conference, homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson mentioned services provided in the area from entities like The Road Home and Catholic Community Services of Utah have not decreased since ORG began. Rather, individuals now feel safer, and those who are seeking assistance has increased

Salt Lake City Police Department Chief Mike Brown mentioned that ORG offers an opportunity for those experiencing homelessness, mentally ill and even criminals to connect with the available resources. Additionally, Part 1 crimes are down 24 percent, and Part 2 crimes are down 58 percent in the Rio Grande area.

Most business owners, employees who work downtown, volunteers at shelters and residents of the area are thankful for the collaboration of resources that are committed to addressing the public safety concerns in the area.

Since the launch of the operation, 61 new treatment beds, and 15 detox beds have become available. Nearly 900 coordinated services cards have been distributed, making it easier on those seeking help to connect with appropriate services.

According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, nine search warrants directly connected to intelligence gathered through ORG have been served that has led to 40 individuals arrested.

Additional information about the Dignity of Work phase of the operation is scheduled to be announced in November. It will include supportive services for individuals not ready for permanent employment to participate in pre-employment activities such as volunteerism, internships, training, workshops, skill development, and mentorships. As well as a work program to help those who have completed the “work-ready evaluation” and are ready for employment.

Operation Rio Grande is an on-going effort. There will be ups and downs. However, we must all remain diligent to overcome obstacles that arise over the next two years and committed to seeing this through to rid the area of criminal activity.

Watch the entire news conference here.

Watch the entire news conference to get a full an update on Operation Rio Grande here.

This infographic shows the successes and key items in progress.

Special Session – September 2017

Special Session

The Utah State Legislature convened its first special session of the year, in conjunction with September interim day, on Wednesday, September 20th. The purpose of the special session was to deal with the following issues:

H.B. 1001 Operation Rio Grande Funding Amendments addresses some of the cost of Operation Rio Grande (ORG) by creating a narrow, temporary exception in the Budgetary Procedures Act. It allows the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) to transfer or divert money to another department, agency, institution or division to support ORG until July 1, 2020.

Unused prior year funds, $4.9 million, will be transferred from the Department of Corrections to the General Fund, and then DWS to support the operation. From there, they will be disbursed to law enforcement, adjudication, corrections and to provide and address services for those experiencing homelessness in conjunction with ORG. The legislation also requires DWS to report these expenditures to the Legislative Executive Appropriations Committee and the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

H.B. 1001 passed the House and Senate unanimously.


H.B. 1002 Road Closure Amendments amends provisions related to city authority to allow the temporary closure of roads owned by municipalities in mitigating unsafe conditions. It is a necessary part of the process of creating a Safe Homeless Services Courtyard in the Rio Grande area, to ensure those who need support to overcome homelessness are able to access available services, and to provide protection for those being preyed upon.

H.B. 1002 passed the House 71-1 and the Senate 26-1.


S.B. 1001 Port of Entry and Axle Weight Amendments changes the language in the statute governing vehicle weight from “shall” to “may,” to provide the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) the flexibility to determine whether to impose a penalty for overweight vehicles at ports of entry.  The previous statute required UDOT to impose a fine whether a vehicle was one pound or 5000 pounds overweight. Something as simple and unintentional as snow on the tires or on the vehicle itself could adversely affect the weight and trigger a fine. This change allows UDOT to take a more reasoned approach and apply discretion with regard to the imposition of such fines. It passed the House and Senate unanimously.


S.J.R. 101 Joint Resolution Approving the Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture proposed Settlement Agreement approves the proposed settlement agreement reached between the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and a construction company, Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture, for deficient work. The work was performed on a portion of SR-92 and resulted in UDOT having to sue several contractors. Both parties agreed to a settlement that would require UDOT to pay $102 million of the original $113 million contract, a savings of $11 million. It passed the House and Senate unanimously.



Safe Homeless Services Courtyard

A Safe Homeless Services Courtyard will allow providers to better understand those seeking services, enabling them to direct those individuals to the most suitable organizations and care. Existing facilities will be utilized, services will be coordinated and those seeking help in a period of crisis will be better assisted and protected. Criminal activity will be reduced and public safety will increase.

Additional law enforcement officers, random drug sniffing canines and security cameras in and around the courtyard will be added to help individuals feel protected and safe.

The services provided by The Road Home and Catholic Community Services will continue to be available. These consist of shelter, case management, employment support, computer lab, temporary assistance, housing support, restrooms, showers, food services and laundry.

New proposed services to the courtyard include additional restrooms, handwashing stations, bike lockers; a shaded space to protect individuals from the elements; outreach workers for service engagement and referrals to housing programs; mental health, medical and detox treatment; and employment.

A new Coordinated Services card will allow access to the courtyard, provide an ID for those seeking assistance and allow service providers the ability to coordinate in a meaningful way. This card will not be an official state-issued ID and those without it will not be denied access to food or shelter.

Creating an area that is safe and provides a refuge for those individuals who have all too often, in the past, avoided shelters because of the criminal and drug activity, is the least we can do for the most vulnerable among us as they seek our help in overcoming their current challenges.

Oath of Allegiance

Excitement filled the Capitol Rotunda as 123 applicants from more than 20 countries in unison pledged their loyalty to the United States of America during the Oath of Allegiance to become U.S. citizens during the naturalization ceremony on September 25, 2017.

Representative Norm Thurston, in partnership with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has organized eight U.S. naturalization ceremonies since the November 2015 in the Capitol.

“It is our responsibility to give more than we take,” said Rep. Thurston. “I encourage all of us to make sure we are giving back to our communities, to society and civically.”

Eldin Diglisic, the CEO of ShipEX Inc., shared his experience of immigrating to the U.S. in 1997 from Sarajevo, Bosnia. In 2007, he founded the successful temperature controlled transportation for the healthcare industry, headquartered in Salt Lake City.

“In this country, you can literally achieve anything you want to do,” said Diglisic during the ceremony. “This is the country that protects its citizens so wave that passport proudly.”

Four new citizens spoke at the ceremony.

“I very happy to finally be a citizen, I feel very blessed,” said Mayra Alejaudra emotionally.

I very thankful to be in a country where I can “practice my religion and pursue my dreams,” said Aniko Pot.

“It is an honor to be here, and I really appreciate the opportunity the United States America has given me,”  said Mutabaruka Medard.

“I am so glad I am here,” said Asma Bahadur.

Laura McNeer, field office director for USCIS, administered the Oath of Allegiance. Carla Swensen-Haslam performed the U.S. National Anthem.The new citizens also heard a welcome message from President Donald J. Trump.

Following the ceremony, on-site voter registration was available to encourage the new citizens to be actively engaged in local, state and national matters as well as voice their opinion in future elections.

See more pictures here.

New House Member

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes administered the Oath of Office to the newest member of the Utah House of Representatives, Rep. Cheryl Acton, on September 19, 2017.

“We’re excited to welcome Representative Acton to the House,” said Speaker Hughes. “She wasted no time getting started, in doing the work of the people. Rep. Acton attended committee meetings immediately after being sworn in.”

Rep. Acton was selected by the Salt Lake County Republican delegates to replace former Rep. Adam Gardiner who was elected Salt Lake County Recorder. Rep. Acton will represent House District 43.

“I am humbled and honored to represent the constituents of District 43,” said Rep. Acton. “I look forward to this opportunity.”

Balanced Budget Amendment

Reps. Ken Ivory, Kim Coleman and Kay Christofferson joined delegates from across the nation in Phoenix, Arizona at the Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention on September 12-15, 2017. This assemblage is the first national convention of the states convened since 1861 when states met to discuss an amendment they hoped would avert civil war. The purpose of the convention is to recommend a set of rules to govern a convention convened under Article V of the U. S. Constitution to propose a balanced budget amendment.

The Article V process offers a state-driven way to propose constitutional amendments. Since actions of this kind have seldom been warranted, conducting a well-ordered convention under rules established by historical precedent in Phoenix will produce a model of what a potential Article V balanced budget convention may look like.

“It is an honor to join the Utah delegation this week in Arizona to prepare rules and plans for a possible convention of states authorized under Article V of the U.S. Constitution for States to rein in the out of control federal spending and overreach,” said Rep. Ivory, who was elected to serve as vice president of the convention.

With the national debt approaching the $20 trillion mark, representing a dangerous 105 percent of GDP, many Americans are calling for accountability in Washington through a Balanced Budget Amendment.

“Our Founders always intended the strength of our nation and most of the power to lie with the states,” said Rep. Coleman. “The U.S. Congress has proven over and over that it will not control the debt and deficit it creates. One tool the Founders gave states to counter this tendency was the ability to come together and make amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”

The attempt to head off a sovereign debt crisis is not a new one. Ronald Reagan championed the cause of a balanced budget amendment in the 1980s.  In his 1982 Address Before a Joint Session of the Indiana State Legislature, he stated, “The Federal Government has taken too much tax money from the people, too much authority from the States, and too much liberty with the Constitution.”

“A balanced-budget amendment will help bring an end to our country being driven further into debt at an astronomical pace,” said Christofferson. “Constitutional or statutory mandates require a majority of states around the country to balance their budgets each fiscal year; the Federal Government should be expected to do the same.”

Currently, 27 of the required 34 states have passed applications for an Article V balanced budget convention. Reps. Ivory, Coleman and Christofferson will help prepare the nation for an exercise of the states’ constitutional liberty, which will begin to restore the balance of power between state and federal governments and limit federal spending that is quickly becoming an overwhelming burden on the U.S. economy.

National Day of Service and Remembrance

Utah House members and various organizations chose to honor the memories of lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks by participating in Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance. More than 50 volunteers came together to serve 360 meals, prepare food for 1200 sack lunches, install 80 shelves, organize donations of art supplies and scrape rust off a fence at Catholic Community Services. This was just one of many service projects that took place to commemorate  9/11 Day in Utah and around the country.


Operation Rio Grande Update

In an unprecedented manner, state, local and federal leaders; law enforcement agencies; and public, private and non-profit organizations came together to address the lawlessness occurring in the Rio Grande district in Salt Lake City.

The 3-phase Operation Rio Grande plan is a result multi-jurisdictional collaboration to improve public safety and restore order in anticipation of the Road Home closing and new resource centers beginning operations in July of 2019. The purpose of this operation is to address the lawlessness in the Rio Grande area, bring criminal activity to a halt, get individuals treatment they might need and connect them with employment and housing opportunities.

The 3-phases consist of:

  • Phase 1 – Public Safety and Restoring Order: Focus is on law enforcement, identifying and arresting dangerous criminals who are preying on the most vulnerable.
  • Phase 2 – Assessment and Treatment: Provide assessment and treatment for addiction and behavioral disorders to those in the Rio Grande District.
  • Phase 3 – Dignity of Work: Public and private organizations are working together to increase employment opportunities and training to this population.

Operation Rio Grande started on August 14. The goal is to lock up dangerous criminals who have preyed on our most vulnerable citizens. Since then, 852 arrests have been made, of which 72 were felony arrest, 82 were felony arrest with warrants, 155 were misdemeanors and 543 were misdemeanor arrests with warrants.

The Rio Grande area has already seen improvements since the operation began two and a half weeks ago. Law and order is being restored, resulting in greater safety and access to homeless services for individuals in need. Additionally, those in need are being directed to available services.

The state is committed to maintaining and enhancing the law enforcement presence in and around the Rio Grande area for the next two years. This process will restore the civil liberties and personal security of those who live and work around Pioneer Park and those experiencing homelessness. It will also connect those in need with social services available in the area.

The next vital step is to create a secure area for those experiencing homelessness to be protected from the criminal element. Developing a safe space is critical to the immediate and long-term goals of the operation to increase public safety and reduce criminal activity that plagues the area. It will also help service providers identify and understand each individual seeking services in the area, in order to tailor and enhance services for each individual. Examples of enhanced services include outreach and engagement, housing connection resources, directing individuals to employment opportunities outside of the area, and enabling individuals to exit homelessness on a pathway to self-sufficiency.

In anticipation of this safe space, a minimal section of Rio Grande Street, between two existing facilities, is recommended for closure. This closure will not prevent access to any business or organization in the area. In fact, those currently receiving services are required to cross the street daily – with beds on one side of the street and meals, employment and ID services on the other.

This safe space has always been a part of the Operation Rio Grande strategy in an effort to reduce homelessness and improve public safety in the area. Diverse stakeholders – the State of Utah, Salt Lake County, service providers in the area and the Pioneer Park Coalition – agree that closing the street is critical to achieving both the immediate, medium and long-term goals of the operation.

Shelters are not long-term solutions for the homeless. Plans are being implemented to increase housing, residential rehabilitation, healthcare and behavioral healthcare. This will reduce and prevent the length of homelessness, as well as keep individuals exiting homelessness on a path of self-sufficiency.

Components of the operation include law enforcement (28%), jail beds (22%) treatment beds (28%) and housing and services (22%). The initial estimated cost of Operation Rio Grande is $67 million over two years. The three primary jurisdictions—State of Utah, Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City—are working to secure funding for the areas that make up the operation.

Nearly one-third of the total cost, $20 million, will be absorbed within existing budgets. Partners have identified offsets and sources to cover more than another third, $27 million. We are working with the private sector and other government entities to identify the funding and resources available for the remaining one-third needed, approximately $21 million.

Citizens have expressed concerns about the scattering of the Rio Grande population into surrounding neighborhoods. Dispersal was anticipated and has always been part of the operational budget and law enforcement strategy. Law enforcement officials will pursue and arrest criminals as they move throughout the state.

If you are aware of illegal activity, please report it to your local police department. If it is an emergency, call 911.

Visit for additional information including FAQs, details of the operation, previous press conferences, articles and more. Updated information is continually added.

Missing and Exploited Children’s Day

During the 2017 General Session, Rep. Steve Handy sponsored H.B. 53, Missing and Exploited Children’s Day. It passed the Utah Legislature and was signed into law by the Governor. The purpose of the H.B. 53 is to call attention to missing and exploited children in Utah.

“I was very pleased to lead this effort and appreciate the support of my many colleagues and Governor Herbert,” said Rep. Handy. “The exploitation, abduction and abuse of children is intolerable and anything we can do to stop this evil is in the best interests of everyone.”

Utah’s first official Rachael Runyan Missing and Exploited Children’s Day was held at the Rachael Runyan Memorial Park in Sunset on Saturday, August 26.

“Anything and everything we can do to call attention to this effort and save the lives of innocent children is critical and we in the Utah Department of Public Safety applaud this effort,” said Gina McNeil, Utah Amber Alert and Utah Missing Person’s Coordinator.

Rachael Runyan was abducted from a playground in Sunset, Utah and subsequently murdered in 1982.

The notification system to alert the public when a child has been abducted in Utah started with Elaine Runyan, mother of Rachael, as well as others who played significant roles to create an alert system, was referred to as the Rachael Alert.

“During those awful days, there was little coordination and no way to alert the public. said Runyan. “Who knows if we would have found Rachael had there been an Amber Alert in 1982. We can only hope to prevent what our family experienced to ever happening again with the designation of this special day.”

In 2003, U.S. Congress passed a national alert system – AMBER Alert. Not wanting to have any confusion when working to save a child who has been abducted, the state changed the name of the notification system from the Rachael Alert to the AMBER Alert to coincide with national efforts.

Utah’s AMBERAlert is tested twice yearly –January 13 and August 26 – a date chosen specifically calling attention to the abduction date of Rachael.

News story:

Fox 13 News:  Murdered Sunset girl honored on Utah’s first Missing and Exploited Children Day