Andrea Smardon

Reporter

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World.  Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Boston.com.  Prior to that, she worked at Seattle’s NPR affiliate KUOW.  Andrea’s stories cover the local to the global - from controversial school committee votes to dissident Burmese hip hop artists.  She holds a Bachelors degree in English and Music from Wesleyan University in Connecticut.  Andrea says she misses the ocean, but is happy to be surrounded by mountains.

Ways To Connect

Andrea Smardon

Clean air advocates filed a legal challenge last week against the US Environmental Protection Agency, claiming a new policy allows some coal-fired power plants to continue releasing haze-causing pollutants in Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.  Environmental organization HEAL Utah was one of the groups who filed the challenge with the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver. 

Andrea Smardon

Former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson was in Salt Lake City today.  The Baptist minister and civil rights activist delivered the keynote address for the University of Utah’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebrations.   Before his address, Jackson argued that the U would benefit from a more multicultural student body. 

Tonia Torrence

The Salt Lake City Council is reconsidering an ordinance which penalizes residents if they fail to clear snow and ice off their sidewalks.  The Council discussed the issue at their meeting Tuesday after several council members received warnings that their own walkways were not sufficiently clear. 

Tonia Torrence came back from a trip in early January to find a citation in her mailbox.  She had been fined 50 dollars for not clearing her sidewalk of snow and ice.

In the future, Utahns may no longer need a permit to carry a concealed weapon.   Republican Representative John Mathis of Vernal has filed legislation that would amend Utah’s gun laws, essentially eliminating the need for a concealed weapons permit. 

Governor Gary Herbert signed a declaration today honoring Japanese American Fred Korematsu - who was interned in the Central Utah War Relocation Center in Topaz, appealed his conviction, and fought for civil liberties for all Americans. 

Korematsu was born and raised in Oakland, California, but was placed in the Topaz internment camp during World War Two.  Governor Gary Herbert said his legacy ought to be remembered in Utah.   

Andrea Smardon

The Utah Department of Health says human error caused the most recent data breach, where the personal information of 6000 Medicaid clients was lost on a thumb drive. 

The mistake was made by an employee of a third-party contractor, Goold Health Systems, which processes pharmacy claims for Utah’s Medicaid program. State Health Department spokesman Tom Hudachko said the employee should never have downloaded data onto an unencrypted thumb drive. 

South Carolina Army drill sergeant Terry Achane thought he would be reunited with his 2-year-old daughter in Provo Wednesday, but it didn’t turn out that way.  The Utah Supreme Court put a temporary hold on a lower court judge’s order giving Achane custody of his daughter. 

Achane’s daughter Teleah was placed for adoption at birth without his consent or knowledge.  After months of litigation, Achane’s attorney Mark Wiser says his client was en route to Provo for a hearing in 4th District Court where he expected to finally gain custody of his daughter.

EnergySolutions

Salt Lake City nuclear waste company EnergySolutions announced Monday that it will be acquired by private equity firm Energy Capital Partners.  But numerous parties are questioning the deal, including HEAL Utah.   The environmental organization's Policy Director Matt Pacenza told KUER that he is wary about a private equity firm managing nuclear waste. 

Federal officials have given preliminary approval for Utah to run its own health insurance exchange marketplace, but some state lawmakers say they don’t want to run the exchange under the feds’ rules. 

Earlier this week, US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Utah officials that the state’s Avenue H exchange could be approved by the federal government if it meets certain requirements by October.  Republican Representative Jim Dunnigan is chair of Utah’s Health System Reform Task Force.  He says the feds are not giving Utah the flexibility that it requested.

The federal government has conditionally approved Utah’s health insurance exchange known as Avenue H.  But the feds say more work needs to be done for the state-based exchange to be compliant with the Affordable Care Act. 

US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius praised Utah for making "significant progress" with its online insurance marketplace.  She says she’s confident Avenue H will be federally compliant by the deadline of October this year.  In a conference call, federal health administrator Gary Cohen essentially put the ball in Utah’s court.

While Congress works to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, there is another deadline looming.  Emergency unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire Saturday unless Congress acts.  The US Department of Labor estimates this will impact over 2 million Americans, including about 4100 Utahns. 

Andrea Smardon

A ruling is expected shortly in the case of Jake Strickland - a Utah father who has been trying for almost two years to gain custody of his child.  Strickland’s son Jack was put up for adoption by the child’s mother.  2nd District Judge David Hamilton held a hearing in the case Wednesday, and said he would deliver a ruling soon.  

Jake Strickland told KUER he wants an answer.

“It feels like it’s dragging on and on and right now, I don’t see an end to it,” said Strickland, “but as long as I have to keep fighting I will.”

Democrats in the Utah Legislature submitted a letter to colleagues in the Health System Reform Task Force Monday, recommending that the state expand Medicaid.  And they say the sooner it happens the better.  

The legislature’s new Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis of Salt Lake City told KUER that expanding Medicaid eligibility can help improve access to health insurance for Utahns and can save the state money.

The state’s Health System Reform Task Force had its final meeting Monday before the legislative session, but questions remain about health reform  - in particular, who will run Utah’s health insurance exchange.

The Utah Department of Health has hired an outside firm to study the costs and benefits of expanding Medicaid in the state.  The department has been gathering feedback from the public on what should be considered in the study. 

Christina Osburn has a brain tumor and epilepsy.  She’s been on Medicaid for more than 10 years, but she expects to lose that coverage because her income will soon exceed the threshold to qualify.   

Growing up in Utah, Ross Owen watched the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on television every Sunday with his family.

"It was almost like watching a rock concert, and I thought, 'Oh, I'd love to do that,' " he says.

But by the time Owen was old enough to join the choir, he was no longer a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; he had been excommunicated after he came out as gay.

Andrea Smardon

Some healthcare advocates were disappointed Wednesday to find out that Governor Gary Herbert did not include funding for the expansion of Medicaid in his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Governor Herbert spoke very little about healthcare in his budget presentation except to say that he is proceeding with caution. 

Governor Gary Herbert sent a letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday morning asking the federal government to let Utah keep Avenue H, the state’s health insurance exchange, without making changes to it. 

Andrea Smardon

Hopes for another Olympics in Utah were rekindled Monday, as Governor Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker announced their decision to pursue a bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

The Olympic cauldron at Rice Eccles Stadium was literally in Governor Herbert’s view as he announced his decision based on the recommendations of an Exploratory Committee.

“We’ve reviewed the report and are here to announce that Salt Lake City and the great state of Utah are ready, willing, and able to host a future winter Olympic game.”

Low-income advocates are asking Governor Gary Herbert to remember Utahns who can’t afford basic healthcare this holiday season.  On Friday, staff from Crossroads Urban Center and some uninsured Utahns presented results from a survey showing the connection between hunger and high healthcare costs. 

Crossroads Urban Center surveyed more than 300 of the people they helped with food this year. Marjorie Hurder is a Social Justice Advocate at the Center, and she conducted many of the interviews.

The Salt Lake Chamber is trying to help Utah businesses rein in their healthcare costs.  They released their online guide Thursday called an Employer’s Tool Box.

Rich McKeown is chair of the Salt Lake Chamber’s Health Reform task force.   He told KUER the Employer’s Tool Box helps businesses exercise some degree of control over healthcare costs. 

In his concession speech, Governor Mitt Romney prayed that the president will be successful in guiding the nation.  Shortly after that, LDS Church leaders invited Americans  - whatever their political persuasion - to pray for the President and the new Congress.  Now LDS Democrats are calling for a day of prayer.  Caucus chair Steve Olsen told KUER the prayers are directed at leaders on both sides of the aisle. 

Bob Nelson

Utah’s new air pollution alert system has some health advocacy groups concerned.  Under the new system announced Monday by the Utah Division of Air Quality, there will be fewer days that will trigger a Red Air Action alert.  Red Air days are considered to be unhealthy for everyone.  In the current system, they are triggered when PM2.5 levels are at 35 micrograms per cubic meter.  The new system raises the threshold to 55. 

The Utah Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Florida father who did not want his daughter put up for adoption here.  The Court found that Utah’s adoption law was "constitutionally defective" in this case.  

Andrea Smardon

Pioneer Theatre Company is putting on a musical production based on Charles Dickens’ classic story, “A Christmas Carol”, but there’s a twist.  They’re asking the audience to participate. 

This will be Karen Azenberg’s first production as the new Artistic Director of Pioneer Theatre Company, and she’s trying something a little different.  Azenberg is asking people to take a lesson from Ebenezer Scrooge – the quintessential miser who learns to give after a transformative encounter with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come.

Andrea Smardon

A market for locally made arts and hand-made goods opened Friday at Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City.   The Downtown Holiday Market consists of about a dozen festive red huts decorated with lights, and a large tent which houses numerous artists and crafts people.   Emily Cooper is a vendor selling framed drawings of owls.  Cooper told KUER that at the Market, it’s not Black Friday, it’s Plaid Friday.

Andrea Smardon

City Creek Center is hosting its first ever Black Friday.  No one is quite sure how much money the Salt Lake City shopping center will bring in this holiday, but expectations are high.

Linda Wardell is General Manager of City Creek Center.  When asked about expectations for the holidays, she laughed. 

“It’s a great question,” said Wardell, “We still have a lot of first-time visitors to City Creek Center.  That does make it unique for us, and a bit daunting for us when we start thinking about our first time holiday season.”

Governor Gary Herbert sent a letter Monday morning to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  The letter declares the Governor’s intentions to continue to pursue Utah’s state-based health insurance exchange – known as Avenue H, rather than a federally-designed exchange.  But the letter also says that this decision could change as the state receives more information. 

Enclosed with Governor Gary Herbert’s letter is a list of top ten unanswered questions about federal exchanges. 

David Walsh, Bureau of Reclamation

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is expected to make an appearance just south of Utah’s border at Glen Canyon Dam Monday.  Salazar will be there to trigger a controlled flood from Utah’s Lake Powell into Arizona’s Glen and Grand Canyons, the first high-flow release conducted at that dam since 2008. 

Governor Gary Herbert plans to send a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services Friday declaring the state’s intentions on its health insurance exchange. Up until now, the Governor’s Office has not said whether the state will update its existing exchange, Avenue H, to meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act - or let the feds create their own exchange in the state. But Utah’s Health Reform Implementation Coordinator Norman Thurston says the letter doesn’t commit the state to anything.

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