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AM News Brief: Predatory lending, medical cannabis employee protections & more accessible rental help in Salt Lake County

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Chelsea Naughton
/
KUER
Utah medical cannabis products.

Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022

State

Utah Bank caught in predatory lending scheme

FinWise, a Utah Bank, has been outed as a key player in a predatory lending scheme in Washington D.C. The lender, Elevate, was caught laundering loans to consumers in D.C. through FinWise. Elevate charged 99% to 149% interest on loans, despite D.C’s 24% interest rate cap. It partnered with the bank to originate the loans and thus evade D.C. law. The case ended in a settlement, which will force Elevate to stop laundering loans and require it to pay $4 million in relief to harmed customers. The National Consumer Law Center wants other states to follow the district’s lead and prosecute predatory lenders, including ones enabled by three other Utah banks. — Leah Treidler

Protecting employees who use medical cannabis

Utah’s public employees who use medical cannabis are about to gain stronger protections. A new bill at the state legislature bill, SB 46, tightens a law barring employers from discriminating against employees using the cards and passed the House yesterday. It now awaits the governor’s signature. Bill sponsor Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, introduced the bill after the city of Ogden gave firefighter Levi Coleman an ultimatum — surrender his medical cannabis card or leave his job. In a Senate hearing last week, Thatcher said the city “acted in bad faith” by using a loophole to fire Coleman. His intention is to close that loophole. The bill still allows employers to fire employees who show up to work intoxicated. — Leah Treidler

Journalists won’t have to pay extras fees for records requests

Members of the media have been exempted from a proposal to allow governments to charge extra fees for certain public record requests. The move was made by Utah lawmakers. The original bill, HB 96, would have allowed government agencies to impose additional fees on the public for government records requested multiple times within a 10-day period. An amendment that passed through a Senate committee Tuesday carves out an exception for reporters who can still request records under the existing fee structure. A lobbyist for the Utah Media Coalition said it made more sense to pursue bad actors rather than impose fees on all legitimate requesters — including journalists. — Pamela McCall

Northern Utah

Helping more Utahns pay their rent

Salt Lake County will receive an additional $10 million for rental assistance from the U.S. Treasury, and it’s launching a new program to help more residents apply for rental relief. The county will partner with community organizations to make the application process more accessible through language assistance and direct community outreach. At least $64 million in rental assistance has been distributed by the county, impacting 48,000 people since March 2021. There are currently $93 million available for Utah residents, and those eligible can apply at rentrelief.utah.gov. — Leah Treidler

Southern Utah

St. George mayor calls for conservation of ‘liquid gold’

In her first state of the city address, St. George Mayor Michele Randall is hopeful the city will have a bright future, despite the challenges the area faces. Standing next to water barrels that held around 1,000 gallons, she said that amount costs residents $1.10. The mayor said people need to treat water like “liquid gold” or they may have to raise rates. Randall said the quality of life St. George offers is why so many people are moving to the area. She highlighted events planned for this year, including the upcoming Ironman World Championship, which will be one of the city’s biggest events ever. Read the full story. — Lexi Peery, St. George

Region/Nation

Mountain West spots are at extreme risk of wildfire

Swaths of land across the Mountain West have become so-called “double-hazard zones” for wildfire. Alexandra Konings, an ecohydrologist at Stanford University, looked at how ecosystems in the West use up water and how that places certain areas at greater fire risk. Part of the problem is fast-growing vegetation that fuels fires. Unsurprisingly, the region’s historic drought has deepened the likelihood of more fires — and they include some of the fastest-growing places in the nation, like central Colorado and southern Nevada. The research comes on the heels of a 10-year plan released by the Biden administration that acknowledges the crisis wildfires have wrought on the West. — Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

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