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AM News Brief: Vaccine mandate on hold, special session agenda & Utah’s delegation on the infrastructure plan

Closeup of gloved hands applying bandage to arm at injection site.
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The Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandate is on hold in Utah and across the country. Utah is one of five states challenging the order. This story and more in Monday morning's news brief.

Monday morning, Nov. 8, 2021

State

Federal vaccine mandate on hold

The Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandate is on hold in Utah and across the country. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the requirement over the weekend. Utah is one of five states challenging the order. The mandate requires vaccinations or weekly testing for businesses with over 100 employees. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement, “Utahns can take courage that their elected leaders have confronted this unprecedented expansion of presidential power.” Gov. Spencer Cox and other elected officials have also come out against Biden’s mandate. — Ross Terrell

Utah’s delegation respond to Biden’s infrastructure bill

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney applauded the U.S. House’s passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Romney has been a key negotiator for the bipartisan legislation. He called the bill a “win for Utah.” Under the legislation, the state is set to receive $3 billion for road and highway improvement. There is also money set aside to expand broadband access and to improve airports. Despite Romney championing the bill, all four of Utah’s representatives voted against it. Rep. Burgess Owens called the legislation a fiscally irresponsible tax-and-spending spree. Owens said moving forward under the guise of infrastructure was not the right step. The bill now awaits President Joe Biden’s signature. — Ross Terrell

Lawmakers propose splitting Salt Lake County in redistricting process

Utah legislators released redistricting maps late Friday night. One of the biggest points of contention is the division of Salt Lake County into four Congressional districts. Under the proposed maps, Salt Lake City would be in the same district as St. George, and Provo is grouped with Moab. The group Better Boundaries has pushed for an independent commission to handle redistricting. On Twitter the group said the Legislature’s maps “split communities, cities, and counties unnecessarily and gerrymander Utahns.” The independent redistricting commission gave their maps to the Legislature last week, but they only have an advisory role. Monday afternoon legislators are holding a public meeting before they vote on the maps later this week during the special session. Read the full story. — Lexi Peery/Sonja Hutson

Special session agenda

Gov. Spencer Cox has called a special legislative session to begin Tuesday. Big items on the agenda include finalizing redistricting maps, the Dixie State University name change and COVID-19 vaccine requirements in the workplace. The Dixie name change has been debated for almost a year, and university leaders have recommended the new name to be Utah Tech University. Senate President Stuart Adams said in a statement about the special session they’re “honored to do the work of the people.” — Lexi Peery

State education data a ‘call to action’

Student performance last year was notably lower than in 2019, according to a new analysis from the Utah State Board of Education. The statewide study looked at standardized test scores and participation rates during the 2020-21 school year. It found that reading scores for elementary kids dropped by almost 10% in some cases. High school course completion fell by 5% too. Despite the drop, Darin Nielsen with the education board said the results were not as bad as initially predicted, and now researchers have a treasure trove of data to comb through to target support. He said one area they’ll be focusing on is the schools and students that were able to buck the trend. Read the full story. — Jon Reed

Region/Nation

Challenge to Colorado’s Native American mascot ban

Students in Colorado and the Native American Guardians Association are suing the state over a new law banning the use of Native American mascots. They say the law is akin to banning the name or image of Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado enacted its law in June, and Nevada passed similar legislation then too. No other Mountain West states are on that list. Some schools have changed their mascots themselves, like the Bountiful High Braves in Utah, which became the Redhawks this year. Research shows Indian mascots are harmful to Indigenous people, especially youth, and many tribal advocates widely condemn them. — Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

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