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Utah lawmakers take up batch of air quality bills
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Measures to clear Utah's murky wintertime skies are working their way through the state Legislature. But with only a week to clinch a final OK from state lawmakers this legislative session, it's unclear how many of them will become law.
Rep. Joel Briscoe says Utah residents are sick of the polluted haze that sets in along the Wasatch front in colder months.
Efforts include a $20 million push for clean-fuel school buses, limits on wood-burning stoves and local sales tax increases to pay for better commuter bus routes.
Many of the proposals have been passed by the House, where they originated, but some have died and others could ultimately be sidelined.
Sen. John Valentine says the clean-air initiatives are in jeopardy as lawmakers decide how much money to set aside for a school technology overhaul bill with a proposed $200 million price tag.
This winter, skies were clearer overall, but the Wasatch front counted more poor air days. The Division of Air Quality shows pollution surpassed federal limits on 31 days.
SCHOOL TECH OVERHAUL
Gov. Herbert threatens veto of Lockhart proposal
(Information in the following story is from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert says he may veto a bill being pushed by House Speaker Becky Lockhart that would allocate millions for a technology overhaul in state classrooms.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Herbert said Thursday that giving more than $30 million for a program that people know very little about is not wise.
Lockhart has asked for $200-$300 million to equip each student with a digital tablet and train teachers on how best to use the devices in their lessons.
Republican leaders in the Senate have proposed setting aside $26 million for the program.
Herbert and Lockhart have been exchanging jabs throughout this year's legislative session. Lockhart won't seek re-election in November and she's considering running against Herbert in 2016.
Utah top House Democrat won't seek re-election
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig has announced she won't seek re-election to the House at the end of the year.
Seelig made the announcement Thursday afternoon after eight years as a state representative. She is stepping down to finish her doctorate in political science.
Seelig has held the post of minority leader for two years, and is the first woman to hold the position.
In recent years, she has brought forward legislation to combat domestic violence and human trafficking.
She says she took the office to show other women the importance of getting involved in politics.
Utah Senate approves bill restricting drones
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A measure to set some early restrictions on law enforcement's use of unmanned aerial systems is advancing at the Legislature.
The Utah Senate unanimously voted 23-0 Thursday to give final approval to the drone bill. It advances to the House.
Draper Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson is sponsoring the bill and says privacy protections are needed now as drone technology improves and is more widely used.
Stephenson says the devices are useful to law enforcement and many other agencies, but legislators need to take steps to prevent Big Brother-style surveillance down the road.
His bill requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using a drone. It also imposes restrictions about what data can be collected and for how long.
Utah Democrats unveil Medicaid expansion plan
(Information in the following story is from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Democrats have rolled out their own plan for Medicaid expansion in the state, adding yet another proposal to the mix at the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The plan from Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis would have Utah take the option to fully expand Medicaid under the federal health overhaul.
Under President Barack Obama's health overhaul, the federal government is offering to cover most of the costs if states expand Medicaid.
Davis told the Deseret News that he'll be lucky if his bill is approved by an initial committee.
Gov. Gary Herbert announced his own plan last week that would expand the program by using federal money to get poor people covered in private plans.
Republicans in the House and Senate have presented two other plans.
BLAZE ENGULFS BUILDING
Bountiful man pleads not guilty to arson
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah electrician accused of setting an unfinished downtown Salt Lake City apartment complex on fire in a blaze that caused $6 million in damage pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal arson charges.
Court records show trial has been set for May 12 for 34-year-old Dustin Bowman of Bountiful after he entered the plea in a federal court in Salt Lake City.
Bowman is accused of setting a blaze on Feb. 9 that damaged a 40-foot-tall building that was planned to have 61 units and cover 64,000 square feet.
Nobody was inside the building, and no one was hurt.
Prosecutors say Bowman has been addicted to the drug spice and has failed to appear in court on other drug-related charges. They have said he is a danger to himself and others based on his erratic behavior.
Investigators honed in on Bowman as a suspect after spotting him on surveillance video at the construction site shortly before the blaze started. Court records show that when first confronted by investigators, Bowman initially denied it was him.
Court records show he later acknowledged setting the fire by lighting cardboard and throwing it in a bathtub that was leaning against a wood wall. He says he only wanted to start a small fire.
Rural highway to be named after fallen officer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A bill to rename a rural stretch of highway in honor of a Utah officer killed there has been approved by the Utah Senate.
It would rename Utah state route 73 the "Cory B. Wride Memorial Highway." The bill now moves to the House.
Wride, a Utah County Sheriff's sergeant, was fatally shot on Jan. 30 while sitting behind the wheel of his patrol car on the side of the two-lane highway about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City.
The suspected shooter, 27-year-old Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui, later died after a cross-county crime spree ended with him being shot by police. His girlfriend, 17-year-old Meagan Grunwald, is charged with aggravated murder. Prosecutors say she was the driver and an active participant.
Panel approves bill about Breathalyzers in bars
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah House lawmakers have approved a bill that sets standards for bars installing Breathalyzers and similar devices for customers to use.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 8-0 to approve the bill Wednesday, which now awaits a vote in the full House.
Draper Republican Rep. Greg Hughes sponsors the bill, which attracted controversy after he told members of the media he was considering requiring them in all bars.
Hughes's bill makes the devices optional but requires that the devices not store patrons' credit card information if it costs money to use. It also requires that other data collected only be used for properly calibrating the device.
Hughes says the devices are a helpful tool for drinkers learning their limits with alcohol.
Senate panel advances pot extract for kids bill
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Senate committee has approved a bill that would allow parents of children with severe epilepsy to legally obtain a marijuana-derived extract they say helps with seizures.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 4-0 on Thursday to approve the bill. It moves to the full Senate for consideration.
Approval there clears the way for it head to Gov. Gary Herbert's desk.
The measure is sponsored by Huntsville Republican Rep. Gage Froerer.
The extract oil, which is grown in neighboring Colorado, is believed by many to help children with a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome.
Froerer's bill would allow Utah families to bring the oil back to Utah if they have a neurologist's consent.
The extract contains less than half a percent of THC, the hallucinogenic chemical found in marijuana.
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