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AM News Brief: Land Decisions In Question, Search And Rescue & CARES Money For Navajo Tribal Members

WIlliam-Perry-Pendley-BLM-Headshot.png
Bureau of Land Management
The legitimacy of public land use decisions over the last year are under scrutiny following the removal of the acting director at the Bureau of Land Management William Perry Pendley. This story and more in the Wednesday morning news brief.

Wednesday morning, September 30, 2020

State

Gubernatorial Candidates Debate Best Ways To Increase School Funding

Both major candidates for Utah governor, Democrat Chris Peterson and Republican Spencer Cox, vowed not to increase taxes to boost education funding, but outlined different ideas on how to do that during a debate Tuesday evening. Peterson said he would do away with the flat income tax rate and re-evaluate tax incentives. Cox said he would re-examine "unnecessary and ostentatious" construction in schools and push for more tax revenue from federal lands in the state. Read the full story.Sonja Hutson

Nebraska Questions Testing Deal With Utah Company

Nebraska officials are defending the state's $27 million contract with a Utah company to provide coronavirus testing services. In early April, state labs were running short on testing supplies at the same time all states were trying to significantly increase testing for the virus. Doug Carlson, with the state's Department of Administrative Services, told Nebraska lawmakers Monday the state was having trouble finding testing supplies until Utah-based Nomi Health offered to step in. So the state agreed to a no-bid contract to set up Test Nebraska and provide up to 540,000 tests over the next six months. Some state lawmakers have questioned the contract. — Associated Press

Northern Utah

Salt Lake Schools Continue On-Line

Students in the Salt Lake City School District will continue remote learning through the end of the first quarter, Nov. 9. Acting Superintendent Larry Madden notified families Tuesday in an email. He said the Board of Education is looking at the county’s COVID-19 positive test rate, which must be below 5% for seven straight days before a return to in-person classes. Over the summer, the board voted to start the school year with remote learning and committed to revisiting Salt Lake City’s COVID-19 status at midterm and at the end of each quarter. Madden noted that as COVID-19 numbers improve, primary grade students likely will be the first to return to classrooms. Parents will receive a survey Wednesday that asks for feedback about the remote learning experience so far. — Diane Maggipinto

Southern Utah

Washington County Sees Record For Search And Rescues

It’s been a record-breaking year for the Washington County Search and Rescue team. They have already responded to 135 calls in 2020, breaking the previous mark of 132 in all of 2018. Darrell Cashin is the sheriff’s liaison for the search and rescue team. He attributed the rise in calls to the coronavirus pandemic, with more people spending time outside. Cashin said he expects the number of calls to continue to rise since the area could be even busier with the cooler temperatures this fall. He encourages people to be realistic about recreating and bring plenty of water. — Lexi Peery, St. George

Region

CARES Money Could Head Directly To Tribal Members

The Navajo Nation council voted Tuesday to allocate $50 million of its federal CARES act money to a hardship assistance program. Adult tribal members are eligible for up to $1,500 dollars through the program, and minors can get up to $500. If the legislation becomes law, the Navajo government will set up an online portal for applications. The president of the Navajo Nation has ten days to veto the legislation. The Navajo Nation has around 330,000 members, according to the tribal government. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff

Pendley Removed, Fate Of His Decisions In Question

The legitimacy of public land use decisions over the last year are under scrutiny following the removal of the acting director at the Bureau of Land Management William Perry Pendley. A federal judge ruled that Pendley was serving unlawfully as he had not been nominated by the president or confirmed by the senate as required under the constitution. Now many are wondering if any or all of the agency’s actions while Pendley was at the helm are invalid. Those decisions include moving the BLM headquarters to Colorado, opening more than half a million acres of public land in Montana to resource extraction, and oil and gas leases signed during his tenure. It remains to be seen if decisions authorized, but not signed off personally by Pendley, also fall under legal scrutiny. The Trump Administration is expected to appeal the ruling. — Beau Baker, Mountain West News Bureau