2020 Bills

HB 202: Decriminalizing Local Ordinances

This bill passed the entire legislature unanimously.

Libertas Institute supports this bill

Staff review of this legislation finds that it is aligned with our principles and merits support.

Utahns are routinely charged with criminal misdemeanors for petty local ordinance offenses that may be against the law but aren’t inherently harmful. This is because most county and city laws dictate a class B misdemeanor as the penalty for most offenses—including an overgrown lawn, misplaced fence, short term rental violation, or failure to properly license a pet, just to name a few. This is far too punitive considering the repercussions a class B misdemeanor conviction can carry: possible jail time, a hefty fine, and a long-lasting blemish that appears on every background check and job application.

As one example, one woman faced three class B misdemeanor charges with a letter summoning her to court when her dog escaped from her front yard in Heber City. Roy City charged another woman with a criminal misdemeanor after trying and failing to keep the obnoxious dandelions from growing back in her yard. The stories go on and on—and this year, Representative Jefferson Moss is aiming to stop the criminalization of trivial offenses with House Bill 202.

HB 202 still allows local code enforcement to cite those who violate the law at their discretion. But if the bill passes, those citations won’t carry the weight of a criminal penalty when no harm was actually done to any neighbors. In short, if the violation wasn’t an actual nuisance that is “injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property,” then it won’t be criminalized.

This legislation will help balance the health and safety needs of the community while prioritizing individual property rights.