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AM News Brief: Mental Health Crisis Intervention, Controversial Ranchers Regain Permits & First Woman Leads St. George

A city of white buildings is shown in the distance, sitting between red rock canyons and desert.
Kelsie Moore
/
KUER
St. George has a new interim mayor. Michele Randall was appointed during a special City Council meeting Tuesday, and she will be the city’s first female mayor. This story and more in the Thursday morning news brief.

Thursday morning, January 21, 2021

State

2021 Legislative Session: Getting Involved Remotely

The Utah legislative session started this week, but because of the pandemic and security concerns, the Capitol building is closed to the public right now. Even after it opens, many will still choose to participate virtually. With online options, the public is able to track bills, listen to debates and give public comments. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

2021 Legislative Session: Mental Health Crisis Intervention

A Utah Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday aimed at improving mental health crisis intervention. It would create a council under the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher said this would give law enforcement and mental health agencies the ability to create statewide standards, and achieve good outcomes based on best practices. The bill now moves to the full Senate. — Ivana Martinez

Northern Utah

2021 Legislative Session: In-Person Classes Tied To Per Pupil Money

If a student leaves a district that does not offer in-person classes, their funding could follow, according to a bill that cleared a state Senate committee Wednesday. Some senators said the bill puts more pressure on Salt Lake City schools, the only public district in the state that has not yet reopened for in-person learning. And while some say the legislation is a backdoor to creating vouchers for private schools, bill sponsor Republican Sen. Todd Weiler said it’s about giving parents more choice. The bill now moves to the full senate. The Salt Lake district voted Tuesday night to reopen all schools by Feb. 8, which Weiler said may mean the bill will have little impact. — Jon Reed

Southern Utah

First Woman To Lead St. George

St. George has a new interim mayor. Michele Randall was appointed during a special City Council meeting Tuesday, and she will be the city’s first female mayor. Former St. George mayor Jon Pike stepped down to take a position in Gov. Spencer Cox’s cabinet. Pike is set to run the Utah Insurance Department. Randall will be sworn in Thursday. — Caroline Ballard

Private Property Added To Desert Tortoise Habitat

Nearly 53 acres of what is considered to be prime habitat for the protected Mojave desert tortoise is now under the wing of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The newly acquired parcel is on the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve in southwestern Utah. DWR Wildlife Biologist Ann McLuckie said the newly acquired property was one of the largest remaining parcels still privately owned in the Reserve. She said tortoises continue to face challenges from urbanization, predators, vehicle collisions and illegal removal. A statement from the DWR said the parcel was acquired through the combined efforts of several agencies and organizations, including the Nature Conservancy. The agency estimates more than 2,000 of the tortoises are currently on the Reserve. — Bob Nelson

Region/Nation

Grazing Rights Reinstated For Controversial Oregon Ranchers

Before leaving office, Trump’s Interior Secretary made a last-minute move to reinstate grazing permits for a controversial ranching family. The Hammonds were arrested in 2012 after they illegally lit a fire on public rangelands. Because of that, they lost their grazing rights on those lands and were sentenced to five years in prison. This sparked a group of armed libertarian activists and militia members led by Ammon Bundy to illegally take over a nearby wildlife refuge in 2016. The Trump administration was friendly to the Hammonds, though. The former president gave them a pardon in 2018, and this week former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt gave the family back their grazing rights. Environmental groups decried the move saying it showed the Trump administration supports far-right, anti-public lands activists. They hope the Biden administration revokes those grazing rights. At least one group plans to file a legal response. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau