The Utah Legislature is Now In Session


No one is satisfied with the law. Laws are constantly being revamped, revised, and tweaked. In eight days the Utah Legislature is going to be back in session and about 220 bills are already vying to make their way from only a bill to Utah’s capitol hill for the governor’s signature. Some new laws need to work on their titles, like “The Food Freedom Act.” However, the alternative, “Free Food Act” might cause even more misconceptions.

Another possible law impacting all of us is House Bill 65, which would eliminate daylight savings time. If you hate springing forward and falling back, you better start writing your legislator.

Being an attorney, I got all of the proposed legislation by going to the handy “Bill Browse By Session” search function at le.utah.gov, and then I clicked on “attorney.” So far, only two laws relating to attorneys are numbered bills, and predictably both were proposed by attorney/legislators.

Representative Snow has proposed that Utah adopt the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. Now if you talk to most attorneys, we think that a Power of Attorney is not a great idea in most cases, but under the right circumstances it can be a helpful tool. Utah currently has about four sections in its statutes relating to Power of Attorneys. Representative Snow would like to multiply that by eleven and add 44 new sections to our state law. While this sounds like an increase only a lawyer could love (and maybe it is), let me explain the underlying benefits of Uniform Laws.

The Uniform Law Commission is a nonpartisan group that is fueled in large part by the desire to bring clarity and stability to state law. The added benefit is each individual state is not on their own to figure out what is needed in legislation. Uniform laws make it easier and cheaper for businesses to set up shop in new locations and make domestic disputes easier to resolve across state boundaries.

Interstate commerce is heavily reliant on the Uniform Commercial Code (1998 version) which has been adopted by all the states in some form. New revisions have been updated in about half the states since 2010. Given the purpose and the experience behind the Uniform Law Commission, I would say that Representative Snow’s proposed legislation will increase the efficacy and efficiency of Power of Attorney documents in Utah.

The other attorney bill was proposed by Representative Brian Greene that would repeal the Utah ban of the private attorney general doctrine. The private attorney general doctrine is a legal concept that if a private attorney brings a lawsuit that would benefit the public good, then the courts in those rare instances can award attorney fees to the private attorney. In 2009 our legislature decided that this was a bad idea. Apparently legislators don’t want private attorneys to take a financial risk to fight for the public good.

I missed the legal drama that inspired the 2009 ban on the private attorney general doctrine. Apparently, a group advocating for better dental health sued the Davis County Clerk to keep the clerk from violating the law and improperly putting a fluoride initiative on the ballot. (yes, the clerk was acting on his own.) The group won and applied for fees under the private attorney general doctrines. Salt Lake County was also sued to enforce its own zoning ordinances in another lawsuit that lead to attorney fees being awarded under the same doctrine.

These court rulings upset the legislature in 2009 and they passed the law banning the private attorney general doctrine. The governmental powers were uncomfortable being sued and needing to pay over attorney fees for misbehavior.

Here is where the hypocrisy steps in and where I hope that Representative Greene’s bill is successful. Courts under a similar theory to the private attorney general doctrine award attorney fees for frivolous lawsuit find this seasonal law bacchanal invigorating and oddly hopeful, because whether I agree with legislation that is being proposed or not, every single proposal comes from one common hope -- that things will get better. The law is not static, nor should it be. The law is about providing consistency and improvements all the time. The idea is monetary sanctions for those who don’t play by the rules. Our elected officials shouldn’t be exempt from paying for misbehavior -- which is the only instance in which attorney fees would be awarded against them under the private attorney general doctrine.

Get on the legislature’s website and see what is being proposed by your elected representatives. There are topics from Abortion to Youth Corrections. If it is something you care about look it up, see what is being proposed and provide your input.

I find this seasonal law bacchanal invigorating and oddly hopeful, because whether I agree with legislation that is being proposed or not, every single proposal comes from one common hope -- that things will get better. Sure it can get rough, but that is because we don’t stop the law to fix it. Fixing the law is more like trying to repair a car while it is driving down the interstate. We can’t stop the law, but unless our laws progress our society can’t improve.

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