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AM News Brief: Open Enrollment, Free Testing & Limiting Gang Enhancements

Stock image of a medical worker administering a COVID-19 test through the window of a vehicle
RyanKing999 via iStock
The Utah Department of Health is offering free COVID-19 testing at various locations across the state this week. This story and more in the Tuesday morning news brief.

Tuesday morning, February 16, 2021

State

Spending $1 Billion In The State’s Budget

Utah’s economy has fared better than expected during the pandemic. House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said Friday there’s a little more than $1 billion in one-time revenue. But he said the Legislature is “oversubscribed,” because requests for funding outspend that. Republicans have also proposed about $100 million worth of tax cuts. But Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, is on the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee and said she would prefer that money be spent on services. Wilson said he expects the budget will be finalized in the next two weeks. Read the full story. — Emily Means

Limiting The Use Of Gang Enhancements

A bill to limit the use of increased penalties for certain crimes is making its way through the Utah Legislature. Gang enhancements could no longer be added for property crimes, a change that stems from felony charges filed against protesters last year after they painted the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s building red. Ken Wallentine, chief of police for West Jordan, said he supports the bill. “While I think we all have a visceral and emotional response when we see property being damaged by rioters, we also have an obligation to step forward and recognize the punishment should fit the crime,” Wallentine said. The bill unanimously passed the House Law Enforcement Committee Friday. It has already passed the full Senate and will now be debated by the full House. — Emily Means

Free Antigen Testing

The Utah Department of Health is offering free COVID-19 testing at various locations across the state this week. Officials are encouraging residents to get tested if they’re experiencing even mild symptoms. Anyone who has been exposed to someone else who has COVID-19 should also get tested, but officials said to quarantine for seven days first. Reservations are available at coronavirus.utah.gov. — Roddy Nikpour

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.

Open Healthcare Enrollment

Utahns can now register for health care on the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace. Last year, 90% of recipients in the state received financial assistance to afford the premiums, according to the advocacy group Utah Health Policy Project. Assistance is available on a sliding scale based on total household income. With the discount, UHPP said most applicants will qualify for plans that cost $50 dollars or less each month. The group also estimates that about 82,000 children are uninsured in Utah, and Hispanic children are overwhelmingly underserved. The deadline to register for health care on the marketplace is May 15. — Roddy Nikpour

Region/Nation

Avalanche Death Toll

Over the three-day weekend, there were at least three deaths in the Rocky Mountain region due to backcountry avalanches. Two people died in Colorado and another in Montana. Earlier this month, four people died in one of the deadliest avalanches in Utah’s history. This year's U.S. avalanche death toll is 25, which is already more than the 23 who died last year. Forecasters say conditions are dangerous due to weak layers of snowpack. The risk will stay high as snow makes its way across the region. — Associated Press

New Virus Strains Leave Experts Urging Caution

Nationwide, states are rolling back regulations to allow larger crowd sizes, more open schools and fewer mask requirements. That’s just as true in the Mountain West, but it is happening as new strains of the virus are on the move. It appears new strains spread more easily, too, which has many epidemiologists urging states to be cautious about reopening. Read the full story. — Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau