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The following stories from the past week exemplify this unique coverage. Catch any you missed, along with additional exclusive web content, at deseretnews.com.
The Utah Legislature made headway in protecting children and families from various perceived harms, including secondhand smoke in enclosed spaces.
HB13, sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, makes it a misdemeanor to smoke with anyone 15 and under in a vehicle, but fines can be waived for first-time offenders with participation in a smoking cessation course.
Lawmakers, via HB165, also made sure that applicants for child care positions throughout the state will now be subject to federal background checks in addition to statewide criminal reports, to ensure children are not being cared for by someone who has committed a serious crime.
EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION
Utah's public schools will see the largest funding increase in years under the terms of a revised budget that unanimously passed the House and Senate on Wednesday.
HB2 adds nearly $140 million of ongoing funding and $17 million in one-time dollars to the roughly $3.7 billion base education budget for the 2013-14 academic year, which was passed early in the session and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert last month.
The supplemental bill debated Wednesday includes an additional $68.5 million for growth in enrollment and a $47.7 million increase, or 2 percent, to the weighted pupil unit, the basic funding unit for public education.
The bill establishes ongoing funding for several programs that are typically funded on a one-year basis, such as optional extended-day kindergarten and dual immersion, and appropriates one-time funding toward fine arts and science programs, computer adaptive testing and professional development.
An eight-year goal to increase the number of adults in the state with a postsecondary education was officially adopted Tuesday by the Utah Legislature.
Lawmakers join Gov. Gary Herbert, the Governor's Education Excellence Commission, public and higher education officials and members of Prosperity 2020 — a public-private education advocacy group — in supporting the goal, which seeks to have 66 percent of Utah's adult workforce holding a postsecondary degree or certificate by the year 2020.
Roughly 43 percent of adults in Utah currently hold a postsecondary degree or certificate.
SCR5, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, was substituted Tuesday morning in the House by Brad Last, R-Hurricane, to include the goal that 90 percent of students score proficiently in reading by the end of the third grade.
Privatizing Utah's prison may be among the options a new committee considers as it evaluates bids to move the current facility.
And Gov. Gary Herbert said government should always look at privatization, including in the corrections system.
"I think we should look at it. I'm probably not inclined to go with a privatized jail, but we should consider it," Herbert said in an interview as the 45-day legislative session ended Thursday.
"The private sector tends to be a little more efficient. They tend to use their own money. They're a little more creative and innovative," he said.
After much debate and eight versions of the bill, the Legislature ultimately passed SB72, which creates the 11-member Prison Relocation and Development Authority to oversee what would be a massive undertaking to tear down the 62-year-old facility and build one at a new site.
FAITH IN THE COMMUNITY
The leader of Utah's Catholics, Salt Lake City's mayor and a mother who lost her daughter in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School have all added their voices to those asking Gov. Gary Herbert to veto a controversial gun bill.
The Utah Legislature approved HB76, which would the law to allow Utahns to carry a concealed weapon without a concealed weapons permit — meaning no classes or background checks would be required — as long as the firearm is unloaded, which by law means there is not a round in the chamber.
The Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, penned a strongly worded letter to the governor asking that he veto the bill in an effort to "promote a culture of life" in Utah.
Alissa Parker, mother of Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old girl who was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., also wrote to Herbert, asking that he veto the bill.
As cardinals in Vatican City met behind doors Tuesday to begin the process of selecting a new pope, students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School held their own conclave of sorts.
Eighth-graders in Veronica Brand's class are on "Pope Watch." They wrote their names on a map with pictures of front-runners to replace Pope Benedict XVI. The majority of the votes from the Kearns students went with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.
"He seems pretty interesting and he has a lot of votes, so I think he'll be pretty good," eighth-grader Emilio Luzero said. "I think he will make our world strong and we can trust more people."
Cardinal Ouellet was Nathaniel Martinez's choice. He felt the Canadian cardinal could bring new ideas and inspire the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world.
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