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News Briefs: Utah Oil Oversight Gets Failing Grade, State Tax Reform & Mental Health Bill Advancing

Photo of the Utah state capitol building.
Brian Albers
/
KUER
Utah legislators on Wednesday discussed regulating government use of facial recognition software and expanding an alternative mental health crisis response system.

Editor’s note: During impeachment inquiry hearings, KUER is offering news roundups from around the state and audio of those stories as a resource for our audience.

STATE

Lawmakers Vote To Expand Utah’s Mental Health Response 

The Utah Legislature’s Health and Human Services Interim Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to take up a bill to expand an alternative mental health response system in Utah. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

Facial Recognition Bill Doesn’t Go Far Enough: Lawmakers

A bill to regulate government use of facial recognition software was dead on arrival as lawmakers say it didn't go far enough to protect privacy. Read the full story. — Nicole Nixon

State Receives Failing Grades In Oversight Of Oil And Gas Mining

BLANDING — The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining is failing to properly oversee drilling operations in the state, according to a legislative audit released this week. The report found that the state’s Oil and Gas Program has failed to regularly check wells and follow up on noncompliant operators.

The report identified two instances of failed oversight that led to environmental hazards, including an oil spill at an undisclosed site. It says the program has never issued a fine, and taxpayers are on the hook for $1 million to clean up after noncompliant operators. The Division of Oil, Gas and Mining developed a plan to address issues raised by the audit and will report to the state legislature next year. — Kate Groetzinger

Tax Reform is “Getting Close”

Lawmakers continue to refine a hefty tax reform package, withhich the hope of passing legislation before the end of the year. House Speaker Brad Wilson told reporters Wednesday that a new version will drop Friday, ahead of the final public hearing on Monday.

The latest version will not include taxes on coin-operated laundry or car washes. It will remove taxes proposed on veterinary services, but will keep sales tax on pet boarding, grooming and daycare. — Nicole Nixon

NATIONAL

Romney Presses FDA Nominee To Stand Up To Political Pressure

In a Senate hearing on the nomination for Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney asked if nominee Dr. Stephen Hahn would take action against flavored e-cigarettes even if the White House did not endorse that position.

Earlier this week, President Trump reportedly backed off from a flavored e-cigarette flavor ban amid pressure from the industry and the threat of a backlash from his voter base. Romney told Hahn he would have to deal with intense lobbying from tobacco and vaping interests, and that he would have to be the voice for parents and kids. — Caroline Ballard

Federal Government Awards Grants To Bolster Rural Health Care

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing in two Utah organizations that will help rural patients connect to health providers and students connect to resources.

The Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program will award a combined $439,000 to IHC Health Services and Uintah Basin Technical College. The program will provide medical services through local hospitals for more than 200,000 residents and students in regional high schools will be able to take advanced classes through distance learning. — Caroline Ballard 

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