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.

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Local artist and writer Lily Nakai Havey has just published a new memoir chronicling her experience as a child in two Japanese American internment camps during World War 2. Havey and her family were living in Los Angeles, when they were sent to an assembly center in Pasadena in 1942, and then to the Amache Relocation Center in Colorado. The book is called Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp. The story is told not only through the writing, but also through Havey’s watercolor paintings and photographs.

Utah Native Plant Society

The annual native plant sale takes place Saturday morning at Recycle Utah in Park City. Organizers say replacing that Kentucky bluegrass with Wasatch penstemon will help conserve water - an increasingly valuable resource in Utah.

Utah is the second largest consumer of water per person in the nation, and Utahns use about two-thirds of that water on lawns and landscapes.  Executive Director of Park City Conservation Association Insa Riepen says that’s an irresponsible and unnecessary use of a valuable resource.

Brian Grimmett

The Salt Lake County Council is sending a letter this week to the Utah legislature asking them to support the Governor’s Healthy Utah Plan and accept Medicaid funds. County councilors have said those federal funds could offset a 12 percent budget shortfall for behavioral health services expected next year. But so far, state lawmakers are holding firm in their positions on Medicaid.

Salt Lake County faces a budget shortfall and service cuts if the state doesn’t accept Medicaid funds from the federal government. The County Council will draft a letter at their meeting Tuesday urging state lawmakers to support the Governor’s Healthy Utah Plan, and to do it this summer before the County has to complete its budget. 

Democratic Salt Lake County Councilor Sam Granato was hoping the legislature would have made a decision by now on whether Utah should accept Medicaid funds to provide health coverage for more than 110,000 low-income Utahns.

Photo courtest Matthew Barraza

The fate of about 1300 same sex marriages in Utah is now in the hands of the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court granted a temporary stay of a US district court’s order to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah during a 17-day window when the unions were allowed. The state Attorney General’s Office requested the stay Thursday and filed a Notice of Appeal on Evans versus State of Utah on Wednesday.

The number of people getting food assistance from Utah’s SNAP program has significantly declined over the past two years. State officials credit improvements in the economy and employment, but some advocates for the poor say it also has to do with work requirements that make it harder for people to receive benefits.

Nic Dunn is a spokesperson for Utah Department of Workforce Services, and when he looks at the decline in SNAP caseloads, he sees evidence that the state is climbing out of the recession.

"Entitled to Life" screenshot

A film debuting Tuesday in Salt Lake City highlights Utah’s low income citizens who don’t have access to affordable health insurance.  The new documentary tells the stories of Utah adults who fall within the state's coverage gap, earning too little to buy subsidized insurance on healthcare.gov, but too much to receive Medicaid.

Andrea Smardon / KUER

As the school year comes to an end, we checked back in with some East High students who took part in a public art exhibit. The We Are One: Inside Out Project was initiated by East High sophomores taking part in a new college prep course in partnership with the Utah Humanities Council.

The push to promote local products made in Utah is expanding into rural areas. Tooele County hosts its first ever Utah’s Own Summit on Friday to help small food-oriented companies expand their business, add jobs, and improve rural Utah’s economy.

Snowbird

The state liquor commission may not let Snowbird Ski Resort serve beer at its annual Oktoberfest this year. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control board laid out tighter guidelines this week for granting single-event permits to businesses. Snowbird’s General Manager argues that move could affect business as well as the community.

Andrea Smardon / KUER

Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced this week that he’s made good progress negotiating with the federal government on his alternative to Medicaid expansion. The governor says there are still some sticking points in the negotiations – including work requirements for those receiving government assistance. But a new study shows that many of those citizens are already working.

Andrea Smardon / KUER

Utah’s Republican lawmakers say they’re not ready to make any decisions about Medicaid expansion or the governor’s alternative plan. That means over 110,000 low income Utahns will likely be waiting at least until next year before they know what their health insurance options may be.

At a GOP caucus this week, Republicans legislators determined that they don’t all agree when it comes to Medicaid and healthcare reform.

EnergySolutions already has its name on a basketball arena in Salt Lake City. Now it's putting its name on an aquatic center in Tooele. Last year, the Tooele County pool at the Deseret Peak Complex was closed due to budget shortfalls, but thanks to EnergySolutions and other corporate sponsors, it will be open this weekend.

The teen birth rate continues to decline in Utah, but some sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise. That’s according to recently released data on child well-being in the state.

The data comes from KIDS COUNT, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Terry Haven, Deputy Director for Voices for Utah Children, says she sees some positive trends in this year’s child well-being report.

UPDATED AT 10:30 P.M. 5/19/14.

A federal judge ruled on Monday that Utah must recognize more than 1,000 same-sex couples who married in the state during a brief period of time when such marriages were legal. 

The Utah Transit Authority is moving forward with installation of surveillance cameras on buses despite the transit union’s claim that the move is a violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

UTA officials say they are spending more than 2 million dollars to install surveillance cameras in a fleet of 600 buses in order to improve passenger safety and transit efficiency. Attorney Joseph Hatch represents the transit union. He says drivers should have a say in how these cameras are used.

A Tooele County commissioner says he wants to impose regular fees and a penalty fine structure on Stericycle’s proposed medical waste incinerator should the company decide to relocate there.

Commissioner Shawn Milne acknowledges that his community has welcomed businesses in the past that others did not want, but he says commissioners want to ensure that the environment and people are protected.

“We don’t want to just accept any business here carte blanche without any consideration for what long term consequences there might be,” Milne says.

Andrea Smardon / KUER

Tooele County citizens met Wednesday night to talk about the possibility of letting Stericycle build a new medical waste incinerator in the area. After a series of informational meetings organized by Stericycle, this town hall was organized by residents.

The meeting at Stansbury High School was organized by Katrina Hill of Stansbury Park, who says she’s never done anything like this before.

Andrea Smardon / KUER

Conservatives and community leaders from the Mountain West issued a joint letter today urging the US House of Representatives to pass comprehensive immigration legislation before the congressional session ends.

At a press conference at the Utah Capitol, faith, technology, business and law enforcement leaders all called for meaningful immigration reform. They were joined by Paul Mero of the conservative think tank Sutherland Institute.

Andrea Smardon / KUER

Westminster College held a celebration on campus Friday for the 23 students who recently competed in Sochi. The liberal arts school had more student-athletes in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games than any other college or university in the country.

Leading the parade was the Westminster Griffin, followed by a stream of Olympic athletes. Halfpipe skier Maddie Bowman came in with a gold medal around her neck, and stepped up to the podium with the help of some crutches.

It’s been 145 years since the ceremonial “driving of the Golden Spike” connected the Union and Central Pacific railroads at Promontory Summit in Utah. In this year’s commemoration, the role of Chinese laborers in building the transcontinental railroad will be recognized and celebrated.

A midwife in Vernal has brought attention to what she believes is an unusually high rate of infant mortality in Uintah County. She and some environmental activists believe the newborn deaths may be connected to pollution from oil and gas drilling in the area. State and local health officials are holding a public meeting Wednesday evening to discuss a possible study of the issue.

Utah is the second largest consumer of water per person in the nation, but Utah State University Extension is offering a program to help people cut down on wasted water by getting a free sprinkler check.

According to USU, about two-thirds of water in private homes is used on lawns and landscapes. 40 percent of that water is wasted, says Molly Waters, the university’s water check program manager.

“Water is wasted in the landscape through things as simple as watering too long, or too frequently, to having major breaks that you don’t know about,” Waters says.

Cornell University

A children’s autism treatment program is accepting new applicants. The Utah Department of Health’s Medicaid Autism Waiver program is open for enrollment. There are 35 openings.

Creative Commons photo by Tim Brown, Infinite World

The American Lung Association released its annual report this week on the State of the Air across the country. The results for Utah are mixed.

A new report shows Utah ranks among the worst states in the nation for access and affordability to health care. The Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, DC, released its Scorecard on State Health System Performance this week.

The struggling fiber optic network UTOPIA may be partnering with a private company to offer high speed internet access to every home in the 11 participating Utah cities where it operates.  Australian investment firm Macquerie Capital has released a proposal to fund UTOPIA’s overhaul. It would require city-wide utility fees from every household in the network.

Salt Lake County

A jailed man accused of sexually abusing teenage immigrant boys and forcing them to deal drugs is dead. The Salt Lake County Sheriff says that authorities found 42-year-old Victor Manuel Rax hanging in his cell Monday night, and they believe he committed suicide.

Rick Bowmer / AP Photo

Prosecutors filed six first-degree murder charges Monday against a Utah woman accused of killing six of her own newborn babies. If convicted, 39-year-old Megan Huntsman of Pleasant Grove would not face the death penalty, but could spend the rest of her life in prison.

According to Pleasant Grove police, Megan Huntsman admitted to suffocating or strangling six of her babies and hiding their bodies in boxes in her garage. Deputy Utah County Attorney Jared Perkins on the prosecution team says they think they know her motive, but are not releasing that information yet.

Andrea Smardon / KUER

Utah Congressman Christ Stewart will face Democrat Luz Robles in the upcoming November election. Robles had no Democratic competitors for the District 2 nomination, leaving her free to focus on her Republican opponent. 

At the convention, Luz Robles acknowledged that running for Congress as a working mother, a state senator, and a Democrat would be an uphill battle.

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