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

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.

Andrea Smardon / KUER

Utah Democrats elected former Salt Lake County mayor Peter Corroon as their new party chair over the weekend. Both Corroon and his opponent Richard Davis emphasized the need to recruit more Democrats outside of Salt Lake valley.

BYU political science professor Richard Davis was chair of the Democratic Party in conservative stronghold Utah County for four years.

Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in Utah and around the country. But Utahns can reduce the risk of overdose deaths and help protect the environment by disposing of those unused medications Saturday during National Take-Back Day.

Salt Lake County

The University of Utah announced Thursday the findings of an investigation into allegations of sperm donation tampering by a former lab employee. Texas couple John and Pamela Branum prompted the investigation after learning that their daughter is the offspring of Thomas Lippert, an employee at the University of Utah lab where the family received a sperm donation in 1991.  

A woman in St George has been charged with felony child endangerment for using methamphetamine while pregnant.  The baby was delivered by emergency C-section last week due to medical problems. According to charges filed Monday, the 24-year-old mother admitted to medical staff and police that she is addicted to meth and used it while pregnant. She was booked in a Washington County facility on 10,000 dollars bail. But state officials and health experts say the law was never intended to prosecute pregnant women.

Utah has some of the highest payday lending rates in the nation. That’s according to a new report released this week from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The research indicates that a state’s limit on interest rates is the key factor driving loan pricing. Utah is one of seven states where there is no legal limit.

Andrea Smardon

The Utah Symphony and Opera will be taking their show on the road this summer, pairing live classical music with Utah’s natural landscape. In a new partnership with the Office of Tourism, the Symphony announced Tuesday it will be offering free open-air concerts at Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks this August.

A restaurant in Ogden is trying to help first generation immigrant students finish college. On Thursday, the Sonora Grill will raise funds for a scholarship program. One hundred percent of all sales and contributions throughout the day will go directly to pay the tuition for immigrant students attending Weber State University. Sonora Grill owner Steven Ballard says he’s met a lot of immigrants working in the restaurant business.

A new building for the next generation of entrepreneurs is coming to the University of Utah. The Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute announced today a 12 million dollar gift from Pierre Lassonde. Mr. Lassonde, a French Canadian mining entrepreneur with an MBA from the U, says his donation will be used to create a new facility where students will live, create, and launch new enterprises.

A restaurant near the University of Utah has closed, and a liquor license may be opening up. The Market Street Broiler shut its doors Monday, though it had only recently opened an oyster bar upstairs with a newly granted club license.

Andrea Smardon

Entrepreneurs, activists and policy makers are joining forces Wednesday to solve air quality problems along the Wasatch front. The new Impact Hub Salt Lake is hosting what they call an innovation lab focused on finding air pollution solutions.

Andrea Smardon

The Ronald McDonald House in Salt Lake City has completed an expansion, so more parents with seriously ill children will be able to stay.  There are not only more beds, but more features to accommodate families as healthcare delivery evolves in Utah.

“We wanted families when they walked in to feel like they were entering a very different place than the hospital,” says Carrie Romano, Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Intermountain Area. “We wanted them to be greeted with a bright beautiful wall. As you can see, it says the house that love built.”

Many faith leaders in Utah have been vocal about encouraging lawmakers to expand Medicaid in the state. But the dominant faith – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – has been silent when it comes to the Affordable Care Act. In the meantime, one LDS ward in downtown Salt Lake City is quietly working to help congregants get access to health insurance.

Utah consumers are being asked to help eliminate unnecessary healthcare by questioning their doctors. A campaign called Choosing Wisely Utah is holding public discussions to encourage conversations between patients and physicians about avoiding treatments that add little or no benefit. The first of these discussions with health experts is at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.  

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is encouraging rural Utahns to sign up for health insurance before the federal deadline on Monday. Secretary Vilsack says that Utahns who live in rural areas have a lot to gain from the federal Affordable Care Act.

Andrea Smardon

The Dean of the University of Utah’s School of Medicine was in Washington DC Tuesday testifying before a House appropriations subcommittee which included Representative Chris Stewart of Utah’s 2nd District. Dr. Vivian Lee requested an increase in medical research and education funding in the federal budget.

Salt Lake City is officially the home of the first Impact Hub in Utah. The HUB concept – which brings together social innovators and entrepreneurs - started in London and is now a global network spanning five continents. The space in Salt Lake isn’t ready yet, but organizers have a temporary space in the meantime. They call it a Pop-up HUB.

An Impact HUB is a place for innovators to do their work, but the marketing and operations director for HUB Salt Lake Ryan Chatterton will tell you, it’s more than that.

Photograph by Trisha Empey

East High School in Salt Lake City is widely known for being the film location of the Disney movie High School Musical. Now the public school is making its mark in the world of art. When the closing school bell rings Friday afternoon - a public art exhibit will be installed on an exterior wall of East High School. It’s intended to spark conversation about Utah’s cultural diversity, and it’s part of a global art project known as Inside Out.

Andrea Smardon

Utah’s ski industry leaders want to connect seven ski resorts in the Wasatch mountains. Ski Utah held a press conference Wednesday along with the general managers from the resorts to outline the interconnect concept.

Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty says it’s not a specific plan yet, but a concept. They call it One Wasatch, and the goal is to create the most efficient and enjoyable interconnected mountain resort ski experience in North America.

Andrea Smardon

Clean air advocates released their grades for Utah lawmakers Tuesday. Compared to past legislative sessions, lawmakers showed improvement, but advocates say there is still a lot of work to be done. 

Andrea Smardon

UPDATE: Additional candidates who have filed for the 4th Congressional District include Bill Peterson (DEM), Bob Fuehr (REP), and Jim Vein (LIB).

The race for Utah Congressman Jim Matheson’s seat is on. Republican Mia Love and Democrat Doug Owens both filed Monday to represent the 4th District. Love narrowly lost to Matheson in the last election, and claims to be a better candidate than she was in 2012. But Owens insists he could still pull off a win.

Image from DonkeyHotey / https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/

State Republican and Democratic Party Caucuses are this week. People will gather in neighborhoods across Utah to discuss candidates and issues and to elect their neighborhood delegate. Tuesday is the Democratic Party Caucus. Republicans meet on Thursday. Anna Thompson is the Communications Director for the Democratic Party. She says this is the smallest organizing unit in any election, so it’s very important for everyone to become involved.

Brian Grimmett

  Another Utah legislative session has ended without a decision on Medicaid, but Governor Gary Herbert and healthcare advocates are declaring a victory of sorts.

Late in the session, Governor Herbert came out with his long-awaited proposal to get health coverage for Utah’s poorest citizens. He wants to use federal dollars to buy private coverage for low-income Utahns, but he first needs approval from the federal government. He asked state lawmakers not to limit him with any legislation that would hinder negotiations with the feds.

University of Utah

A bill to reform the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) is heading to the governor’s desk for his approval. The legislation comes after an audit found that the program exaggerated the number of jobs created.

File: Governor Gary Herbert
Utah Education Network

Time is running out for the Utah legislature to make a decision on what they want to do about health insurance for low-income Utahns.  There are several health reform proposals in the legislature that have yet to be approved, with only four working days left in the session. But at this point, the governor has the power to move forward with his plan, so long as lawmakers don’t stand in his way.

Andrea Smardon

Governor Gary Herbert got some positive feedback Thursday on his plan to offer health insurance to low-income Utahns. Herbert visited a homeless health clinic in Salt Lake City and heard from citizens who do not qualify for insurance subsidies, but also do not qualify for Medicaid, leaving them in a coverage gap.

The Utah legislature has approved a compromise solution between the backers of a direct primary system and those who want to preserve the current caucus-convention system.

Andrea Smardon

Small businesses now have access to funding that will help improve air quality. The UCAIR Air Assist program offers funds to small businesses to buy equipment upgrades that will reduce emissions. The first grant recipient is an auto body shop in Salt Lake City.

ACS Precision Finish is using about $15,000 of state money to upgrade from a solvent to a water-based paint system. Corey Kaggie, a painter in the shop, is dressed in a white protective body suit, goggles, and a face mask. She says the new paint certainly smells better.

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