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PM News Brief: Record low unemployment, BYU investigation & COVID-positive lawmakers

Photo of a sign that says Brigham Young University on the university's campus
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Brigham Young University is under a civil rights investigation from the U.S. Department of Education. The department is looking into how LGBTQ students are disciplined at the university. That story and more in this evening's news brief.

Friday evening, Jan. 21, 2022

State

Utah’s Test to Stay program meets its end in state Legislature

Utah lawmakers voted mostly along party lines Friday to officially end the Test to Stay program in schools. It required schools to test all their students for COVID-19 in order to continue in-person learning if a certain number of them contracted the virus. Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, said she supported the bill as omicron has made Test to Stay unmanageable. Now, if schools reach the case threshold, they can switch to remote learning, but they need approval from their school board, the governor and other state leaders. Read the full story. — Jon Reed

Utah’s unemployment rate falls below 2% 

Utah’s unemployment rate dipped to 1.9% in December according to data released Friday by the state’s Department of Workforce Services. The department’s chief economist said it’s the first time Utah’s rate has been lower than 2%. He called it unchartered territory and said officials are gauging how much lower it can conceivably go. Over the past two years, Utah added more than 59,000 jobs. Its unemployment rate remains lower than the national average, which is closer to 4%. — Ross Terrell

Two Utah representatives announced positive COVID tests 

Two Utah state representatives confirmed Friday they have tested positive for COVID-19. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Mark Strong, R-Bluffdale. A spokeswoman for the House Republicans said Strong started experiencing symptoms last week but she said he has been symptom-free for several days and has been wearing a mask around the Capitol. But she didn’t share when he received his test results. Senate President Stuart Adams announced earlier in January he had tested positive. He came to the Capitol five days after his symptoms started and took his mask off in the Senate chamber, which violates CDC guidelines. — Sonja Hutson 

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.

Sen. Karen Mayne announces she has cancer

Utah Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne announced Friday she has been diagnosed with cancer and will be stepping back from her legislative work for an undetermined amount of time. Mayne said in a statement that she hopes to return to the Legislature soon because she has unfinished work to do. She said the past week has been difficult and she plans to “undergo the proper treatment regimen suggested by my doctors.” A statement from the entire Senate said they were deeply saddened by her diagnosis. Her colleagues called her “integral to the Senate and loved by everyone.” — Sonja Hutson

Northern Utah

Salt Lake and Summit counties mask mandates die in state legislature 

Mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties are gone after the Utah Legislature voted mostly along party lines to overturn them. Supporters of the move to overturn the mandates argued it’s not the role of the government to make personal health decisions. Democrats said elected state officials should respect local control and this will limit people’s ability to keep themselves safe, especially working class Utahns. The Legislature passed a law in 2021 that allows county councils and commissions to overturn public health restrictions, but it also gave the state ultimate authority. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson 

BYU under investigation from the U.S. Department of Education 

Brigham Young University is under a civil rights investigation from the U.S. Department of Education. The department is looking into how LGBTQ students are disciplined at the university. The Salt Lake Tribune reports it comes after the school said it would still enforce a ban on same-sex dating even after that section was removed from the school's written honor code. A university spokesperson acknowledged the investigation but said in a statement that BYU is within its rights to enforce the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ policies against same-sex relationships. BYU has a religious exemption from sex discrimination laws. — Associated Press

Region/Nation

Cleaning up oil and gas wells across the Mountain West 

The Biden administration is moving to clean up orphan oil and gas wells across our region. It’s releasing $4.2 billion this year in new federal grants to states such as Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico for cleanup. The Interior Department has also created an interagency group that will identify, document and clean up orphan wells on federal lands. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau 

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