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AM News Brief: Voting Bills, Qualtrics Goes Public & The Pandemic And Bad Air

Photo of air in Salt Lake valley.
Brian Albers / KUER

Friday morning, January 29, 2021

Utah Legislature

Keeping An Eye On No-Bid Contracts

Utah lawmakers are considering more oversight for the state’s no-bid contract process in response to pandemic-related contracts last Spring. A House committee approved a bill Thursday that would require each no-bid emergency contract to be published online within two weeks. It also requires that each contract not last longer than 30 days, or 60 days if it's in response to a natural disaster. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

Debating Ballot Deadlines

Ballots postmarked on election day in Utah are not valid, according to state law. And over 2,000 ballots were not counted statewide in the November election because they were mailed too late, according to data from the state elections office. Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, has introduced a bill that would change the deadline for ballots to be postmarked to Election Day, rather than the day before. He said it would clear up confusion and increase turnout. But while he expects it will make it to the floor for a vote, he said it still might not pass. The bill would also require county clerks to send out ballots a week earlier, or 28 days before an election. Read the full story. — Kate Groetzinger

Counting The Votes

Some Utah Lawmakers are proposing a bill that would impact how counties report estimated ballot counts. In future elections, all counties would be required to provide estimates as soon as new numbers are released. Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, expressed concern about estimates placing doubt in voters minds. “Given the rhetoric and level of negative discourse on ballot counting this last year, I don't want to put our clerks in a position where they have to defend having stated an estimate,” she said. Lawmakers have made changes to the bill to clarify that it addresses estimates, not accurate counts. The bill now moves to the full House chamber. — Ivana Martinez


State Says Pandemic Hasn’t Worsened Drug Overdoses, Suicide

Suicides and fatal drug overdoses in Utah have not significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to preliminary data released Thursday from the state health department. Health officials studied the first 39 weeks of 2020 and found drug overdose deaths and suicide attempts remained stable compared to previous years. Officials believe the state’s mental health resources may have been why there was no increase. — Lexi Peery

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Northern Utah

Qualtrics Goes Public

Qualtrics is now officially a publicly traded company. Shares of the Utah-based survey software giant's Initial Public Offering opened Thursday higher than company officials expected. Qualtrics shares opened at $30. The shares are trading on the Nasdaq Composite Index under the symbol XM. The founder and executive chairman Ryan Smith purchased the Utah Jazz from Larry H. Miller Group late last year. That deal was approved by the NBA within days of the purchase. German software giant SAP bought the company two years ago for $8 billion. — Associated Press


Pandemic And Poor Air Quality

The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments are calling on the Biden administration to address environmental inequalities in its COVID-19 response. A call to action from the group features testimony from healthcare workers in Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. Katherine Zychowski of the University of New Mexico College of Nursing said communities facing high levels of air pollution from wildfires, fossil fuel production and mining activity are also being hit hard by the pandemic. The group said that areas with poor air quality should be prioritized for testing, vaccination and other COVID-19 response measures. — Savannah Maher, Mountain West News Bureau

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