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PM Brief: LGBTQ blood donations, Mountain West gun violence & COVID improvement

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Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, wants the federal government to revise its policy on gay and bisexual men donating blood. That story and more in this evening's news brief.

Monday, Feb. 28, 2022

State

Sen. Derek Kitchen wants to make it easier for LGBTQ men to donate blood 

Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, wants the federal government to revise its policy on gay and bisexual men donating blood. Currently, it requires men to abstain from sex with men for three months before donating. Kitchen is sponsoring a resolution in the state Legislature that encourages the Food and Drug Administration to enact a new policy that takes individual risk factors into account. The American Medical Association says the current restrictions single out and ban blood donors based on inherent traits and not the risk factors they have. For example, a man who has protected sex with another man in the three months before a blood donation cannot be a donor, but someone who has unprotected sex with multiple partners of the opposite sex over the same time period can. — Sonja Hutson

Utah’s removal of Russian liquor products a symbolic move

As the Russian attack on Ukraine unfolded this weekend, Utah’s governor ordered state liquor stores to remove all Russian-made products. Tiffany Clason, with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said the governor’s executive order only affected one liquor so far— the Russian Standard vodka. She said the mandate is more about showing people here that the state wants to stand with Ukraine. She said for now, the vodka and other Russian products will be kept in warehouses. But one customer, West Valley City resident Matt Caldwel, said while shopping at a liquor store Monday that he thinks the state could have sold it like a fundraiser and used that money to show their support. Clason said they are currently working to get some Ukrainian vodka on the shelves. Read the full story. — Ivana Martinez 

School voucher bill sees easy defeat in state Legislature

A school voucher bill failed overwhelmingly in the Utah House Monday. It would have given students a scholarship for private school tuition, private tutors or textbooks if parents opted them out of public school. The amount they got would’ve been based on income. But per-pupil funding would’ve stayed at the last public school the student attended. Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, said “empowering parents and recognizing that they should be able to make the decisions best for their children is one of the most ultimate conservative principles.” But critics argued that it still meant less funding in the future would go toward public education. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

Utah’s COVID cases show major improvements over past two weeks

Utah health officials reported 896 new COVID-19 cases Monday. That’s a three-day total dating back to Friday. It’s also a sign of improvement for the state’s COVID situation. Two weeks ago, Utah saw more than 3,000 new cases. That was also a three-day number. The state’s test positivity rate has dipped below 9%, which is about three times lower than it was at the start of the month. Three more people have died from the virus. They were all older than 65. — Ross Terrell

Northern Utah

University of Utah rape cases increase, while other crimes drop off  

The University of Utah saw a slight increase in the number of on-campus rapes reported in 2020. The U released its first housing-specific crime report last week. It looks at crimes committed in university-owned housing facilities and is part of new reporting requirements passed by the state Legislature last year. It found there were 21 total rape cases reported — up from 12 in 2018. But there was a decrease in fondling cases, aggravated assaults and motor vehicle theft. University officials said that was likely due to fewer people being on campus during the pandemic. The report does not include the off-campus death of a first-year undergraduate student earlier this month. — Jon Reed

Region/Nation

Researchers worry about gun violence in the Mountain West 

Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, is sounding the alarm about gun-related injuries and deaths. Gun homicides in the region are lower than the rest of the nation, but gun suicide rates are some of the highest. Wintemute said researchers are “very, very concerned about the possibility that this year, with midterm elections coming, let alone in 2024, we will see efforts to use violence to shape the electoral process.” He cited recent polling that found nearly three in 10 Americans, including almost 40% of Republicans, support politically-motivated violence. — Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

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