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Vermont News Updates For Wednesday, June 10

Sign instructs patrons to wear a mask at Rutland library
Randal Smathers, Courtesy
/
Libraries across the state are reopening this month, with adapted protocols like "book quarantines.". At Rutland Fee Library, a sign directs patrons to wear a mask.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus, calls to cut funding from the Burlington Police Department, and more for Wednesday, June 10.

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Vermont Department of Health reports 12 additional cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported an additional 12 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Nine of those are in Chittenden County, which has seen 544 cases to date.

One new case was identified in Bennington, Franklin and Windsor counties, respectively.

Franklin is the second county in Vermont to top 100 instances of the virus.

The state reports that 903 people have recovered from the disease. So far, 55 people have died.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the cluster of COVID-19 cases in Chittenden County underscores the need for continued use of face masks and social distancing.

Levine said the outbreak has now infected a total of 74 people.

"It's always easy to sort of slide into a little but of comfort, feeling like, 'Oh, we're through with this,' but the reality is, it's going on here and around the world," Levine said Wednesday.

Residents of Winooski account for 80% of the cases associated with the current outbreak. But Levine said people in Burlington and other Chittenden County municipalities have also been infected.

Levine said only 20% of the people who have tested positive are showing symptoms of the disease. Half of the known cases involve children.

He said no one has been hospitalized or died as a result of the outbreak.

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Gov. opposes defunding police

Gov. Phil Scott says he opposes a growing movement to defund the police.

In the wake of the alleged murder of George Floyd last month, hundreds of Burlington residents turned out at a meeting Tuesday to call on officials to cut the city's police force by 30%.

Scott says he appreciates the push for public safety reforms.

“But I’m not sure that defunding our public safety in some respects, or law enforcement, is the answer,” he said. “Evolving, changing, that might be the answer, but defunding I’m not sure is the answer.”

Supporters of defunding the police say the money would be better spent on social services and equity initiatives.

- Peter Hirschfeld

McClure Foundation offering any graduating Vt. senior a free CCV course

A philanthropic organization in Vermont is handing out gifts to the high school class of 2020.

The McClure Foundation will cover the cost of one course at the Community College of Vermont for any graduating senior in the state who wants to take advantage of the offer.

Dan Smith is a member of the foundation’s board of directors.

“We hope it sets you on the path of launching a career, becoming a nurse, flying planes, becoming a doctor, building websites, building buildings, making things, taking care of people,” Smith said.

Smith added that the McClure Foundation hopes the offer will lead to an increase in the percent of graduating seniors who go on to college.

The offer will cover all tuition and fees associated with the course.

- Peter Hirschfeld

VSP to get body camera "as soon as possible"

Vermont State Police say they’re committed to getting body cameras for all troopers and hope to include them in next year’s budget.

VSP has said for five years that they want the devices, but said the cost, particularly for video storage, has delayed the program.

Last week, VPR reported that the agency didn’t expect to get the cameras due to the financial crunch caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in a statement issued Wednesday Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said the agency was working with the legislature to get body cameras “as soon as possible.”

- Liam Elder-Connors

Burlington mayor plans to cut police budget

The mayor of Vermont’s largest city says he’s planning to cut the police department’s budget.

Mayor Miro Weinberger’s announcement comes after a massive public outcry.  Two city boards this week heard hours of testimony from community members who want the city to overhaul the police department.

Weinberger did not release any specifics Wednesday, saying he was still working on the details.

“I am considering further cuts based on the public input, based on the national discussion, yes,” he said. “Monday is when I’ll be able to speak in further detail about it.”

Calls to defund police departments have intensified across the county, after four officers in Minneapolis were charged with the killing of George Floyd, a black man. In Minneapolis, the city council has pledged to begin dismantling the city's police department.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Green Mountain Transit to receive $7.7M in federal funds

Green Mountain Transit is getting $7.7 million dollars in federal coronavirus funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

According to a department announcement, the Chittenden County-based bus service will use the money for regular expenses such as fuel and driver salaries, as well as costs related to the pandemic, including cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Scott administration to unveil $20M initiative to address homelessness

The Scott administration will unveil a plan next week that allocates $20 million for homelessness initiatives over the next two years.

The coronavirus pandemic led to the closure of most homeless shelters in Vermont. And the state has spent millions of dollars to house people in hotel and motel rooms instead.

But Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says Vermont can’t afford motel housing indefinitely. 

“And it really doesn’t meet the needs of the homeless. There’s no services that are offered,” Smith said. “There’s no reason to sort of help in terms of making sure that people who are homeless get homes.”

Smith says the plan will include rental subsidies for people experiencing homelessness. He says there will also be financial incentives to increase affordable housing stock in Vermont.

- Peter Hirschfeld

More from VPR: Nonprofits Collaborate With State To Help Homeless Population During Pandemic

Schools will reopen next year with masks, temp checks and possible re-closures

Mandatory face masks for teachers, and daily temperature checks for students, will become the new normal in Vermont schools this fall.

Secretary of Education Dan French says schools will reopen for the 2020-2021 academic year.

But he says the state will impose new guidelines on school districts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“All students and staff will have a daily health check at first point of contact with the school,” he said. “Schools will be able to determine the best method to conduct this daily health check.”

French says students or staff that show symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed to enter school buildings, and that face coverings will be mandatory for teachers and staff, and encouraged for students.

More closures may be in the offing next year if regions of the state see a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

“This means that as much as we’re planning for in-person instruction in the fall, we’re also preparing to improve our ability to provide remote learning as a contingency,” French said.

He added that remote learning has created educational challenges for many students, especially those in households that don’t have access to the internet, and that those shortcomings are a factor in the decision to reopen schools this fall.

His agency will unveil health guidelines next week to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in public schools.

Read the full story here.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont Supreme Court holds hearings online

Vermont’s highest court has kept up with its work during the coronavirus shutdown by hearing dozens of cases online. 

Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber told Vermont Edition the online hearings kept the state Supreme Court operating since March 16.

“I think it could be as much as 60 or 70, and we’ve been holding hearings over a Web-X platform where we’ve actually had the virtual connections,” Reiber said.

A judicial emergency order froze most court operations in mid-March.

State courthouses reopened June 1 but aren't fully back to normal operations.

Jury trials for criminal cases won’t resume until September, while jury proceedings for civil cases will have to wait until January.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Matthew Smith

House committee pares VPR request for COVID relief funds to $100K

A legislative committee has significantly trimmed Vermont Public Radio's request for federal COVID relief funds.

The House Energy and Technology Committee has drafted a multi-million dollar plan to boost broadband internet and expand remote learning. At the panel's invitation, VPR CEO Scott Finn asked lawmakers for nearly $900,000 to support new programs and equipment upgrades.

But the panel Wednesday pared back the request to $100,000 dollars. Committee Chair Tim Briglin says federal guidelines specify that the money cover only COVID-related costs. So VPR's plan to spend the money on a new transmitter, for example, would not be eligible.

“The guidance that we're getting from the federal government is there are real constraints in supporting any kind of infrastructure work,” Briglin said. “This money is to be used very specifically for COVID-related programs.”

The request now goes to the Appropriations Committee.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

House committee eyes $43M in federal funds to improve digital divide

A House committee is drafting a plan to use $43 million dollars in federal COVID relief funds to boost broadband internet and to improve remote learning opportunities.

Thetford Representative Tim Briglin chairs the House Energy and Technology Committee. He says the coronavirus pandemic that forced schools and workplaces to close has highlighted Vermont's digital divide.

“Those inequities have never been bigger in our state: People who have access to health care, people who have access to education, people who have access to work,” Briglin said. “And that dividing line is being further exacerbated by the connectivity divide in our state right now.”

The plan funds design and engineering work for new networks, and would help low-income people pay for broadband services. Federal guidelines say the money must be spent on projects that are directly related to the pandemic, and the funds must be spent by the end of the year.

- John Dillon

Bennington officials consider hiring consultant for changes to community policing

Bennington officials are considering hiring a consultant to help make community policing changes within the police department after a review found the department's practices have created deep mistrust in parts of the community.

Selectboard chairman Donald Campbell said the national discussion over racial justice and police accountability has brought heightened attention to the town’s work.

“The George Floyd thing was so incredibly horrendous that I think it made everybody feel impatient,” Campbell said. “And yet, it takes a while to work these things out. It takes a while to really do the building blocks properly.”

Earlier this year Bennington had an independent firm study the department. The International Association of Chiefs of Police presented a report in April and included 25 recommended changes.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan recommended the review following criticism of the department's response to reports of racial harassment of former state Representative Kiah Morris.

The Bennington Banner reports that Campbell has proposed hiring Curtiss Reed, Jr., executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, to help implement changes. 

- Associated Press and Howard Weiss-Tisman

Read more in VPR's Breakdown In Bennington series here.

School buildings can open to students this summer

The Agency of Education has released guidelines that allow schools to open their buildings to students this summer. 

Education Secretary Dan French said the summer programs will give staff a chance to see how new health and safety regulations might affect learning.

"Our hope is that we'd use the summer to prepare for a successful reopening in the fall," he said.

Many districts are not planning in-person programs this summer, citing either financial reasons or difficulty in securing cleaning and protective supplies.

The Agency of Education will release its guidelines next week for reopening schools in September.

Read the full story.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

South Burlington Police seek public assistance in solving hate-motivated crime

Police in South Burlington are asking for the public's help in what they're calling a hate-motivated crime.

This Wednesday morning, police discovered that a large Black Lives Matter sign at the local middle school had been vandalized. Police Chief Shawn Burke said the sign was put up by students demonstrating against racism. He said the sign was cut to remove the words "Black Lives Matter" and an associated logo.

"And around it, in a border, were the signatures of all the students that were standing up against racism," he said. "You know, it's a really meaningful sign, and it's a direction that we really need to go, and the fact that this cowardly act of racism occurred overnight is just so deeply troubling."

Burke said his department is collecting video evidence from the school and the nearby commercial district.

"I'm hopeful that if someone has information now, that they will have the courage to stand up against this racist act and provide the police with that information," he said.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Burlington Police Commission to consider new use of force policy Wednesday

The Burlington Police Commission will consider a new use of force policy for the department at a meeting on Wednesday night.

The group delayed the decision Tuesday night after a four-hour public forum.

More than 100 people spoke and many, like Jill Rudge, called for cutting the city's police force by 30% and reallocating funds.

"Sufficiently funding health services and family services and education and affordable housing means defunding the police, which takes up 22% of the budget," Rudge said.

Calls to defund police departments have intensified across the country, after four officers in Minneapolis were charged with the killing of George Floyd, a black man. In Minneapolis, the city council has pledged to begin dismantling the police department.

The Burlington Police Commission will resume debate on the new use of force policy Wednesday evening.

- Liam Elder-Connors

New York state repeals law that kept police officers' disciplinary records secret

New York State lawmakers have passed a repeal of a decades-old law that kept police officers' disciplinary records secret.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would sign the legislation. Past efforts to repeal it have failed in recent years, but the measure received new backing amid the national uproar over the death of George Floyd.

The state law was passed in the 1970s to prevent criminal defense attorneys from subjecting officers to harassing cross-examinations about irrelevant information in their personnel file.

The state's Democratic-led legislature passed the repeal Tuesday.

- Associated Press

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