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PM News Brief: USU police chief resignation, hydropower and drought & federal money for Utah airports

A photo of Concourse A at the Salt Lake International Airport.
Courtesy of the Salt Lake International Airport
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Utah’s airports are slated to receive more than $36 million from the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This story and more in Thursday evening's news brief.

Thursday evening, Dec. 16, 2021

State

Governor can’t issue public health restrictions thanks to Legislature

Spencer Cox said he’s waiting for more information on the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 before making any changes to the state’s response. But the governor is encouraging everyone to get a booster shot. Cox’s hands are essentially tied when it comes to issuing new public health restrictions because of laws the Legislature passed last spring. Cox said new or modified restrictions would be a challenge. Read the full story.— Sonja Hutson

Utah’s 33 airports to get federal boost

Utah’s airports are slated to receive more than $36 million from the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The funding can be used for projects like terminals, sustainability efforts and runways. Salt Lake City International Airport is set to receive the most funding of nearly $25 million, while other regional airports will receive a little more than a million each. — Caroline Ballard

State gets new Medicaid leadership

Gov. Spencer Cox has appointed Jack Szczepanowski to be Utah’s new Medicaid director. He is currently a vice president of Medicaid Networks, Vendors and Value-Based Strategies at the insurance company Humana. Szczepanowski will still need to be confirmed by the state senate. — Caroline Ballard

Northern Utah

USU police chief resigns

Utah State University Police Chief Earl Morris resigned Thursday after a tape surfaced of him talking with the school’s football team. In the tape, obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune, Morris warned players about sexual assault claims. He said if players have sex with young women from a “Mormon community,” the women might say it was not consensual. “There are people out there who look at you and say, ‘Hey, they’re pretty cool, I’d like to hang with them.’ Right? And they have sex with you but then afterward they’re feeling regret.” The tape was cited in a lawsuit filed earlier this week, in which a USU student is suing the school for allegedly mishandling her sexual assault report. The lawsuit uses the tape as evidence for the school’s preferential treatment towards male athletes in sexual assault cases. Prosecutors in the case said USU has not improved since a 2020 federal investigation found it repeatedly ignored cases of abuse. — Jon Reed

The Salt Lake Tribune contributed to this article through the Utah News Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations in Utah that aims to inform readers across the state.

Region/Nation

Electrical power threatened by drought

As a prolonged drought deepens in the West, the Colorado River is at a “tipping point” according to state, federal and tribal water officials at a conference in Las Vegas that wrapped up Thursday. Officials warned that Glen Canyon Dam along the Utah-Arizona border could stop producing hydropower as early as next year if severe conditions persist. State and federal water officials signed an agreement promising more conservation measures in an effort to increase the levels of Lake Mead over the next two years, but advocates and some tribal officials said steeper cuts are needed. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau

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