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AM News Brief: Special Needs Scholarship, Elective Surgeries Plan & Navajo Nation Funding Lawsuit

Photo of Navajo Mountain
Kate Groetzinger / KUER
The Navajo Nation is suing the U.S. Treasury over coronavirus funding. This story and more in the Thursday morning news brief.

Thursday morning, April 23, 2020

State

Lawmakers To Reconsider Vetoed Special Needs Scholarship Bill

State lawmakers will reconsider a bill Thursday that would establish a non-refundable tax credit Utah for businesses and individuals that want to donate to a “Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program” for private school students. Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed the bill passed during the regular 2020 legislative session. Officials say the legislation includes a new provision to have a committee study whether it is feasible to combine this proposed scholarship program with the state's existing scholarship program. — Associated Press

Hospitals Plan For Elective Surgeries

Officials from the state’s major hospital systems, including Intermountain Healthcare and the University of Utah, unveiled a plan Wednesday for how they would resume elective surgeries and slowly inch back into regular operations. The announcement comes as fewer COVID-19 patients are being hospitalized and a day after Gov. Gary Herbert lifted a statewide ban intended to preserve hospital resources in the fight against coronavirus. Approved surgeries will be decided on a case-by-case basis, dependent on how healthy individual patients are and if they are an at-risk group for COVID-19. Non-emergency procedures that require significant hospital resources will be delayed the longest. — Jon Reed

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.

Region

Wastewater Facility Reopens

A wastewater facility on the Colorado-Utah border is resuming operations more than a year after it was shut down for causing a magnitude 4.4 earthquake. Western Colorado’s Paradox Valley Unit pumps salty groundwater into a well to keep it from seeping into the Dolores River and loading it with salt. Salty water is harder to use by cities and farms. The federal agency that owns the project, the Bureau of Reclamation, is pumping water into the well again, at a lower rate as part of a 6 month experiment. If earthquakes happen, Reclamation said it will shut it down — again. Read the full story. — Luke Runyon

Navajo Nation Sues Over Federal Coronavirus Funding

The Navajo Nation is suing the U.S. Treasury over coronavirus funding. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez contends that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plans to use some $8 billion for tribal governments that include Alaska Native Corporations that Nez says are for-profit, owned by shareholders and include non-natives. Mnuchin hasn't outlined a distribution plan, but Nez said the reduced funds will severely affect the Navajo Nation's ability to fight COVID-19 because of the reservation's size, population and the already disparate impact on the Nation. The Navajo Department of Health reports nearly 1,300 cases of COVID-19, 16 in San Juan County and 76 new cases on the reservation as of Wednesday. There have also been a total 49 deaths. — Diane Maggipinto

Navajo Nation Extends Government Closure

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has extended a government closure to mid-May. It was originally set to expire Sunday. Nez extended paid administrative leave for all non-essential executive branch employees to May 17. Navajo Times reported that Nez acknowledges a slight flattening of the curve but has asked for vigilance. A nighttime curfew remains in place, as does the order to wear masks in public, social distancing and reducing exposure for essential errands. — Diane Maggipinto

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