Ryan Cunningham

Ryan began reporting for UPR in the fall of 2012. He is a graduate of Utah State University with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies.

Ryan is originally from Indiana, but he now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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April Ashland

Thursday night marked the close of the Utah Legislature’s general session. And according to many of the state’s leading lawmakers, it was a busy year at the Capitol.

Utah’s 45-day legislative session rarely ends with a whimper. And 2015 was no exception.

“I’m Senator Steve Urquhart. One question: how cool is this,” said Republican Senator Steve Urquhart, celebrating the triumph of Senate Bill 296, which combined LGBT protections in housing and employment, with protections of religious liberties.

LGBT flag

Milestone legislation that would ban LGBT discrimination while protecting religious liberties has made it to the desk of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

The Utah House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 296 late Wednesday evening, on the second-to-last night of this year’s general session. But the favorable 65-10 vote came after some emotional discussion on the House floor.

Several lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Ken Ivory, voiced their opposition to the bill. Ivory argued that the bill was being rushed into law, and it needed more time to be analyzed.


A bill that would enact tougher punishments for cockfighting is on the verge of passing in the Utah Legislature.

Currently in Utah, cockfighting-associated offenses are considered misdemeanors under state law. But Senate Bill 134 would make a third offense a third-degree felony. The bill was proposed by Democratic Senator Gene Davis of Salt Lake City—though his original draft called for felony charges upon first offense.

Gov. Herbert in office

After some resistance from leading state lawmakers in recent weeks, the Utah House of Representatives gave Gov. Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan a committee hearing on Wednesday night. But that small triumph for the governor brought major disappointment for him and other proponents of Senate Bill 164 later, when the House Business and Labor Committee shot it down by a 9-4 vote, effectively ending any hope for the proposal.

Seth McConnell/The Denver Post/Getty Images

A medical marijuana bill has passed its first test in the Utah State Legislature.

Republican Senator Mark Madsen raised eyebrows at the general legislative session this year when he revealed his intention to sponsor medical marijuana legislation. But Thursday’s hearing in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee was the first time Senate Bill 259 was vetted publicly.


A “right to try” bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use experimental medication has taken another step forward in the Utah State Legislature.    

House bill 94 met the approval of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday. Sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, the bill previously passed the House overwhelmingly by a 72-1 vote.

A proposal to reintroduce firing squads for Utah executions is stirring fresh debate on the death penalty.

Lethal injection is currently the only permissible option for state executions, but there is some concern that the drugs required to administer lethal injections are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. State Rep. Paul Ray (R) is the bill's sponsor, and says he wants firing squads to be an alternative option.

The last man to be executed by firing squad in Utah was convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardiner in 2010. On Tuesday, Gardner's brother Randy Gardner joined a protest at the state Capitol in opposition to firing squads.

Marriott sister anti-discrimination
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Officials from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have announced the church’s support for legal measures protecting certain rights of LGBT individuals.

In a rare press conference on Tuesday morning, LDS church leaders—including three of the church’s twelve apostles—presented their position as a balance between religious liberty and LGBT rights.

Neill Marriott of the LDS church’s Public Affairs Committee was first to speak. Marriott is one of the leaders of the young women's organization in the church.

Ryan Cunningham / Utah Public Radio

Thursday wraps up the Ninth Annual Governor’s Native American Summit, which took place on the campus of Utah Valley University. The Summit was created under former Gov. Jon Huntsman in an effort to improve state government relations with Utah’s Native American tribal leaders. Governor Gary Herbert, who was Lieutenant Governor at the inaugural Summit, spoke to attendees on Wednesday morning, and he took care of some long-awaited business in the process.

rainbow gathering

Over the holiday weekend—and in the days leading up to it—you may have heard us report on something called the Rainbow Gathering. The event, which took place over the weekend, is a meeting of the self-proclaimed Rainbow Family, a group formed in the early 1970s at the height of hippy culture. The group has met annually since 1972 at its national gathering, and this year, about 8,000 Rainbow Family members convened just a few miles east of Heber City, Utah.

Ever since the location of this year’s Rainbow Gathering was publicized, there were concerns about a clash of cultures arising between the free-spirited attendees and the small-town residents of Heber. But did that conflict really pan out?

It’s the Fourth of July, and I’m having lunch at a busy burger joint in Heber City, Utah, called Dairy Keen—not to be confused with a different burger joint with a very similar name. As you could probably guess, business is booming today, and an unofficial survey of customers reveals that most people are from out of town. But no one here looks like they’re heading to the Rainbow Gathering today. I asked Dairy Keen manager Kim Houtz if she had actually come into contact with the Rainbow Family.

Arches National Park arches
Neal Herbert / Nations Park Service

The Utah Symphony, in concert with the Utah Office of Tourism, will be offering a series of special outdoor performances in the state’s major national parks. The performances, some of which will involve the full orchestra, are in commemoration of the Utah Symphony’s 75th anniversary.

Have you ever gone hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park and thought yourself, “This landscape would be perfectly complemented by Johann Strauss’s Voices of Spring Waltz”? Well, you weren’t the only one who thought so.

Ryan Cunningham

On Friday, Sen. Steve Urquhart (R) reaffirmed his support for his LGBT non-discrimination bill - S.B. 100.

At an afternoon press conference, he encouraged Utahns to come to the Senate Chamber doors and post messages asking the Senate to hear his bill.

Posting a blue note on the Senate Chamber doors that simply says, “Hear SB 100,” Sen. Steve Urquhart entreated other Utahns to do the same in support of his LGBT anti-discrimination bill.

senator Okerlund and Davis at a table

Senate leaders said no big decisions have been made on Medicaid expansion, though no potential options have been ruled out.

On Friday, Senate majority leader Ralph Okerlund said Republicans have barely scratched the surface on that topic in Senate caucus meetings, and no position has been taken.

“At this point, I believe all of the options are still out there on the table for our caucus,” Okerlund said. “We’re still willing to look at everything, and I suspect that (among) our caucus members, you’d find that we’ve got a lot of different opinions on whether we should go, at this point, with one of the options or with full expansion.”

Gun show, sandy, Rocky Mountain Gun Show

Every few months, the Rocky Mountain Gun Show comes to Sandy’s South Towne Expo Center. In fact, you may have noticed advertisements for the show this January.  If you’re unfamiliar with what happens at a gun show, it’s mostly self-explanatory: it’s an exhibition of guns, ammunition, and other related paraphernalia.

Gun shows have become an increasingly popular way to buy and sell firearms. But they are also controversial, with gun control proponents arguing that loose regulations on sales can make it too easy for guns to end up in the wrong hands.

But as it turns out, guns shows aren’t just about guns. At the epicenter of such a hotly debated swath of our culture, could there be something for everyone?

santa, air quality, inversion

On a day when the Utah Division of Air Quality categorized Salt Lake’s air as “Unhealthy” on their Air Quality Index, demonstrators gathered outside Trolley Square on Tuesday to raise awareness of the state’s inversion problem.

As a part of what organizers are calling the “Twelve Polluted Days of Christmas,” clean air advocates wore Santa hats and elf costumes, hoping to combine holiday cheer with an issue that has plagued Utahns early and often this season.

Decked out in holiday apparel and wearing masks to protect their lungs from pollution, about a dozen protestors gather on the sidewalk along 700 East, one of the busiest streets in Salt Lake. A man dressed as Santa Claus waves to the constant stream of traffic, holding a sign that says, “Breathing clean air is the birthright of every child.”

And who better to speak for children than Santa Claus?


A judge for the Utah Federal Court struck down parts of Utah’s anti-polygamy laws as unconstitutional on Friday. The ruling is a victory for polygamous families, including plaintiff Kody Brown and his family. Brown and his four wives are featured on the popular TLC reality show “Sister Wives.”

In a ruling released on Friday, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups found that Utah law restricting cohabitation was in violation of the First Amendment, which protects religious freedom.

In the decision, the judge reasons that Utah has quote “no rational basis” unquote to ban religious cohabitation as practiced by polygamist sects. He did, however, uphold the state’s prohibition of legal bigamy, narrowly defined as when one person obtains two marriage licenses.

Correction: In some instances in the below story, the EPA was credited by the author to be the agency overseeing the Endangered Species designation of the Greater-Sage Grouse. This has been changed, and corrected.

A lobbyist for Utah energy interests has recommended that the state defend itself from the Greater Sage-Grouse.

The Greater Sage-Grouse, a bird species native to Utah and much of the West, has often been characterized by conservationists as a species in danger. A century ago, millions of these ornate birds roamed America’s sagebrush. Today, it’s estimated that there are only a few hundred thousand left.

The Sage-Grouse’s dwindling numbers have provoked the question of species protection in recent years. To date, the bird is not an endangered species, but that could change in 2015, when the federal government plans to reassess the well-being of the species.

But according to Utah energy lobbyist Jeff Hartley, the state should be prepared to fight a legal battle with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the Greater Sage-Grouse. What’s Hartley’s suggestion to the Utah legislature? Speaking to the Executive Appropriations Committee last week, he told members to brace themselves for the coming battle with the federal government.


Researchers announced the discovery of a new dinosaur species at the Natural History Museum of Utah on Wednesday.

The specimen was found in southern Utah in November 2009, and it is a rare ancestor to the well-known Tyrannosaurus rex.

Four years ago, paleoentological technician Scott Richardson went on a walk in the desert. Then he saw something sticking out of the ground that caught his eye: a leg bone.

Former U.S. Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina was in Utah last week trying to garner support for policies tackling climate change.

Former congressman Bob Inglis heads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a campaign he started in 2012. According to its website, the initiative strives to address climate change and environmental issues by, quote, “embracing solutions that are true to conservative principles,” unquote.

Local religious leaders staged a demonstration outside the Governor’s mansion on Wednesday. They gathered to convince Governor Gary Herbert to endorse Medicaid expansion in Utah. Next year, states have the option to expand Medicaid coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act. For his part, the governor has said he doesn’t plan to make a decision until next year.

Wednesday marked the fiftieth anniversary of King’s historic speech and the March on Washington, a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement in America. To commemorate the anniversary, Governor Gary Herbert ordered bells across the state to ring at 1 p.m. mountain time.

anthony foxx us transportation secretary

Federal and local officials met in Draper on Friday to celebrate the completion of a new light rail line there. The new TRAX line will connect Draper to Salt Lake City and other areas in the region. The project was the final step in a broader effort by UTA to improve public transportation by 2015. The program, called Frontlines 2015, finished two years early and three hundred million dollars under budget.
It was a star-studded event in Draper on Friday. Governor Gary Herbert, Senator Orrin Hatch, and new United States Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx were all present for the opening of Draper’s new TRAX line.

Shoshone language, shoshone video game

Wednesday was National Navajo Code Talker Day. It’s a day commemorating the role of Navajo code talkers who used their native language to transmit secret information during World War II.
Today, many American Indian languages are dying out. To help remedy this problem, some Shoshone students are using a new kind of code—video game programming code—to help save their language and promote their culture.

The Tooele City Council decided to table an ordinance regulating the use of e-cigarettes on Wednesday. The ordinance sought to “mirror” Utah’s policies already in place concerning e-cigarettes. In Utah, it is illegal to smoke – or “vape” – e-cigarettes in public places.

E-cigarettes are a fairly new innovation, and little is known about the long-term health effects.

fourth amendment, restore the fourth

Protesters from the “Restore the Fourth” movement gathered in downtown Salt Lake City on Sunday.  The group, which began as an online community, is dedicated to preserving Fourth Amendment rights, particularly in light of NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s revelations about the government’s handling of cell phone metadata.

“Restore the Fourth” supporters met outside the Scott Matheson Courthouse for what they called “1984 Day.” The day was named after George Orwell’s classic novel, often cited as a warning of state surveillance run amuck.