Category: House News

Operation Rio Grande Update

In an unprecedented manner, state, local and federal leaders; law enforcement agencies; and public, private and non-profit organizations came together to address the lawlessness occurring in the Rio Grande district in Salt Lake City.

The 3-phase Operation Rio Grande plan is a result multi-jurisdictional collaboration to improve public safety and restore order in anticipation of the Road Home closing and new resource centers beginning operations in July of 2019. The purpose of this operation is to address the lawlessness in the Rio Grande area, bring criminal activity to a halt, get individuals treatment they might need and connect them with employment and housing opportunities.

The 3-phases consist of:

  • Phase 1 – Public Safety and Restoring Order: Focus is on law enforcement, identifying and arresting dangerous criminals who are preying on the most vulnerable.
  • Phase 2 – Assessment and Treatment: Provide assessment and treatment for addiction and behavioral disorders to those in the Rio Grande District.
  • Phase 3 – Dignity of Work: Public and private organizations are working together to increase employment opportunities and training to this population.

Operation Rio Grande started on August 14. The goal is to lock up dangerous criminals who have preyed on our most vulnerable citizens. Since then, 852 arrests have been made, of which 72 were felony arrest, 82 were felony arrest with warrants, 155 were misdemeanors and 543 were misdemeanor arrests with warrants.

The Rio Grande area has already seen improvements since the operation began two and a half weeks ago. Law and order is being restored, resulting in greater safety and access to homeless services for individuals in need. Additionally, those in need are being directed to available services.

The state is committed to maintaining and enhancing the law enforcement presence in and around the Rio Grande area for the next two years. This process will restore the civil liberties and personal security of those who live and work around Pioneer Park and those experiencing homelessness. It will also connect those in need with social services available in the area.

The next vital step is to create a secure area for those experiencing homelessness to be protected from the criminal element. Developing a safe space is critical to the immediate and long-term goals of the operation to increase public safety and reduce criminal activity that plagues the area. It will also help service providers identify and understand each individual seeking services in the area, in order to tailor and enhance services for each individual. Examples of enhanced services include outreach and engagement, housing connection resources, directing individuals to employment opportunities outside of the area, and enabling individuals to exit homelessness on a pathway to self-sufficiency.

In anticipation of this safe space, a minimal section of Rio Grande Street, between two existing facilities, is recommended for closure. This closure will not prevent access to any business or organization in the area. In fact, those currently receiving services are required to cross the street daily – with beds on one side of the street and meals, employment and ID services on the other.

This safe space has always been a part of the Operation Rio Grande strategy in an effort to reduce homelessness and improve public safety in the area. Diverse stakeholders – the State of Utah, Salt Lake County, service providers in the area and the Pioneer Park Coalition – agree that closing the street is critical to achieving both the immediate, medium and long-term goals of the operation.

Shelters are not long-term solutions for the homeless. Plans are being implemented to increase housing, residential rehabilitation, healthcare and behavioral healthcare. This will reduce and prevent the length of homelessness, as well as keep individuals exiting homelessness on a path of self-sufficiency.

Components of the operation include law enforcement (28%), jail beds (22%) treatment beds (28%) and housing and services (22%). The initial estimated cost of Operation Rio Grande is $67 million over two years. The three primary jurisdictions—State of Utah, Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City—are working to secure funding for the areas that make up the operation.

Nearly one-third of the total cost, $20 million, will be absorbed within existing budgets. Partners have identified offsets and sources to cover more than another third, $27 million. We are working with the private sector and other government entities to identify the funding and resources available for the remaining one-third needed, approximately $21 million.

Citizens have expressed concerns about the scattering of the Rio Grande population into surrounding neighborhoods. Dispersal was anticipated and has always been part of the operational budget and law enforcement strategy. Law enforcement officials will pursue and arrest criminals as they move throughout the state.

If you are aware of illegal activity, please report it to your local police department. If it is an emergency, call 911.

Visit for additional information including FAQs, details of the operation, previous press conferences, articles and more. Updated information is continually added.

Operation Rio Grande – News Recap

Speaker Greg Hughes said during interviews today that he believes it is important to be open and transparent about stumbling blocks throughout the Operation Rio Grande process. The lives we are protecting shouldn’t be forfeited over the budget that is why it is necessary to create a safe space now.

Listen to Speaker Hughes and Lt. Gov on the Doug Wright Show:

Speaker Greg Hughes talks with Doug Wright about Operation Rio Grande – 1

Speaker Greg Hughes talks with Doug Wright about Operation Rio Grande – 2

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox on Doug Wright

ICYMI – News Articles*

Deseret News

Deseret News

Good 4 Utah 

Salt Lake Tribune


Additional news articles will be added as it become available.

Missing and Exploited Children’s Day

During the 2017 General Session, Rep. Steve Handy sponsored H.B. 53, Missing and Exploited Children’s Day. It passed the Utah Legislature and was signed into law by the Governor. The purpose of the H.B. 53 is to call attention to missing and exploited children in Utah.

“I was very pleased to lead this effort and appreciate the support of my many colleagues and Governor Herbert,” said Rep. Handy. “The exploitation, abduction and abuse of children is intolerable and anything we can do to stop this evil is in the best interests of everyone.”

Utah’s first official Rachael Runyan Missing and Exploited Children’s Day was held at the Rachael Runyan Memorial Park in Sunset on Saturday, August 26.

“Anything and everything we can do to call attention to this effort and save the lives of innocent children is critical and we in the Utah Department of Public Safety applaud this effort,” said Gina McNeil, Utah Amber Alert and Utah Missing Person’s Coordinator.

Rachael Runyan was abducted from a playground in Sunset, Utah and subsequently murdered in 1982.

The notification system to alert the public when a child has been abducted in Utah started with Elaine Runyan, mother of Rachael, as well as others who played significant roles to create an alert system, was referred to as the Rachael Alert.

“During those awful days, there was little coordination and no way to alert the public. said Runyan. “Who knows if we would have found Rachael had there been an Amber Alert in 1982. We can only hope to prevent what our family experienced to ever happening again with the designation of this special day.”

In 2003, U.S. Congress passed a national alert system – AMBER Alert. Not wanting to have any confusion when working to save a child who has been abducted, the state changed the name of the notification system from the Rachael Alert to the AMBER Alert to coincide with national efforts.

Utah’s AMBERAlert is tested twice yearly –January 13 and August 26 – a date chosen specifically calling attention to the abduction date of Rachael.

News story:

Fox 13 News:  Murdered Sunset girl honored on Utah’s first Missing and Exploited Children Day


Restoring public safety to downtown – Rio Grande district

Operation Rio Grande started Monday morning. Phase one of Operation Rio Grande is to arrest and lock up dangerous criminals who have preyed on our most vulnerable citizens. This operation is the result of unprecedented cooperation between state and local law enforcement agencies and leaders working together.

Utah has committed two years to maintain and enhanced law enforcement presence in and around the Rio Grande area. This operation will not be limited to just the Rio Grande area, criminals who scatter will be pursued and arrested.

It will also restore civil liberties of peace and personal security to those who live and work around Pioneer Park and those seeking social services offered in the Rio Grande district.

“We are focusing on this lawlessness and this eco-system of crime – and wherever it goes. It is not just clearing a geographical area; it is not just making sure the Rio Grande area is safe, but it is making sure that this growing cartel or enterprise is shut down and shut down for good. We are committed to protecting the public.” – Speaker Greg Hughes.

Watch the news conference where Speaker Greg Hughes, Lt. Governor Cox and DPS Commissioner Keith Squires, along with state and local officials explain Operation Rio Grande here.

Press Release: Utah research facility leading the way in groundbreaking technology

Press Release
For Immediate Release
July 31, 2017

Utah research facility leading the way in groundbreaking technology
Transportation Interim Committee hear from experts on autonomous control vehicles

SALT LAKE CITY – Members of the Transportation Interim Committee recently visited Utah State University and areas around Cache Valley to see technology being devolved and implemented in cars, trucks and other vehicles around the world.

Self-driving-autonomous vehicles are close to becoming a reality. Committee members saw demonstrations of the significant advancements made in autonomous technology. Leading experts and researchers from Utah State University informed legislators that the progress could lead to more efficient transportation, provide mobility to more Americans and potentially achieve substantial improvements in safety.

“This revolutionary technology is changing the world,” said Rep. Robert Spendlove. “Regulations for autonomous vehicles is being and will continue to be addressed by federal and local governments. I want to make certain Utah regulations enhance the development of this technology not hinder it.”

Autonomous features are already being integrated into vehicles to help drivers avoid or mitigate crashes. Such features include lane and brake assist, forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control, which automatically maintains a safe following distance.

“Utah has experts leading this groundbreaking research,” said Rep. Mike Schultz, co-chair of the Transportation Interim Committee. “I appreciate Rep. Spendlove taking the time to lead this effort so committee members can see this technology first-hand and better prepare for the future.”

Additionally, USU has the only Electric Vehicle and Roadway facility in the country. Similar research facilities are in development or operation in Sweden, France and South Korea. During the visit, committee members witnessed USU’s fully electric 20-passenger bus – referred to as the ‘Aggie Bus’ – drive around the 1⁄4-mile test track at about 30 MPH.

The Aggie Bus is equipped with an autonomous control kit from Autonomous Solutions Inc., a spin-off of USU, and in-motion inductive wireless battery charging, developed at USU. This technology allows wireless power transfer from multiple concrete embedded primary pads/coils in the roadway to vehicle-mounted coils and battery systems to charge the vehicle while driving.

Researchers are aiming for fully electric vehicles, enabled with autonomous control and charged through electric roads. With these technologies vehicles can charge while in-motion and drive without human control. Drivers also have the ability to take over at any time and operate on standard roads. Autonomous control is a key enabler and is required to identify inductive power transfer coils embedded in the roadway and to align automatically under various road and weather conditions.

Further technological development at USU is aiming to advance energy storage in electric vehicles by increasing battery lifetime 30 to 45 percent. The improvements can reduce the cost and weight of vehicle battery systems and improve residual value for second life applications. The technologies are being evaluated by major automotive original equipment manufacturers for future electric vehicles.


Aundrea Peterson
Majority Director of Communications
Utah House of Representatives
801-791-3365 |


Op-ed: National Heatstroke Awareness Day

In the past month, two children with connections to Utah tragically died after being left alone in vehicles. A two-year-old from Idaho was left in a car in St. George for hours and in Las Vegas, a three-year-old from Fillmore was left for just an hour.

Unfortunately, this kind of tragedy happens far too often. In Utah, nine children have died from heatstroke after being left inside vehicles since 1998 to 2016. According to, so far, this year, 29 (updated July 31) children have died in the U.S. due to vehicular heatstroke. And since 1998, 726 children left in vehicles have died from heatstroke.

These numbers are far too high. We all say that we would never let this happen to our children, but sadly, so did many of the parents who have lost children. Many do not understand a child’s body temperature can rise as much as five times faster than an adult’s. Heatstroke begins when the core body temperature reaches around 104 degrees and death can follow in a child when this temperature reaches 107 degrees.

In 2011, the Utah State Legislature passed S.B. 124, Leaving a Child Unattended in a Motor Vehicle, which made it illegal to leave a child under the age of 9 unattended in a motor vehicle. The purpose of this law is to help raise awareness of how serious and dangerous it is to leave a young child alone in a vehicle.

As the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s National Heatstroke Awareness Day approaches on July 31, this is a reminder that we all must remain vigilant in preventing these heartbreaking deaths. There are things each of us can to do prevent these tragic occurrences. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids and Cars, National Safety Council and Safe Kids Worldwide provide tips and resources to help prevent these tragedies.

Safety tips include:

  • Never leave your child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute, even if it is parked in the shade or has open, cracked or tinted windows.
  • Always lock the vehicle’s doors, and keep the keys out of reach of children.
  • Place a stuffed animal or another toy in the child’s car seat, and when the child is placed in the seat, move the toy in front with the driver.
  • Place an item, such as a cell phone or bag, in the back seat, as a reminder.
  • Set a calendar reminder on your electronic device for daycare drop offs.
  • Have a plan in place with your childcare provider to contact you if your child does not show up for school by a certain time.
  • Call 911 if you see a child alone in a car – no matter the outside temperature.

There are also technological solutions that can ensure children are not forgotten in vehicles. Several car seat models will notify you if there is a child in the seat when the vehicle is turned off. Some vehicle manufacturers also have technology that will automatically notify you when the vehicle shuts off if the back door was opened or closed before it starts or while it’s running.

We need to stop saying “I would never do that” and start taking everyday precautions to end these preventable deaths.

Signed by:

Rep. Norm Thurston

Rep. Carl R. Albrecht

Rep. Patrice Arent

Rep. Walt Brooks

Rep. Kim Coleman

Rep Bruce Cutler

Rep. Brad Daw

Rep. Jim Dunnigan

Rep. Steve Eliason

Rep. Justin Fawson

Rep. Gage Froerer

Rep. Adam Gardiner

Rep. Craig Hall

Rep. Stephen Handy

Speaker of the House Greg Hughes

Rep. John Knotwell, Assistant Majority Whip

Rep. Cory Maloy

Rep. Kelly Miles

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss

Rep. Lee Perry

Rep. Susan Pulsipher

Rep. Tim Quinn

Rep. Paul Ray

Rep. Douglas Sagers

Rep. Scott Sandall

Rep. Lowry Snow

Rep. Robert Spendlove

Rep. Jon Stanard

Rep. Christine Watkins

Rep. John Westwood

Rep. Logan Wilde

Rep. Brad Wilson, Majority Leader

Rep. Mike Winder


This op-ed was originally posted by Deseret News on July 27, 2017


Press Release: Utah Legislative Committee Recommends John Cannon for Director of Legislative Research Office

July 26, 2017

Veteran legislative staffer, community leader, and public affairs director to return to OLRGC

SALT LAKE CITY – Today, Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and Utah House Minority Leader Brian King announced that the hiring subcommittee of the Utah Legislature unanimously recommends that John Q. Cannon assume leadership of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel (OLRGC). 

John Cannon served the Utah State Legislature for over two decades, first as an analyst, then rising to the leadership position of Managing Policy Analyst for OLRGC. Cannon was recognized for his vast knowledge of the legislative process, leadership ability, willingness to innovate, and for encouraging greater citizen participation in government. Cannon left OLRGC in 2012 to work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, where he currently serves as the Director of Community and Government Affairs.

House Minority Leader, and co-chair of the hiring committee Brian King said, “I look forward to John’s leadership at OLRGC. He brings to the job excellent experience from prior service in that office as well as government relations work in the private sector.  His integrity and commitment to quality will allow the office to move forward on the foundation built by Mike Christensen.” 

Senate co-chair, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said, “John is an innovator and a diplomat, with expert knowledge of legislative processes here in Utah and around the nation. He has the experience and leadership ability to get the work done. The choice was not easy.  We had a very strong group of applicants, but he rose to the top. If you were to craft an ideal skill set for this position, John Cannon has it.”

 As director, Cannon will succeed Michael Christensen, who has led the award-winning Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel since 2000.

 In 2012, John Cannon received a staff achievement award from the National Conference of State Legislators, which stated in part, “John possesses a unique array of superior technical skills combined with a first-rate political acumen and an unassuming and down-to-earth demeanor, great sense of humor, and compassion for others.”

 John Cannon holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Public Administration from Brigham Young University.

 The six-member Legislative Research Subcommittee is equally balanced between both political parties and both legislative chambers. Their recommendation will now go to the Legislative Management Committee for approval, then ratification by the full Utah State Legislature.

 # # #


 Greg Hartley
House Chief of Staff

Jen Jankowski
House Minority Legislative Staff Director

Jon Hennington
Senate Minority Assistant

Ric Cantrell
Senate Chief of Staff



Newest Citizens

On July 19, 125 people from 38 countries such as the People’s Republic of China, Mexico and Philippines, filled the Capitol Rotunda. Though these newly-minted Americans path towards citizenship vary, they united today as each of them took an oath of allegiance to the United States.

The naturalization ceremony was organized by Representative Norm Thurston, in partnership with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes congratulated the new citizens and those who helped them, achieve their goal of becoming U.S. citizens. He encouraged the citizens as they live the American dream to give back and help people along the way because that is what makes America great and strong.

“The American dream isn’t a guarantee of success but a guarantee of opportunity,” said Attorney General Reyes.

He then led the new citizens in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Viviane Quintela, anchor and producer for Noticias Univision 32, who became a U.S. citizen two years ago, shared her experience and dream of becoming an American.

“You are not only dreamers, you are also doers and that’s why you are standing here becoming citizens of a country where dreams can come true,” said Viviane.” There is freedom and opportunity in every corner. I’m here to congratulate you and to remind you the dream goes on.”

Three new citizens spoke at the ceremony.

“I would like to say congratulations to everyone,” said Ejlaa Ahmed Alhaj from Sudan. “I would like to say thank you to my teacher and all the staff of Women of the World and my family. I’m so happy to be here.”

“I can now proudly say ‘hello my fellow Americans,’” said Daniel Souza from Brazil. “We may have taken different paths, but we all get here, we all come with the same purpose – looking for a better life and for being so graciously welcomed by this great country. I’m grateful for the privilege that you and I now have now. May we all, current and new citizens, become one indivisible nation under God.”

“So grateful to be an Americancitizen,” said Eniko Mason from Hungary. “We can all live here in this beautiful country.”

The U.S. National Anthem was performed by Cytel Schults, who has been singing since she was a little girl and enjoys helping others incorporate music into their lives.

Jerold McPhee, immigration services officer for USCIS, presided over the call of countries and presentation of candidates for citizenship. Laura McNeer, field office director for USCIS, administered the Oath of Allegiance.

The new citizens also heard a welcome message from Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

“This is a fabulous day and it such a privilege to be a part of this experience,” said Rep. Thurston. “We welcome our newest citizen

s and hope they enjoy their new found citizenship.”

Following the ceremony, on-site voter registration was available to encourage the new citizens to be actively engaged in local, state and national matters as well as voice their opinion in future elections.

See additional photos here.


Sunscreen & Public Schools

Did you know it was prohibited to bring sunscreen to school? Public schools didn’t allow students to possess and use sunscreen while at school though kids were outside during recess and certain field trips. During the 2017 General Session, Rep. Craig Hall sponsored legislation to correct this surprising wrong.

The Utah Legislature passed H.B. 288School Sunscreen Provision, that made it legal for kids to bring and use sunscreen at school. Read the bill here.

National Articles:

Huffington Post


Congratulations Rep. Gardiner

Congratulations to Rep. Adam Gardiner for being one of 50 state legislators selected from across the nation to participate in the State Legislative Leaders Foundation 2017 Emerging Leaders Program.

During his first session, Rep. Gardiner illustrated his passion, dedication and willingness to collaborate with his colleagues to find public policy that would benefit his constituents and citizens of this great state. He has been an effective voice for his constituents sending more than 50,000 emails to his constituents and posting regular video updates via social media during the general session.

The press release fromState Legislative Leaders Foundation: