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Utah lawmakers pass new rules affecting abortion providers

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Abortion clinics would be required to cremate or bury fetal remains and women would have to get an ultrasound before the procedure under proposals approved by lawmakers in Utah last week, over objections that the new rules would erode access to abortion.

The Legislature on Friday passed the bill regulating the disposal of the fetal remains after a miscarriage or abortion. Republican sponsor Curt Bramble said in a statement the requirements will ensure dignified treatment, choices for parents and space to grieve if needed. Opponents argue the rules are aimed at stigmatizing abortion and can be costly for clinics or hospitals. Similar bills have been proposed in several other states.

It now goes to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.

The ultrasound bill would require a technician to display images and make the fetal heartbeat audible for each woman. Republican sponsor Rep. Steve Christiansen said those steps could make a woman choose not to have an abortion.

“When a woman sees live video of the baby that’s within her womb and hears a heartbeat ... logic would say that many women are going to choose life,” he said Thursday. His proposal is modeled after a similar law in Kentucky that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed to stand in December.

The Utah bill states a woman can look away or ask the volume of the heartbeat be turned down, but physicians who perform an abortion without an ultrasound could face fines starting at up to $100,000.

It passed the Utah House on Thursday over the objections of Democrats like Rep. Suzanne Harrison, who said it would force doctors to “perform completely unnecessary tests, which, actually in this case, can potentially increase harm to the fetus.” It now moves to the Senate.

Lawmakers are also considering another proposal to ban abortions completely, with exceptions for rape and serious risk to the health of the mother. If passed, that plan has a so-called trigger clause and would only go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion.

Abortion opponents around the country are hopeful new conservatives on the Supreme Court would reconsider the 1974 ruling. Alabama passed a near-total ban on abortions last year, and several states passed bans after a heartbeat is detected, around six weeks. None have gone into effect.

'Back to our roots': Harris Intermediate named 2020 Utah School to Watch

Twenty-five years ago, a new school was founded in Tremonton for sixth- and seventh-graders, making the Box Elder School District the first in northern Utah with a four-tier school system.

Fast forward to today, and Alice C. Harris Intermediate School is on the cutting edge once again as part of the Utah Schools to Watch program.

Harris Intermediate was one of two schools chosen for the Schools to Watch program this year, and as such, will provide a model for other Utah schools to follow in terms of how students are educated and cared for.

The inclusion in the Schools to Watch program is largely due to the efforts of Assistant Principal Todd Barrow, who helped achieve a similar designation for a school he worked at in Colorado. Barrow said the program is specifically designed for students in mid-level education.

“The goal is to help educators use best practices with students aged 11 to 15 because of the unique developmental needs of that age,” he said. “They’re growing faster than at any other time of their lives other than when they’re first born. You’ve got emotional, physical and social needs that are really high.”

Utah Schools to Watch is part of a national program. Prospective schools have to fill out an application, and a panel of educators comes to visit, observing how teachers interact with students in classrooms.

“They come see the things your doing, whether you qualify, so other schools can come see the things you’re doing and learn from you,” Barrow said.

Harris Intermediate started the application process last year under Barrow’s direction, gathering data and making some changes to its processes in order to better meet students’ needs. A team of educators from other schools chosen for the program came to the school and observed for three full days, ate lunch with students, and visited all classrooms.

“They took a microscope to everything we did,” Barrow said.

To make the designation, he said the school made some changes in “developmental responsiveness,” giving students more breaks and time to socialize. It also gave an increased effort toward social equity – “making sure minorities and special needs students are included,” he said.

One of the biggest changes the school has made is something they have called “Win Time.” Twice a day, students who are all caught up with their studies are given a 20-minute break in which they can play sports, games, or just socialize with each other. During those times, students who are a little behind with their coursework get more hands-on time with teachers to help them catch up.

Another way the school earned the designation is through “team teaching,” in which a teacher in a specific subject and a special-needs teacher will teach a class at the same time, “making sure those students who struggle to learn have a little bit of extra support,” Barrow said.

Harris Intermediate is one of 13 schools statewide to be included in Utah Schools to Watch. Bear River Middle School has also been designated in the past.

As part of a national program, Barrow and others from the school will be attending a conference in Washington D.C. in June, where they will also meet with Utah Rep. Rob Bishop.

As part of its inclusion in the program, Barrow and a group of students from the school were recently invited to a day at the state legislature, where they were hosted and recognized by Rep. Joel Ferry in the Utah House of Representatives and Sen. Scott Sandall on the floor of the Utah Senate.

“We were just going to be on the House floor, but Senator Sandall heard we were coming and made a special invitation the Senate,” Barrow said.

Also, the school will hold its own celebration on April 10 to recognize its inclusion in the program.

Being named a Utah School to Watch means Harris Intermediate will now serve as a model for other schools looking to join the program.

“They’ll see some of the things we’re doing and maybe apply some of those things in their own schools,” Barrow said. “We have high expectations for academic excellence. We’re showing growth, showing that our students are learning.”

He said the Schools to Watch designation is fitting for Harris Intermediate because it matches up with the philosophy of the school’s founding principal, Mary Kay Kirkland, who believed in giving kids chances to “move around, socialize, and explore different activities and interests.”

He said Kirkland has been invite to the April 10 celebration at the school in recognition of her dedication to the type of education that helped earn it the Schools to Watch designation.

“That’s what this school was built upon,” Barrow said. “I thought ‘let’s get back to our roots and what this school was founded for.’”

Advocates, environmentalists disagree on trail extension

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utahns of all political stripes enjoy trails that connect their communities to the outdoors, but efforts to expand one of the state’s premier trails threaten to divide two groups of stakeholders that are normally allied on public lands issues: trail users and wilderness advocates.

The Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which contours along parts of the Wasatch foothills, tracks the edge of what was once a vast lake. But most of it persists as mere jagged lines on a map, particularly in the southern half of Salt Lake County, where deep canyons meet a heavily populated valley.

There, the trail is more of an aspiration than an actual pathway because private properties, extending above Olympus Cove, Millcreek, Holladay, Sandy and other Salt Lake City suburbs, effectively push future trail development into steep, rugged higher ground.

To avoid such parcels, trail proponents and the U.S. Forest Service outlined routes that climb far above neighborhoods into the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. But that presents another obstacle. In several key places, the trail would cross designated wilderness, which prohibits the use of mechanized equipment, including mountain bikes and motorized trail-building tools.

Trail advocates find it ironic that wilderness designations on the edge of Utah’s largest urban area are thwarting foothill trail development that could help alleviate the intense recreational pressure high up Mill Creek and Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, which see more traffic than the state’s “Mighty Five” national parks combined.

“We are the capital of outdoor recreation, but the bulk of our population has limited access to trails,” said Sarah Bennett, executive director of Trails Utah, who is pushing hard for the Shoreline Trail’s completion. “We need a corridor for human movement that can support our recreational lifestyle. The health benefits are incredibly important. We need to create more recreation opportunities away from our canyons and watersheds.”

The trail enjoys wide support, yet a solution now in the works is turning trail completion into a wedge issue.


A blocked trail

Conceived in the 1980s by Jim Byrne and Rick Reese, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail envisions a 280-mile, bike-accessible path stretching from Idaho to Nephi, tracking the ancient shoreline of Lake Bonneville along the Wellsville and Wasatch ranges. To date, 90 miles have been completed, according to Bennett, with approvals in place for another 23.

South of Emigration Canyon, only fragments are in place because construction has been stymied by landowners demanding top dollar for easements and outright purchases, said John Knoblock, chairman of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Committee.

“It’s been two decades with almost no trail getting built in this section,” he said while visiting the Neffs trailhead last week.

At the base of Mount Olympus’ towering northwest face, Neffs Canyon would be a vital link for the trail, connecting it with Mill Creek Canyon’s trails. Neffs is, however, filled with obstacles, visible only as lines on a map. Homes abut near-vertical slopes, so the trail’s approved alignment passes through Mount Olympus Wilderness Area.

Because bikes would not be allowed to use this section, it has been nearly impossible to muster the resources needed to construct a trail from Mill Creek Canyon south to Corner Canyon, a segment that crosses current wilderness in 12 spots, explained Aaron Clark, policy manager for the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, is stepping forward with a solution that, on its face, seems commonsensical to many, yet appears bound to get mired in controversy.

Curtis plans to introduce a bill, known as the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Advancement Act, that would redraw wilderness boundaries to exclude the trail on the western periphery of the Mount Olympus, Twin Peaks and Lone Peak wilderness areas.

“This is an important piece of a much larger puzzle,” said Curtis, a former Provo mayor who grew up in Olympus Cove exploring the very terrain that the trail would cross. “The Bonneville Shoreline Trail ... is a tremendous asset for the state.”

Under his bill, fragments totaling 277 acres perched just above subdivisions and a busy highway would be swapped out of the wilderness areas in exchange for a 473-acre parcel in Mill Creek Canyon that was once part of the Boy Scouts’ Camp Tracy before the U.S. Forest Service acquired it in 2016.

Curtis’ proposal is harmless to wilderness preservation, right?

Wrong, says Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons. He and other wilderness activists fear the Curtis measure undermines the prospects of passing a comprehensive conservation plan for the Central Wasatch.

“They’re cherry-picking the removal of wilderness and the completion of a bike trail at the expense of the larger conservation vision,” Fisher said. “What we could call additions of wilderness that they’re throwing at this (is) table scraps. It’s not an equal equation.”


The bigger goal

The wilderness carveouts in Curtis’ bill are included in the proposed 80,000-acre Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act, which Save Our Canyons and other conservation groups embrace. That proposal stems from the Mountain Accord, a process launched in 2012 to identify solutions to the Cottonwood canyons transportation woes and land-use disputes plaguing the popular destinations in the Salt Lake Valley’s backyard.

It calls for the addition of 8,000 acres of wilderness, mostly on the divide between Mill Creek and Parleys canyons, capturing Grandeur Peak and Mount Aire, locking in ski area boundaries, and involving complicated land swaps.

Fisher fears that stand-alone legislation to support the shoreline trail would fragment the coalition of diverse interests that he hopes will persuade Congress to pass the bill establishing the conservation area.

“It could take the legs out” for the bigger bill, Fisher warned.

Lining up against the Curtis bill are, among others, the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, the Sierra Club’s Utah chapter, Friends of Alta and the Wasatch Mountain Club.

“The comprehensive package has something for everyone, hikers, resorts, lovers of wildlife, backcountry skiers, mountain bikers, families, landowners and downstream water users. This ‘something for everyone’ approach is the glue that keeps this vision relevant,” the groups wrote in a joint letter Friday to Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson. “Carving out elements of the agreed actions leaves our communities at risk and perpetuates the piecemeal approach to land use in the foothills and canyons.”

Trail proponents, however, don’t want the shoreline project “held hostage” to further the larger conservation plan that appears to be going nowhere, and Curtis sees his proposal as a win for both outdoor recreation and wilderness.

“It’s hard to argue that we’re hurting wilderness by taking these couple hundred acres out. If you look at the Scout camp ... it should be wilderness,” Curtis said. “It just seems like such a natural, such a nice fit. I like the fact that it’s in such close proximity. It should be (in) wilderness, just as these portions of the trail should not be (in) wilderness.”

Curtis, who plans to hitch his trail proposal to a package of other recreation bills in Congress, has waited to file, hoping to see the two sides find harmony.

“But it is shaping up a little like, if we don’t jump in and do this, we’ll lose this window of opportunity,” he said. “We’re not asking for a reduction of wilderness. As a matter of fact, we’re doubling overall acres. So it’s not a sly ploy to get less wilderness.”

Additionally, the shoreline trail would connect local trail systems, such as Corner Canyon, City Creek and Mill Creek, enabling users to ride between communities, thereby eliminating the need to drive to distant trailheads.

“I see this as a good-faith effort to invest in the future of a trail that is now the central organizing feature of recreation master plans for almost every municipality along the Wasatch Front,” Bennett, of Trails Utah, said. “We are long overdue for comprehensive trail planning and funding.”