Vermont News Updates For Friday, June 26

Jun 26, 2020

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, what it takes to unincorporate a village, and more for Friday, June 26.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Vermont Department of Health reports seven new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health today reported seven new cases of COVID-19. Two of the new cases were identified as being in Chittenden County, two in Rutland County, one in Bennington County, two in Windsor County.

Four people are currently hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vermont, and 10 people remain hospitalized with symptoms under investigation. To date, the state is aware of 941 people who have officially recovered from the disease.

So far, 56 people have died from COVID-19, and the state has tested 61,589 people.

- Abagael Giles

Legislature is set to appropriate $330 million in federal relief for health care providers

The Legislature is set to appropriate $330 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to aid health care providers and human services programs.

Caledonia Senator Jane Kitchell chairs the Appropriations Committee. She said lawmakers wanted to keep some of the federal funds in reserve for when the Legislature returns in August.

"So I wanted to again stress that this is not the end of CRF appropriations," Kitchell said. "We have additional money, knowing after July 1, needs will emerge that we right no don't have the ability to quantify."

The bill sets aside $275 million for a grant program to hospitals and other health care providers, plus $800,000 to cover telehealth services.

- John Dillon

Vermont activists call on Ben & Jerry's to name flavor for prominent Black activist

Ben & Jerry's has stood out among national brands for its statements around racial justice, in the weeks since the killing of George Floyd. But some activists in Vermont said the company needs to go further.

The South Burlington ice cream company has come out in support of defunding police departments, in favor of investments in areas such as mental health care and affordable housing. But Curtiss Reed, Jr., with the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, said the company should name a flavor after a prominent activist of color.

"When you begin naming your product after Mohammad Ali or Colin Kaepernick, maybe you'll see a slip in your bottom line," Reed said. "So I believe that they should put themselves out if they want to embrace action around racial justice."

A Ben & Jerry's spokesperson said in a statement that the company "appreciates the energy around this idea," but notes that the company does not want to be viewed as "trying to profit off the movement."

- Henry Epp

Incoming Montpelier Police Chief opposes statewide ban on choke holds

The incoming Montpelier Police Chief said he agrees with Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling that choke holds should not be banned in the state.

Brian Peete, who will be sworn in on July 1, said he agrees that choke holds should be allowed in cases where deadly force is warranted.

"There are situations that happen, unfortunately a lot, in which officers are fighting for their lives or fighting for the life of someone else," Peete said. "In those instances, if you're authorized to use deadly force, then I think it's acceptable to put yourself into a position to save yourself and then immediately render aid. It's a very complex issue."

Peete said he believes that police departments should be reformed, but not defunded. Montpelier officials believe that Peete is the first Black police chief to serve in Vermont.

Read the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Vermont State Parks are open, after one month delay

Vermont State Parks have opened for the year, after about a month of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said the park system will track overnight visitors with the same system used by inns and hotels.

"There is a bit of an honor system in all of this that hopefully all Vermonters and visitors to Vermont are taking necessary steps to ensure for the collective public health good," Moore said.

Moore said about 75% of overnight campsites are open to allow for social distancing in bathrooms.

Day use areas will operate under stricter guidelines this summer. About one million people visited Vermont's 55 parks last year.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Four Vermont counties are officially in moderate drought

Four Vermont counties are officially experiencing a moderate drought, and the state's climatologist said it could take some time for the state to get back to normal levels of moisture.

State Climatologist Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux said Vermont will need significant rain to come out of the drought.

"There are parts of the state, parts of the North Country, that are actually eight inches below average rainfall," Dupigny-Giroux said. "And so, it will take more than just a few rains to get out of that eight inches, just as it took more than a couple weeks to get into the drought conditions."

Rutland, Windsor, Windham and Bennington counties are all under low-level drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Other parts of the state are considered "abnormally dry."

Dupigney-Giroux said the dry conditions bring a heightened risk of wildfires.

"What we would definitely need to help us come out of this would be to have tropical moisture either coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, or coming from the Atlantic itself, and we're not seeing too much of that in the forecast for right now."

- Henry Epp

Incoming Montpelier Police Chief sees Vermont cities as models of effective policing

Incoming Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete said that cities in Vermont have served as models of effective policing for him, even when he was working in different states.

"When I was in Chicago, we were working with the Inspector General's Office for Public Safety and Police Accountability, not only to monitor the Chicago Police Department, but [looking] for what might be some good examples and some good directions that we can point the department to," Peete said. "Throughout this research, I looked at Vermont, and two of the biggest places that kept coming up, were what's going on in Burlington and what's gone on in Montpelier. They have been implementing community service oriented policing practices since before they were the hot topic."

Peete is thought by Montpelier officials to be the first Black police chief to serve in Vermont. He'll be sworn in July 1.

Read the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

How many students have returned to Burlington remains unclear

Only two University of Vermont students returning this month tested positive for COVID-19, but it's unclear how many returned to live in off-campus housing.

UVM officials set up pop-up sites where they could test between 1,500 and 2,000 students returning this month. But about three weeks into June, only 371 people have been tested.

A pilot "supportive quarantine" program run by the City of Burlington to prevent the spread of the disease also had lower than expected participation.

Zack Williamson, the city staffer in charge of the program, said only 190 people signed up. But he said the city also heard from landlords that rentals weren't filling up.

"People understandably were thinking this would be a normal June turnover in terms of student housing, but of course it's not a normal June and so... as far as we can tell, not nearly as many people moved to Burlington in this timeframe," Williamson said.

UVM is planning for students to return to campus in the fall for in-person instruction.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont's Racial Equity Director calls on Congress to pass criminal justice reform

A federal bill supported by House and Senate Democrats bans choke holds, provides funds for additional police training and makes it easier for people to sue the police for alleged violations of their civil liberties.

The head of the Vermont office of Racial Equity, Xusana Davis, said it's critical for Congress to pass legislation that takes some initial steps to deal with decades of systemic racism in this country.

"Where my family is from, we have a saying, [a Spanish phrase] which translates to, 'When the river roars, it's because it's bringing water,' and so this is very much a river that is roaring because there is so much water," Davis said. "There is so much reason and evidence and merit and truth, examples and pain behind it."

The future of the bill is uncertain because Senate Republican leaders don't support several key parts of the Democratic legislation.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy Discusses Clash Over Police Reform Bill

Perkinsville succeeds in petition to unincorporate

As local governments grow more complex, the board of trustees in one Vermont village has taken the unusual step of simplifying things by making itself essentially obsolete.

Perkinsville, population about 130, is a village in the town of Weathersfield.

When the village was electrified in 1928, residents wanted streetlights, but had to incorporate to get them. That meant creating a board of trustees.

Since then, village trustees have met annually to set a tax rate and raise money to pay for the electricity to power the streetlights.

But recently, the Weathersfield town selectboard agreed to absorb the cost into its own budget.

Perkinsville Trustee President and State Representative Annmarie Christensen said trustees successfully petitioned the Legislature to unincorporate the village.

"We are officially dissolved," Christensen said. "The governor signed. We are still a designated village center... a village geographically... it just rolls it into one town."

Without the responsibility of keeping the lights on, the former trustees can turn their attention to other, less formal village needs.

- Betty Smith