16 October 2019

  • Will Utahns pay sales tax at the gas pump? Lawmakers to consider tax reform proposals
    Adobe Stock

    SALT LAKE CITY — Drivers in Utah may be paying sales tax in addition to the gas tax when they fill up their gas tanks under a package of tax reform options expected to be presented Wednesday at least to Republican state senators in their closed-door caucus meeting.

    “It’s something that’s being looked at,” Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told the Deseret News Tuesday, calling imposing the state’s 4.85% sales tax on gas purchases, estimated to raise $200 million to $275 million, “probably at best a temporary solution” to Utah’s budget imbalance.

    The state’s key revenues, sales and income taxes, continue to climb, but growth in sales tax collections has lagged as consumer spending shifts from goods to services. A significant chunk of the state’s general fund that comes largely from sales taxes now goes toward transportation.

    At the same time, income taxes can only be used for education needs under the Utah Constitution. Amending the constitution to allow more flexibility has been discussed by lawmakers and remains an option, Adams said. However, such a change must also win voter approval in a general election.

    The Senate leader said there’s still a need to find a better source of revenue than the gas tax for roads, but “right now, I think over the next little while, it may be that a sales tax is the best option we can find for transportation funding.”

    Besides adding what would amount to 12 cents a gallon in tax, on top of the 31 cents per gallon gas tax, when fuel prices are $2.50 a gallon, state lawmakers are also looking at other options — restoring the full sales tax on food, adding sales taxes to limited services including Uber rides and streaming videos, and lifting some tax breaks.

    The Utah Legislature’s Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force put together the package of options. The task force was created after legislative leaders scrapped a House bill that would have made a wide variety of services, ranging from lawn care to legal advice, subject to sales taxes amid protests from the business community.

    The package is also expected to include a tax cut. GOP legislative leaders have made it clear that they want to see the state’s 4.95% income tax rate dropped, and $75 million was set aside during the last session for an unspecified tax cut.

    The task force had talked about offsetting restoring the full state sales tax on food from the current 3% with some sort of tax credit, likely aimed at lower-income Utahns. Utah is one of six states that now taxes groceries at a reduced rate, while only seven states tax food purchases at the full rate.

    No recommendations have been made publicly yet by the task force, which held eight public town hall meetings around the state over the summer and then several meetings where members heard presentations on various options.

    Wednesday’s caucuses, held midday during a break in a day of legislative interim meetings, also would be the first time many in the Republican supermajority hear how the task force and its leaders, House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, are leaning.

    Gibson did not respond to a request for comment and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said a decision will be made Wednesday morning about whether tax reform will be discussed at the House GOP caucus meeting.

    “I think it’s unlikely we will have anything in caucus tomorrow. We have a lot of feedback the chairs (of the task force) are working on and digesting,” Wilson said. He said he was not sure whether the sales tax on gas would be part of any caucus discussion.

    Senate Republicans, however, will take up the topic. Whether they reach any decisions remains to be seen.

    “It’s a moving thing,” Hillyard said Tuesday. “It’s not safe to rule out or include anything.”

    Adams, too, said nothing is set in stone.

    “At caucus, we’re getting feedback,” he said. “There’s still a lot of unanswered questions.”

    Those questions include whether a proposal will be ready in time for a special legislative session, or will have to wait until the 2020 Legislature begins meeting in late January. Adams said lawmakers are “definitely trying to get this ready to go so the work the task force has done can be implemented.”

  • Will Utah follow California’s move to later school starts for middle and high schoolers?
    A West High School student walks into the Salt Lake City school early Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

    In recent years, Utah educators, elected officials and parents have debated later school starts in school community council meetings, local school board meetings and the Utah Legislature. Thus far, only Logan City School District has made the switch.

    SALT LAKE CITY — California just became the first state in the nation to push back school start times for middle and high schoolers, a move backed by science and human nature.

    Earlier this week, Republican California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that would phase in later school start times in secondary schools over three years. Some rural schools will be exempt, but at most others, middle schools would not start before 8 a.m. and high schools would start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

    In recent years, Utah educators, elected officials and parents have debated the issue in school community council meetings, local school board meetings and the Utah Legislature. Only Logan City School District has made the switch.

    In Logan, middle school starts at 8:30 a.m. and high school starts at 8 a.m., which is only about 20 minutes later than the previous bell schedule.

    “It wasn’t excessive, but it made that start time just a little more palatable for parents and teachers. Somehow that 8 o’clock number is just like this magic number that makes people feel a little bit better about it,” said Logan City School District spokeswoman Shana Longhurst.

    Terry Shoemaker, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association, said many Utah school districts have considered a change, but the more they dug into it, they discovered a host of accompanying issues such as higher busing costs, scheduling conflicts for school activities and impacts on elementary school schedules.

    “That means the younger kids are going to school earlier. Those younger kids sitting there in the dark at bus stops is not very appealing to mom and dad, right?” Shoemaker said.

    On the other hand, there is a growing body of research regarding the mental health and academic benefits of teenagers getting more sleep, said Shoemaker, who is also associate executive director of the Utah School Boards Association.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “insufficient sleep is common among high school students and is associated with several health risks, such as being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and using drugs, as well as poor academic performance.”

    Two out of three youths fail to get sufficient sleep, a proportion that has remained constant since 2007, according to the CDC’s 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report.

    Kathleen Kennedy, a member of the Salt Lake City Board of Education, is sold on the benefits and wants the school district to take a deeper dive surveying the school community on whether it would support such a change.

    “That’s one of our main board goals, the social-emotional (health) of our students,” she said Tuesday during a study session on late school starts and three-tier busing.

    While Logan City School District was able to make the change rather quickly, it serves roughly 5,555 students and was able to work with Cache School District to address busing issues related to the change. By comparison, roughly 23,000 students attend Salt Lake City schools.

    It helps, too, Longhurst said, that many Logan high school students drive themselves to school, which mitigates busing costs.

    While school districts may be able to purchase additional buses to accommodate later school starts, the bigger challenge in the current job market is finding bus drivers, said Jan Roberts, Salt Lake District’s business administrator.

    “If you can’t find a driver to drive a bus, that bus is not going to go anywhere,” Roberts said.

    When Park City School District crunched the numbers two years ago, preliminary estimates of moving to later start times exceeded $1.85 million. The costs included new buses, covered parking for additional buses, funding to operate and maintain the buses, and resources to hire more bus drivers.

    Then there were logistical issue such as impacts on bell times at elementary schools and lining up extracurricular activity schedules with school districts on earlier bell schedules.

    Scott Riding, managing partner of Y2 Analytics, which is working for the Salt Lake District as it continues to explore late starts in secondary schools, said many parents understand the benefits of late school starts for teenagers. Some parents say they would even be willing to pay more to facilitate such a change.

    However, many households weigh the benefits against the “personal cost” of such a change, Riding said.

    It is particularly difficult for parents of elementary school students to rationalize changing their children’s school schedules to accommodate older students, he said.

    In households with two working parents, schedule changes are particularly difficult. Typically, parents of elementary school age children have less seniority at work and thus have less flexibility in their schedules, so they are less likely to want to make changes, he said.

    In households where both parents work and teenagers are expected to care for younger siblings after school, a later release time for older students poses challenges, too, he said.

    Some of those parents, during community meetings, literally threw up their hands and said “Help me out. I don’t know how to make this schedule work,” Riding said.

    Riding said he is sensitive to parents’ concerns, but as he’s researched the issue, he’s yet to find any schools that have made the change that want to revert to earlier start times.

    It is unclear how Salt Lake teachers feel about changing start times.

    Board member Kristi Swett said input she’s received from elementary school teachers and staff “was so negative about any kind of change.”

    In California, the state’s largest teachers’ union and California School Boards Association and the California Teachers Association both opposed later start times in secondary schools. When similar legislation passed in 2018, it was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat.

    The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, in a letter, urged California Gov. Newsom to sign the legislation into law.

    “In puberty a natural shift occurs in the timing of the body’s internal ‘circadian’ clock, causing most teens to experience a biological drive for a late-night bedtime. Therefore, early middle school and high school start times make it difficult for students to get the eight to 10 hours of nightly sleep that the (academy) recommends for optimal teen health.

    “Simply going to bed earlier is not a realistic option for most teens. As a result, nearly 73 percent of high school students report getting fewer than eight hours of sleep on an average school night, increasing their risk of depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation and motor vehicle accidents,” the letter states.

    According to the academy’s letter, failing to prioritize the health and safety of students puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

    Salt Lake City’s school board plans to continue to study the issue, a move that Salt Lake board member Kennedy supports.

    “I don’t want to wait for this really important thing that really benefits kids,” she said.

  • Conversion therapy rule draws statement of opposition from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    FILE - Attendees leave the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints again denounced abusive forms of conversion therapy on Tuesday but also announced its opposition to the proposed Utah licensing rule that would ban those therapies, calling it too broad and ambiguous.

    The rule should be amended or dropped in favor of a legislative solution, the church said both in a statement and in a 13-page letter from the church’s counseling services arm, Latter-day Saints Family Services, to the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

    “Although well intentioned, the proposed rule as written will strongly dissuade many responsible therapists from providing much-needed therapy to minors,” the letter said. “That is especially true of therapists whose counseling respects the religious identity and faith perspectives of Latter-day Saints and members of other faith communities with biblically informed beliefs about gender and sexuality.”

    Utah Gov. Gary Herbert directed the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing to create a rule governing sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts after a bill on conversion therapy that the church did not oppose was changed in the Legislature in March.

    Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support organizations like Equality Utah backed HB399 last February because it would have made it illegal for licensed therapists and health professionals to attempt to change or “fix” a child’s or teen’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill was modeled on laws passed in 16 other states. One of the bill’s chief goals was to reduce youth suicide in Utah.

    Before the bill came to a vote, a heavily criticized substitute bill replaced it. Equality Utah director Troy Williams resigned from the governor’s suicide prevention task force in protest. Williams has supported the proposed rule.

    The Family Services letter released Tuesday shows that the church preferred HB399 to the proposed rule.

    “It is abundantly clear that the Legislature is competent to address this issue,” the letter said. “HB399, supported by Equality Utah and other progressive influencers, made an important and responsible contribution to this discussion and received substantial support from legislators. While the bill’s definition of conversion therapy, which largely tracked definitions in other states’ statutes, was broad, the bill’s safe harbor provisions were real and protected a number of legitimate practices not intended to change sexual orientation or gender identity. “

    The substitute bill also died, and the legislative session ended without addressing conversion therapy.

    In June, Herbert issued his directive to the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing to create the proposed rule, which can go into effect without legislative oversight or approval.

    “Family Services believes the proposed rule falls short and should be withdrawn to allow the Legislature to address these challenging issues,” the letter from the church organization said. “Alternatively, the proposed rule should be amended to accommodate the concerns discussed above.”

    The Sutherland Institute issued a statement last week that asked the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing to return the decision to the Legislature and governor.

    While winning the support of the Legislature “may make resolving a challenging policy issue such as this more politically and substantially difficult,” Sutherland said, “experience has taught our state that this rigor tends to produce the best public policies. When the well-being of children and families is involved, the path toward the best public policy is the only satisfactory option.”

    Equality Utah’s Williams disagreed with both the church and Sutherland.

    “The church’s statement is profoundly disappointing,” Williams said. “The proposed rule would do nothing more than protect LGBTQ children from conversion therapy — a life-threatening practice that has been condemned by all of the state’s and the nation’s medical and mental health authorities. Studies have found that more than 60% of children subjected to conversion therapy attempt suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Utah’s children, and LGBTQ youth are especially vulnerable. It’s long past time to protect our state’s youth by prohibiting this dangerous practice.

    “We stand by the governor’s call to draft regulations based on science rather than politics.”

    Family Services’ concerns include a belief that the rule relies on a false premise that there is professional consensus about the rule’s broad definition of conversion therapy, according to the letter.

    The proposed rule “fails to account for important realities of gender identity development in children, it would undermine the right of clients to self-determination and the right of parents to guide the development of their children and it ignores the important and ethically appropriate role of faith-based perspectives in counseling,” the Family Services letter said.

    The letter addressed sexual orientation and gender identity.

    “Family Services has a longstanding and express policy against using therapies that seek to ‘repair,’ ‘convert’ or ‘change’ sexual orientation, such as from homosexual to heterosexual,” the letter stated. “Research demonstrates that electric shock, aversion and other analogous therapies are both ineffective and harmful to youth who experience same-sex attraction.”

    It also said that studies show gender dysphoria does not persist in the majority of young children who experience it. Family Services counselors therefore “assist young children in healthy identity exploration and development” and do not support immediate gender transitioning, which can lead to physical and mental health risks, according to the letter.

    President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the church’s First Presidency, commented on these issues during the faith’s international general conference earlier this month.

    “Our walk must be considerate of children who are uncertain about their sexual orientation, but it discourages premature labeling because, in most children, such uncertainty decreases significantly over time,” he said. His published talk included a footnote referencing a study released in June.

    His talk also called on church members to be considerate and loving toward LGBT people, a position the church reiterated in its statement on Tuesday.

    “The church hopes that those who experience same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria find compassion and understanding from family members, church leaders and members, and professional counselors,” the statement said.

    The Family Services letter said it does not support therapies that seek to change sexual orientation and would welcome regulation of “true” sexual orientation change efforts for minors.

    “Family Services would support a carefully tailored rule directed at such abusive practices provided it did not jeopardize ethical therapies. However, the proposed rule defines both ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘sexual orientation change efforts’ so broadly that if adopted it would imperil entirely legitimate and helpful therapies, to the detriment of minor clients.”

    The church expressed worries for children, parents and therapists.

    “We teach the right of individuals to self-determination and the right of parents to guide the development of their children,” the church’s statement said. “We also believe faith-based perspectives have an important and ethically appropriate role in professional counseling.”

    If a broad, ambiguous Utah rule banned or scared therapists from addressing sexual orientation or gender identity issues, the letter added, parents might “seek such counseling from unlicensed sources, such as from the growing ‘life coach’ industry, where the risk of actual conversion therapy is vastly greater. That will benefit neither vulnerable clients nor the mental health professions.”

  • Police investigating suspicious death at Midvale motel
    Police investigate the suspicious death of a woman found at the Motel 6 in Midvale on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. | Andrew Adams

    MIDVALE — Police are investigating the death of a woman found in a motel room Tuesday in Midvale.

    The middle-aged woman, whose name has not been released, was found dead in a second-story room at the Motel 6, located at 7263 Catalpa St., according to Unified police.

    She was discovered just before 1 p.m. by a housekeeper, Unified Police Sgt. Melody Gray said. Police were called to the motel, and investigators with the Violent Crimes Unit were assigned.

    The cause of the woman’s death was not immediately apparent before an autopsy. Police are investigating the death as suspicious because “they don’t have any obvious signs of why she should be deceased,” Gray said.

    “In the event this turns out it could be a homicide, they want to have everything that we could potentially need,” Gray said.

    Investigators were collecting evidence from the room Tuesday evening. Gray said she did not know whether the woman was checked into the room as a guest at the time of her death.

  • Trump campaign targets Ben McAdams over impeachment inquiry
    FILE - Rep. Ben McAdams prepares to speak about the impeachment inquiry following a town hall on aging adult and senior issues at the Midvale Senior Center in Midvale, Utah, on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. | Colter Peterson, Deseret News

    Congressman announced $1 million in cash on hand for reelection

    SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has put a bull’s-eye on Utah’s only Democratic member of Congress, 4th District Rep. Ben McAdams, promising Tuesday to keep up the pressure as part of a nationwide anti-impeachment effort dubbed “Stop the Madness.”

    “That’s the point of this exercise, so that voters know who is for throwing the president out of office on strictly partisan grounds and who’s against it,” Tim Murtaugh, Trump’s campaign communications director, told reporters on a conference call. “We’re happy to have exposed what the positions are for various House members.”

    McAdams is one of more than 60 Democrats around the country in vulnerable districts who’ve been targeted by Trump’s reelection campaign for going along with the House impeachment inquiry into the president pressuring foreign leaders to investigate his chief Democratic rival in the presidential race, former Vice President Joe Biden.

    Andrew Roberts, McAdams’ campaign manager, said the effort isn’t having an impact. Before McAdams announced on Oct. 4 he was in favor of the impeachment inquiry already underway, he was among just a handful of holdouts among House Democrats.

    “The Trump campaign’s efforts here really don’t matter to us,” Roberts said, promising that McAdams will not make a judgment on impeachment itself until “all the facts are on the table” and has called on his congressional colleagues to do the same.

    “The nation deserves to know this is a process that’s in the best interest of them and not the Democratic party,” Roberts said. “I think that goes back again to his reluctance to get behind the impeachment inquiry in the first place.”

    The Trump campaign organized an event last week outside McAdams’ West Jordan office, but the president’s supporters were outnumbered by a boisterous group that showed up to back McAdams for his stand on the impeachment inquiry and to oppose Trump.

    And a new poll released Tuesday shows a third of Utah voters are ready to vote for any Democrat for president in 2020. The poll also found just 41% of voters in what is one of the most Republican states in the country back a second term for Trump.

    Rick Gorka, the Trump campaign’s regional communications director, expressed no concern about the president’s standing in Utah but did suggest whoever the Democrats nominate to run on the November 2020 ballot will be too liberal for the state.

    “Utah is a red state and I seriously doubt a socialist, pro-infanticide candidate running against President Donald Trump will turn it blue in 2020,” Gorka told the Deseret News in an email. He did not respond to questions about the turnabout at last week’s West Jordan event, one of some 60 held around the country.

    Gorka said on the conference call that the Republican National Committee is spending $350,000 to keep the pressure on the targeted Democrats, through digital advertising on Hulu, Facebook and YouTube, as well as texts and other messaging. Trump Victory has previously announced $2 million was being spent against them.

    Because McAdams and the other Democrats on the list are in districts that Trump won in 2016, Murtaugh said they are “front and center, and the question for them is, ‘Do they support their constituents’ wishes or are they going to do the bidding of Nancy Pelosi and House leadership in this rush to impeachment?”

    He said there are 8.8 million Americans who voted for Trump in 2016, but did not vote in the 2018 midterm elections that saw Democrats regain control of the House. McAdams won his seat last year by less than 700 votes, defeating two-term Republican Rep. Mia Love.

    “We are just reminding these House members that they represent districts that came out for the president in big numbers and that those same voters will be back again in 2020,” Murtaugh said. McAdams’ name was not mentioned during the conference call.

    No details of the Trump campaign’s future plans against the Democratic House members were disclosed.

    McAdams is gearing up for another tough race this year, with several Republicans already campaigning for the seat. On Tuesday, the Federal Election Commission’s reporting deadline for the third quarter of the year that ended Sept. 30, McAdams was ahead in fundraising.

    His campaign announced McAdams has more than $1 million in cash on hand, after raising more than $500,000 in both the second and third quarters of the year. Roberts said the numbers show continued “support for the congressman’s commitment to bipartisan problem solving.”

    On the GOP side, state Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, said he raised $418,000 since announcing he was in the race in August, and has $400,000 in cash on hand. Hemmert, who loaned his campaign $175,000, recently qualified for “Young Gun” status with the National Republican Congressional Committee.

    State Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, said she raised $110,000 and has $80,000 in cash on hand.

    Former KSL Newsradio host Jay Mcfarland’s campaign said he’s raised $53,000 and has $28,000 in cash on hand, while Kathleen Anderson, who handled communications for the Utah Republican Party, reported raising more than $42,000 and loaning her campaign $130,000, with more than $100,000 in cash on hand.

    Hemmert and Coleman attended the Trump campaign event outside McAdams’ office last week, but neither spoke to the crowd.

    “It was this group yelling at that group. And to me, it was kind of bonkers so I left,” Hemmert said. Asked if that type of event would help Trump shore up support in Utah, he said, “I’m not going to run that kind of campaign. I don’t think that would be effective in my congressional race.”

    He said while he doesn’t think shouting matches are “Utah’s political culture,” it also was not what Trump Victory intended.

    Coleman said, “It’s too early to tell how that will work here. But the House Democrats’ record of non-achievement will be what this campaign is about. In my opinion, House Democrats will have a great deal to answer for in November of 2020.”

    Trump did see a slight bump in support in the poll released Tuesday since July, when 38% of Utah voters said they wanted to see him stay in the White House. But at the same time, the number of Utah voters who say they’ll vote for the yet-to-be determined Democratic Party nominee is also up, from 30% to 33%.

    What’s dropped is how many voters are undecided, from 14% in July to 10% in the new results, as well as those who favor third-party or other, unspecified presidential contenders in next year’s elections.

    The current poll was conducted by Y2 Analytics for the online political news source Sept. 25 through Oct. 8 among 979 Utah voters participating in the Utah Political Trends panel and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The impeachment inquiry was announced Sept. 24.

    Trump won Utah in 2016, a state that has not voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson was on the ballot 55 years ago. However, Trump ended up with just 45.5% of the Utah vote, his lowest margin of victory in any of the states he won in the election.

    “It’s very clear the president does what he does,” Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown said of Trump. He said future involvement in the Trump campaign’s “Stop the Madness” events will be determined on a “case-by-case” basis. “As a party, we are sensitive to what works in Utah and what doesn’t.”

    Brown said it was disappointing to see last week’s Trump campaign event “hijacked.”

    Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said it’s “very interesting that they’re calling this a ‘Stop the Madness’ campaign, because I’ve never known fact-finding to be about madness. The reality is all Congress has said is they’re looking into this. I’ve never seen any president or campaign overreact so quickly.”

    Merchant said Trump and his political tactics don’t play well in Utah.

    “Reasonable Republicans recognize that he is not a positive influence on the politics in our country. I think that reasonable Republicans don’t want him to be here any more than reasonable Democrats do.”

  • Photos: New West Valley police building open for business
    West Valley police officer Scott Folkers and his police dog Lily, a single-purpose human tracking dog, mingle with members of the public during the grand opening of the city’s police building on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

    West Valley police officer Scott Folkers and his police dog Lily, a single-purpose human tracking dog, mingle with members of the public during the grand opening of the city’s police building on Tuesday. The 66,530-square-foot facility, 3575 Market St., is the first dedicated police building in the city’s history, bringing all aspects of police work under one roof. The station is part of a development called Fairbourne Station, which also includes a seven-story parking garage with a sky bridge connecting to nine-story office tower. According to the city, the 300,000-square-foot office tower, set to be completed mid-2020, will house various businesses with the potential of bringing in thousands of employees. The parking garage, which is more than 300,000 square feet, will have 1,390 parking stalls. The main floor will be used for retail space and restaurants.

  • Judge declines to reduce bail for man charged with Utah adoption scheme
    Paul Petersen | Maricopa County

    Paul Petersen’s attorney argued his client is not a flight risk and said outcry over the case has been overblown.

    SALT LAKE CITY — Bail remains at $3 million for the Arizona elected official accused of running an illegal adoption scheme and smuggling at least 40 pregnant women to Utah from the Marshall Islands.

    Paul D. Petersen, 44, is being held in a federal prison in Arizona as he awaits his first court date in Arkansas, where he faces federal charges of human smuggling, fraud and money laundering.

    Third District Judge Linda Jones said she wanted to weigh the progress of that case before deciding whether to grant his request to drop bail to $100,000. She said the current figure is based on $2.7 million that allegedly went to a bank account for adoption fees over roughly two years.

    Peterson’s attorney, Scott Williams, however, said the number doesn’t reflect actual profits.

    He argued his client is not a flight risk and said the public outcry has been overblown.

    “All that hype is going to go away when the facts prevail,” he said.

    Prosecutor Dan Strong said he fears that if released, Williams will continue to run his business or seek out witnesses in the case and discuss what they might say against him.

    The state alleges Petersen and his associates recruited, transported and offered Marshallese women $10,000 to place their babies for adoption in Utah over the past three years.

    He is charged in Utah with 11 felonies, including human smuggling, sale of a child, communications fraud and pattern of unlawful activity. In Arizona, prosecutors say he illegally obtaining services from the state’s Medicaid system for the women.

    His next Utah hearing is set for Nov. 1.

  • Why $1 million-plus Utah cribs are selling like hotcakes
    This home on Yale Avenue in Salt Lake City is on the market for $1,290,000. Sales of Utah homes priced $1 million-plus are on a record-breaking pace in 2019. | Windermere Real Estate

    Local real estate pros say out-of-state buyers are fueling record interest in Utah homes in the $1 million-plus price range. Why? Even with rising costs in the state, prices still look good for transplants coming from California, New York and other places with even hotter markets.

    SALT LAKE CITY — Right now, a cool $25 million could set you up in grand style in a 50,000-square-foot estate on 165 acres in Springville.

    That, of course, includes indoor/outdoor pools, a theater, tennis court, workshop, exercise space, five fireplaces, six bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, multiple dens and family rooms, as well as multiple kitchens. And parking accommodations for 16 vehicles.

    The luxe villa was built in 2010 and is currently the highest priced Utah home listed by online real estate service Zillow, and one of over 230 current listings in the state priced at or above $1 million.

    While the asking price of the Springville home puts this particular piece of real estate far beyond the reach of the average buyer, Utah home sales in the $1 million-plus category are moving at a record pace. On Tuesday, the Salt Lake Board of Realtors reported that 2019 sales in Salt Lake, Davis, Tooele, Utah and Weber counties, through August, were up 23% over last year.

    Scott Robbins, president of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, said the market is being driven, in part, by out-of-state buyers who see Utah housing prices, by comparison, as bargains.

    “Wealthy transplants from California and New York are fueling million-dollar home sales,” Robbins said in a statement. “Nearly 3 of every 4 homes sold above $1 million were priced from $1 million to $1.5 million.”

    Robbins said the pain points become more apparent for Utah homes being listed at prices north of $1.5 million.

    “It remains somewhat of a challenge to sell a home above $1.5 million, even in today’s strong economy,” Robbins said.

    The marked jump in sales volumes of high-priced Utah homes thus far in 2019 continues a trend that’s been in play over the last few years, according to the Realtors group. In 2018, there were 309 homes sold above the $1 million mark along the Wasatch Front, which was a 20% increase from the 258 $1 million-plus homes sold in 2017. And, that year saw a 91% increase over the 162 units sold in 2016.

    Dejan Eskic, senior research associate with the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, said the trend in jumbo-priced home sales is a reflection of Utah’s ongoing housing shortage and the attendant upticks in home costs across all pricing levels.

    Casey Halliday, Windermere Real Estate
    This home on Autumn Cove Lane in Draper is on the market for $2,195,000. Sales of Utah homes priced $1 million-plus are on a record-breaking pace in 2019.

    “Really, this just comes down to the housing shortage we’ve been talking about for some time now,” Eskic said. “There are simply more households being formed than there are housing units being built each year.... Demand is oustripping supply.”

    The Beehive State, Eskic said, has long had three pillars of attraction, to which a booming economy and increased wages, particularly in tech-related positions, are helping fuel the fire of demand.

    “Utah has always had a competitive edge with three historic advantages,” Eskic said. “Lower cost of living, a great quality of life and a very business-friendly environment.”

    Eskic said even hotter real estate values in big, coastal markets are helping create what he calls “equity refugees,” who, in some cases, are snapping up high-priced homes that still look like steals compared to where they come from.

    “Basically, what’s happening in these markets is Californians or New Yorkers, for example, with ties to Utah that bought homes in the ’70s or ’80s that are now worth a million-plus take out second mortgages and invest in our market,” Eskic said. “That’s a migratory pattern.”

    Eskic said other forces driving up housing prices include across-the-board increases in the costs associated with building new homes. He noted land prices in the state have risen some 45%, municipal fees have gone up, construction labor costs have risen 25%-30% and building materials costs continue to rise.

    The Salt Lake Board of Realtors reported that while homes selling over the $1 million mark are rising, the overall market share of the category is relatively small. Approximately 87% of all homes sold on the Wasatch Front from January through August were priced under $500,000. And, homes between $500,000 and $999,999 made up 12% of the mix. Million-dollar home sales represented just 1% of the total market share.

    According to Zillow data as of Aug. 31, the median home value in Utah was $344,000 with the median listing price coming in at $369,000.

    Casey Halliday, Windermere Real Estate
    This home on Abinadi Drive in Millcreek’s Olympus Cove neighborhood is on the market for $6,900,000. Sales of Utah homes priced $1 million-plus are on a record-breaking pace in 2019.