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PM News Brief: Mirabilite Mounds, National Guard Returns Home & Gang Enhancement Bills

A photo of mirabilite mounds at the Great Salt Lake State Park
Elaine Clark
There’s a rare geological event happening right now at Great Salt Lake State Park: mirabilite mounds. It’s the only place in the United States you’ll be able to see them. This story and more in Friday evening's news brief.

Friday evening, January 22, 2021


Public To Be Allowed Back At The State Capitol

The public will be allowed to come to the Utah State Capitol in person starting Monday. In-person participation during the session was suspended because of pandemic precautions and due to safety concerns after warning of potential armed protests on state capitol grounds. People will still be able to monitor the session and weigh in virtually. Those who do come to the capitol will be required to wear masks and social distance and space will be limited in committee rooms. — Caroline Ballard

Gang Enhancement Bill Making Its Way Through Utah Senate

A new Utah bill could limit when gang enhancements can be used to increase penalties for committing a crime. Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley, said it’s in response to charges filed by the Salt Lake County District Attorney last year against protesters. He said the D.A.’s office used the gang enhancement law “to push that vandalism up to a first-degree felony, which is five to life, for painting a building.” Thatcher said he worked with the district attorney’s office on the bill. He said his bill would raise the bar to allow gang enhancements mostly for violent crimes. It also increases the number of people who need to be involved in the alleged crime. The Utah Senate Judiciary passed the measure. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration. — Emily Means

Utah’s December Unemployment Rate Less Than 4%

Utah’s unemployment rate was 3.6% in December. It’s the lowest rate since the pandemic began. The national unemployment rate was nearly double that at 6.7%. Compared to the year before, Utah added almost 10,000 jobs last month and private sector employment grew for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Gov. Spencer Cox praised the rate in a press release saying it signals optimism about the economy moving forward. — Caroline Ballard

Utah’s COVID-19 Update

Utah’s COVID-19 cases increased by more than 2,600 Friday. The state’s positivity rate remains at 19%. It’s been hovering there since Wednesday. There are currently 488 people hospitalized for the disease. That’s down from nearly 600 a week ago. Health officials reported 24 more people died from COVID-19, but five of those people passed away last year. — Ross Terrell

Utah Elected Officials Voice Displeasure With Federal Lease Suspension

Utah’s Congressional delegation and state officials said an oil and gas leasing suspension will hurt rural parts of the state. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior to pause energy leasing on federal land for 60 days. A change Biden said he wants to make permanent. Federal data show Utah received $50 million last year in royalties from drilling on federal land. But only around $175,000 of that went directly to counties. The Ute Indian Tribe is also opposed to the leasing suspension. The Tribe’s reservation covers much of the oil-rich Uinta Basin. And it said the leasing suspension is an attack on its sovereignty and economy. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff

Utah National Guard Coming Back Home

Last week, more than 350 National Guard troops from Utah went to Washington D.C. to assist with heightened security during the inauguration after a violent siege at the U.S. Capitol in early January. Now, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has called those troops back to Utah. Cox said he was grateful they were willing to go where they were needed. — Caroline Ballard

Northern Utah

Rare Mirabilite Mounds Forming At The Great Salt Lake

There’s a rare geological event happening right now at Great Salt Lake State Park: mirabilite mounds. It’s the only place in the United States you’ll be able to see them. The mounds form when underground springs meet sub-freezing temperatures. The mirabilite crystallizes and that’s when you get intricate terraces and mounds. Scientists are studying the mineral mounds because of their possible connection to Mars. “The Mirabilite mounds on Earth show us places where water is coming from underground and seeping out of the earth,” Bonnie Baxter with the Great Salt Lake Institute said. “And if that is happening on Mars, that would be a really great place to look for microbes that could have been living [there].” She said there’s no evidence that these mounds are on Mars, but scientists predict there might be. — Ivana Martinez


Half Of Adults In The U.S. Still Not Consistently Wearing A Mask

As President Joe Biden calls for a 100-day mask challenge, a new report found half of U.S. adults still don’t wear one consistently. The report out of the University of Southern California had some good news — 9 in 10 adults believe masks do protect them from COVID-19. But half of them aren’t wearing one when they socialize with people outside their household. Jackie Chen is a social psychology professor at the University of Utah and she said there’s a good reason people don’t like wearing them. “We really do rely on people’s faces to convey information,” she said. But she said we all have a role to play in making mask-wearing the norm. — Stephanie Serrano, Mountain West News Bureau

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