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PM News Brief: Masks In Schools, Democratic Spending & 21 Indicted In Drug Bust

A photo of disposable face masks.
Chelsea Naughton
/
KUER
K-12 schools in Utah will not be required to have a mask mandate in place during the last week of the academic year. This story and more in Thursday evening's news brief.

Thursday evening, May 13, 2021

State

Red Rock Wilderness Battle Continues With Trolling Legislation

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, and Rep. John Curtis, R-UT, introduced legislation Thursday to designate 289,000 acres of land in Illinois as federally protected wilderness. It’s an attempt to troll Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, who introduced America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act Monday that would designate 8.4 million acres in Utah as federally-protected wilderness areas. Out-of-state politicians shouldn’t make decisions about Utah’s public lands, Romney and Curtis said. An aide for Durbin told KUER the senator supports conserving lands in Illinois. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

Congress Calls On Utah’s Juvenile Justice Services To Testify

Brett Peterson, director of Utah’s Juvenile Justice Services, was invited to a congressional committee in Washington D.C. Thursday to talk about recent success in the state. Beginning in 2017, a number of reforms were put in place to limit the number of kids entering and remaining in the juvenile justice system. Peterson said they were the result of research showing how kids who are criminalized tend to develop worse behavior, and noted changes have resulted in a 46% reduction in admissions to detention and a 26% drop in the risk to reoffend. But he said the system still has a long way to go to address systemic inequalities, such as a disproportionate involvement for youth of color. — Jon Reed

Utah’s K-12 School Mask Mandate Ending Soon

K-12 schools in Utah will not be required to have a mask mandate in place during the last week of the academic year. Gov. Spencer Cox made the announcement Thursday saying it was the right thing to do. “We've had cases dropping in many, many of our school districts,” Cox said. “We have many schools where there have been no positive cases now for several weeks and we've been able to vaccinate teachers. We’ve been able to vaccinate students 16 and older.” Individual schools can impose their own mask requirements for the last week if they want. State health officials announced 418 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday. Nearly 46% of Utahns over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated. Read the full story.Sonja Hutson

Democratic National Committee Giving Utah Funds To Make State More Competitive

The Democratic National Committee is giving a total of $23 million to state parties for the 2022 elections. For Utah, that includes money from a newly created “red state fund.” It’s meant to help states with mainly Republican leadership become more competitive. Jeff Merchant is the chair of Utah’s Democratic Party. He said some neighboring states have recently shifted from red to blue. “I think that Utah is on the cusp of starting to see that change as well, and the money that we’re going to be given from the DNC is certainly going to help us to accelerate that program,” Merchant said. He said spending will depend on how things look after this year’s redistricting process. — Emily Means

Northern Utah

Utah’s FOP Calls For Ouster Of Cottonwood Heights City Councilmember

Utah’s Fraternal Order of Police is calling for the removal of a Cottonwood Heights city council member. The law enforcement group posted the letter it sent to the city on Facebook Wednesday. In it, they say council member Tali Bruce spread “intentional lies” about Cottonwood officers’ actions at a protest last summer. The event was to remember Zane James who was shot and killed by police there in 2018. Utah’s attorney general’s office found police acted appropriately during those events. Officers used pepper spray and tasers while making arrests after police said some protesters became aggressive. Bruce declined to comment on the letter. — Ross Terrell

21 People Indicted In Massive Drug Bust

A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City has charged 21 people in a drug trafficking bust. The District of Utah U.S. Attorney Andrea Martinez released a document detailing the indictment and charges Thursday. It says during the operation, officers found 27 pounds of methamphetamine and 22 pounds of cocaine, as well as fentanyl, heroin and more than $400,000. Law enforcement alleges the 21 people were conspiring to distribute the drugs across the Wasatch Front. The investigation and bust were carried out jointly between the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and several local law enforcement agencies in northern Utah. Seventeen of the individuals charged are residents of the Salt Lake City metro area. — Caroline Ballard

Region/Nation

Mountain West Residents’ Eviction Concerns

Many residents in the Mountain West are worried about eviction or foreclosure, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. The bureau started surveying Americans about their housing when the pandemic hit. The latest results are concerning: across the region anywhere from roughly 20 to more than 40% of people are afraid of losing their homes. — Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

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