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What Utah’s federal lawmakers are proposing to address coronavirus

As state lawmakers and officials in Utah work to find solutions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid a pandemic, Utah’s senators and representatives at the federal level are doing the same.

On Monday, Republican United States Senator Mitt Romney proposed a relief package that includes immediately sending $1,000 checks to every American adult “to help ensure families and workers can meet their short-term obligations and increase spending in the economy,” according to a press release.

Providing such immediate monetary relief is not unprecedented, the press release said, noting that Congress provided similar emergency funds during the 2001 and 2008 recessions.

The U.S. House passed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” on Saturday, which includes expanding funding for food security programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), increasing emergency family and sick leave requirements for employers and requiring free coronavirus testing from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers, CBS News reported.

“The House coronavirus response package contains critical measures to help families in Utah and across the nation in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, and the Senate should act swiftly on this legislation,” Romney said in the press release. “We also urgently need to build on this legislation with additional action to help families and small businesses meet their short-term financial obligations, ease the financial burden on students entering the workforce, and protect health workers on the front lines by improving telehealth services.”

In addition to calling for $1,000 checks for all American adults, Romney proposed that the U.S. Small Business Administration provide bridge grants to businesses that apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans but do not receive them.

The Republican senator also said the federal government should temporarily defer the payment of student loans and require private insurance companies to temporarily cover telehealth services.

On Friday, Romney, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, introduced a bill to address shortages of medical supplies in the country due to a reliance on pharmaceuticals manufactured overseas.

The bill would direct the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to assess the country’s dependence on medical devices, equipment and medication imported from countries like China and India, according to a press release.

In a joint statement with Romney in response to travel restrictions implemented by President Donald Trump, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, recommended that all U.S. residents abroad register with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) “which allows the government to contact them directly with the latest information on travel to the United States.”

After voting yes on the House’s emergency relief funding bill on Saturday, Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, expressed support for the measure.

“Although there are parts that I do not fully agree with, I was glad to vote for a compromise for the ultimate benefit of the American people,” Curtis said in a written statement. “Congress should send a clear message that a public health crisis is not to be dealt with only along party lines.”

Also on Saturday, Utah’s only Democratic elected federal official, Rep. Ben McAdams, announced adjustments to his West Jordan and Washington, D.C. offices, including that his staff will temporarily stop holding in-person meetings.

“The health and safety of our community is my top priority,” McAdams said in a statement. “We will continue serving Utah in a virtual capacity and my office phone numbers remain operational.”

Community Action Services and Food Bank needs volunteers, sees more people because of COVID-19

Looking for something to do? The Community Action Services and Food Bank says they need volunteers to help assemble pantry boxes and then fill them with food for those in need.

That is the word coming from Karen McCandless, CASFB director. She said the word today is donate. Donate time or food.

As the situation with COVID-19 continues to change, the way Community Action is responding has had to change as well.

“We have a bottleneck right now,” McCandless said. “In having boxes assembled and then food put in the boxes. We provide gloves, hand sanitizers and masks.”

If you can volunteer, there is no need to call ahead, simply come to the Provo facility, 815. S. Freedom Blvd. between 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon-Thurs. and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday.

Volunteers will not directly work with CASFB clients, but will be working in the food bank creating those vital food boxes, McCandless said.

“We take pride in letting clients have a choice and pick the food they like,” McCandless said. “Because we are trying to keep interaction at a minimum we are going to a food box system. Clients will not be able to walk through the food bank.”

This process will start Wednesday or sooner if the food bank can get the boxes ready.

Clients who are return customers and already in the system will sign in at the lobby and then either return to their cars or wait outside. The lobby will send their order to the food bank and the correct amount of boxes will be brought together.

According to McCandless, the customer will then be called and they can drive their vehicle up to where the boxes will be loaded.

“We are trying to minimize the interaction,” McCandless said. “Food boxes are the best we can do for the situation.”

Boxes will all have the same types of food. They will be packed for one, two, three or four people. If there is a family of seven, for instance, they would receive a box for four and box for three, according to McCandless.

New customers will have to register in the lobby.

“This will be in place until May 15. But everything is fluid at this point,” McCandless said. “We want to be here for the community that needs our services.”

The Feed Utah 2020 Food Drive has been postponed but that doesn’t mean there’s not a need for food donations, McCandless said.

McCandless noted that food donated to the food bank is also used for several nonprofit food banks and for churches in the area as well.

“Food goes to dozens of community partners,” she said.

The food bank also provides Kid’s Nutrition Packets for the schools. While schools are closed, the food is still being distributed. McCandless said they are still working out some of the details on the safest way that can be accomplished.

She also said that she expects to see a surge in community need in the next three weeks.

“Paychecks will stop coming in and food will run low for some,” McCandless said. “We’re here to help, that’s our mission. We’re working as fast as we can.”

McCandless said classes through Community Action Services have been canceled through March including the Circles program.

“We are closely following the Center for Disease Control’s directions,” McCandless added.

Freedom Festival cancels Hope of America show due to virus

Thousands of fifth-grade students that have been rehearsing for several months for the Hope of America — a three-day extravaganza event of America’s Freedom Festival — may have to wait until sixth grade to perform it.

On Monday, the Freedom Festival announced its Hope of America program, scheduled for May 5-7 in the Brigham Young University Marriott Center has been cancelled.

“Safety is always the foremost concern at all Freedom Festival events, and we wish to do our part to keep local children and their families healthy,” according to the press release.

Jim Evans, the new executive director of the festival, said there could be bright side to the cancellation.

“For those students who wish to, the Freedom Festival invites them to join next year’s 5th graders in 2021 for a special 25th anniversary presentation,” Evans said in the release. “We will do our best to ensure no child misses the opportunity to take part in the Hope of America tradition, one of our nation’s largest and most inspiring patriotic events. We will also be refunding the $10 registration fee from this year.”

Evans added, “Hope of America is one of our community’s hallmark fixtures each year, and we understand its cancellation will come as a disappointment to the students and teachers who have worked so hard to prepare it. That being said, nothing is more important right now than keeping people safe. Hope of America’s future is bright — we’re already planning how to make next year’s event the very best ever.”

The Hope of America, is a patriotic musical performance that spans multiple evenings at each spring. Traditionally the Marriott Center is filled will parents, family and friends to see the popular production.

“We encourage students and teachers to continue to submit photos and videos of their practices,” Evans said. “We will use them for next year and on our social media pages. They will also be counted toward the Hope of America School Spirit Award.”

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt announces run for Utah Attorney General

After more than a year of fighting for criminal justice reform in the county, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt is hoping to bring reform to the state level.

Leavitt announced he had filed his candidacy for Utah Attorney General on Friday, the first day that constitutional office candidates could file.

“I ran for Utah County Attorney to reform a criminal justice system that we all understand is broken,” Leavitt said in a campaign announcement video. “While Utah County is a great place from which to change the criminal justice system, it isn’t the best spot. The most ideal spot is as the Utah Attorney General.”

In his first 14 months in office, Leavitt has made it a goal to shift Utah County away from plea bargains and increase the number of jury trials. According to Leavitt, 99% of criminal cases in the county never go to court because a plea bargain is reached.

“Every time we do a plea bargain, we take away the jury’s right to decide ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent,’” Leavitt told the Daily Herald in January, adding that this shift away from jury trials has given prosecutors a dangerous amount of power. “That’s what’s wrong with our criminal justice system.”

Earlier this month, Leavitt’s office rolled out a new plea bargain policy that makes it more difficult for prosecutors to dismiss or reduce the highest charge in a criminal case. Leavitt said he hopes the policy change will increase the number of jury trials and decrease the number of plea bargain deals struck in Utah County.

According to Leavitt, prosecutors cannot dismiss or reduce a highest charged offense without “specific agreement from all three members of the trial team.”

“In many respects, it (the policy change) opens up more possibilities for the prosecutor to resolve cases, but, also in many respects, it narrows their capacity as to what they can do,” Leavitt said earlier this month. “It cuts both ways.”

In addition to changing the Utah County Attorney’s Office’s plea bargain policy, Leavitt implemented a change to the way the office screens cases. Together, the “hand-in-hand” policies are “intended to decrease a reliance on the plea bargain and increase our respect for the jury trial as the cornerstone of our judicial system,” he said.

In an interview on Monday, Leavitt said he would bring similar changes statewide if he were elected.

“Those are all things that we need to implement in counties across this state,” he said.

As attorney general, Leavitt said he would work to decrease the state’s incarceration rate by calling for pre-filing diversion programs for nonviolent offenders, particularly those suffering from drug addiction.

“The drug problem is devastating to society, but the way we’re dealing with the drug problem simply isn’t effective,” said Leavitt. “We’ll never prosecute our way through the opioid crisis, and we’ll never incarcerate our way through the drug problem. We just have to find different solutions.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who was appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert in 2013 following the resignation of then-Attorney General John Swallow, announced his run for re-election on Friday.

“The people of this state know I stand for the Rule of Law and justice for all, not just the elite,” Reyes said in a press release. “I will run a positive and strong campaign to remain Utah’s top law enforcement leader and the State’s principal legal counsel.”

Leavitt criticized Reyes for not being more involved with county attorney’s offices throughout the state, adding that in the 14 months he has been attorney of the second most populated county in the state, he hasn’t “even had a phone call from Sean Reyes.”

“In reality, we have 29 different criminal justice systems in the state of Utah, because the attorney general is the chief law enforcement official for the state of Utah and he has a statutory duty to supervise county and district attorneys,” Leavitt said. “And that never happens.”

Leavitt and Reyes, who are both running as Republicans, are the only two candidates for attorney general who have filed with the state elections office as of Monday. Candidates have until Thursday at 5 p.m. to file.

Jury finds man accused of fatal shooting at Orem apartment complex not guilty of first-degree murder

A jury found a 20-year-old man who reportedly shot and killed another man at an Orem apartment in 2019 not guilty on three out of the four charges prosecuted by the Utah County Attorney’s Office out of Provo, including first-degree felony murder.

The Utah County Attorney’s Office charged Elbert John Paule of Chula Vista, California, with two felony and two misdemeanor charges after prosecutors alleged he shot 26-year-old Dominique Barnett at his apartment in Orem in front of Barnett’s girlfriend in February 2019.

According to the probable cause statement filed in support of his arrest last February, Barnett allegedly went to Paule’s apartment complex to visit him. When Barnett arrived at his apartment, Paule allegedly opened the door and shot Barnett point-blank in the torso without warning using a 12 gauge shotgun.

Paule then allegedly threw the shotgun off of the apartment balcony and fled from the complex. He eventually turned himself over to police officers.

Barnett was transported to the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center where he succumbed to the gunshot wound and was pronounced dead about an hour after the shooting. An autopsy revealed the shotgun blast had caused significant trauma to Barnett’s liver causing him to quickly bleed to death.

Barnett and Paule allegedly had a verbal altercation over the phone the day of the shooting, and witnesses told police, according to an unsealed search warrant, that Paule was paranoid that Barnett was coming to fight him.

The office filed charges of first-degree felony murder, second-degree felony obstruction of justice, class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment, and class B misdemeanor assault in March 2019. Paule entered a plea of not guilty for each charge the following month.

In September, District Judge Lynn Davis set an eight-day trial for March 2 through March 13 at 4th District Court in Provo. If convicted of the murder charge alone, Paule could have been sentenced to a minimum of 15 years to life in prison.

After seven days of evidence and cross examination of witnesses, the jury found Paule not guilty of the first-degree felony murder charge as well as the class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment and class B misdemeanor assault charges.

“Elbert and his entire family had come up from San Diego,” Paule’s defense attorney Rudy Bautista said. “The sigh of relief of the acquittal, they all had tears in their eyes, including Elbert.”

The jury, however, did find Paule guilty of second-degree felony obstruction of justice. Bautista said he believes the case has strong appellate issues.

The conviction was based on the prosecution’s argument that Paule’s alleged action of throwing the shotgun from the balcony was an attempt to hide or destroy evidence, but Bautista said the prosecution did not present evidence on how the weapon could have landed where it had if it was thrown off of the balcony.

Bautista plans to appeal the conviction by filing a motion to suspend judgment, which will be sent to Davis for approval. He said he expects the judge to deny the request, and in that case, Paule will be sentenced as planned.

Paule’s attorney said he has never seen anyone in Paule’s situation sentenced to more than probation, especially because his client has already served the average time in prison for obstruction of justice, which is 9-12 months, according to the guidelines.

“I would be surprised if the judge sends him to prison,” Bautista said. “He shouldn’t be punished for the crimes he was acquitted of.”

Overall, Bautista said he is thankful to the jury for maintaining open minds throughout the course of the proceedings. Had the defense been able to present all of its evidence, he said, Bautista is confident the jury would have come to the same conclusion much faster.

Paule will appear in court on April 22 at 1:30 p.m. to receive sentencing for the second-degree felony charge.