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Vermont News Updates For Thursday, July 23

Masked shoppers through paper hearts in a window
Sarah Priestap
/
For VPR
Masked shoppers are reflected in the heart-filled window of the Vermont Flannel Company's store in Woodstock, Vermont on July 17, 2020. The town of Woodstock has required masks when in public areas throughout the town.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, gubernatorial primary debates, the Burlington CityPlace development and more for Thursday, July 23.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Vermont Department of Health reports 11 new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, with ten of those new cases identified in Chittenden County, and one new case identified in Windsor County. So far, there have been 1,377 cases in Vermont.

Two people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Vermont, and ten people are hospitalized with symptoms under investigation.

To date, 1,156 people have recovered from confirmed cases of the illness, and 56 people have died. The state did not report any new deaths today.

State health officials report they have tested 86,582 people for COVID-19, and that they are monitoring 67 people as close contacts of confirmed cases.

- Abagael Giles

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Klar says he too would shut down businesses again, if necessary

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Klar has called some of Gov. Phil Scott's COVID-19 shutdown orders unconstitutional, but he said he would likely take similar steps if he is elected governor and the virus flares up again.

Klar said he would shut down businesses, if necessary.

“And if we were to do that and reduce all cases in Vermont down to zero, the moment we reopen with tens of thousands of visitors, we could have another spike,” Klar said. “And I, like this governor, at that point might say that we need to go back to restrictions again, but more effectively, they're done as advisories, rather than huge rafts of regulations that aren't enforceable."

Klar is one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the state's highest office. They include Gov. Scott, who is running for a third term.

VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates for governor.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Henry Epp

Marlboro College's 533-acre campus has been sold

The campus of Marlboro College has been sold to a non-profit group called Democracy Builders.

The deal for the 533-acre campus in Windham County closed Wednesday.

Democracy Builders plans to establish a late high school, early college program on the former Marlboro campus.

The group does not yet have its Vermont accreditation, and it’s not clear when the school will open.

Marlboro College announced last year that it would close in the spring and enter into an agreement with Emerson College in Boston.

That deal was contingent on Marlboro selling its campus.

The deal with Emerson is expected to be finalized within the next 24 hours.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Department of Public Service asks regulators to halt utility disconnects through September

The state wants to continue to protect people from losing their electricity or phone service due to financial hardship stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Public Service, the agency that represents ratepayers, has asked regulators to extend a moratorium on utility disconnects until the end of September.

Jim Porter is the department's public advocate. He notes that a current moratorium expires on July 31.

“We think this moratorium has been very helpful to Vermonters affected by the COVID pandemic, but we see no evidence that it's not ongoing, and we're seeking to extend the moratorium to the end of September to keep this protection in place that we think has been very important, particularly to vulnerable Vermonters,” Porter said.

Utility regulators first imposed the moratorium in the spring at the request of Vermont Legal Aid.

- John Dillon

Dorset and Weston theater groups receive $50,000 grants

Just 25 miles apart by car, Dorset and Weston are small towns that host long-standing theater organizations.

And both have just received direct grants of $50,000 – each – in pandemic arts relief from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Dina Janis, artistic director of the Dorset Theatre Festival, attributes the support to national recognition of both theaters combined with their strong contribution to the regional economy.

“Organizations like ours are a very vital part of the economy in Vermont. If you look at Weston or Dorset, we employ a lot of people. And we bring a lot of people into the state,” Janis said.

In addition to the two theaters, four other Vermont arts organizations have been awarded similar funding directly from the NEA.

- Betty Smith

Head of chamber of commerce un-surprised by halted redevelopment project

The head of chamber of commerce in Chittenden County said he’s disappointed but not shocked that the developers of Burlington's downtown mall are looking to pull out of the project.

Wednesday, Mayor Miro Weinberger said Brookfield Properties – an international developer – was looking to abandon the CityPlace project, despite repeated promises that they would complete it.

Weinberger threatened to sue Brookfield if the company doesn’t respond with an “acceptable proposal.”

Tom Torti, president and CEO of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, said a project like CityPlace, with a mixture of retail and residential space, is less feasible now given the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Torti says he hopes something will eventually be built in the empty lot.

“There’s a hole in the city where all our hope goes and  something that vacant sucks the life out of a city,” Torti said.

The redevelopment of the downtown mall has been stalled for over two years. In May, Brookfield said they planned to start construction this summer.

Read the full story

- Liam Elder-Connors

Republican Scott Milne seeks nomination for lieutenant governor

Candidate Scott Milne said his past runs for governor and US senator inform his current campaign for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

Milne was the GOP nominee for the Senate in 2016, and for governor in 2014, when he came close to upsetting the incumbent Democratic governor Peter Shumlin.

“What I learned is that telling people the truth, having people that you know support you locally in communities is extraordinarily powerful. Those people are out supporting me again this year,” Milne said.

Milne is one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates for governor.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Green Mountain Power linemen suffer serious injuries in Middlebury

Two Green Mountain Power linemen were seriously injured in Middlebury Wednesday after falling 50 feet from a utility pole that broke.

State Police said 37-year-old Josh McLean, of Brandon, was transported by helicopter to University of Vermont Medical Center with head and internal injuries.

25-year-old Jared Allen, of Bristol, also suffered head and internal injuries and was taken  to UVM Medical Center.

Police say McLean and Allen were removing lines from a pole when it suddenly broke at its base. Both workers were wearing proper safety equipment. The incident remains under investigation but internal damage to the wooden pole is likely a contributing factor.

- Nina Keck

Gov. Scott defends his administration's response to COVID-19

Governor Phil Scott is defending his administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few months.

At a VPR - Vermont PBS debate, four of Scott's GOP challengers argued that that the governor acted unconstitutionally when he required non-essential businesses to completely close down for several months.

Scott said he took a number of steps that health officials told him would help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

And Scott aid the efforts have been successful.

“Without a playbook you have to do what you think is right and I think we've taken the right steps we're the safest state in the nation we have the lowest positivity rate we have the lowest number of positive cases in the country we just surpassed Hawaii we have a lot to be proud of here,” Scott said.

Scott is expected to issue a statewide mask mandate in the next few days.

Read the full story.

- Bob Kinzel

GOP gubernatorial candidate Emily Peyton criticizes the governor's pandemic response

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Emily Peyton said Gov. Phil Scott has done a terrible job handling the COVID-19 pandemic over the last few months.

Scott issued an executive order in March that required all non-essential businesses to close down and asked all residents to stay home as much as possible.

During a VPR - Vermont PBS debate, Peyton said Scott's response was much more restrictive than it needed to be:

I see other places that have handled this COVID without trespassing on our rights. I think the way that Scott has handled the COVID is absolutely concerning he has brought the state to its knees,” Peyton said.

Scott said the fact that Vermont has one of the lowest coronavirus positivity rates in the country is evidence that his administration has handled the crisis in a responsible way.

Read the full story.

- Bob Kinzel

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bernard Peters aims to reduce wasteful spending

Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bernard Peters said he opposes any tax increases that will have an impact on older Vermonters.

During a VPR-Vermont PBS Republican gubernatorial candidate's debate, Peters said many older Vermonters live solely on Social Security. He said they can't afford additional taxes and he wants the state to enact policies that would lower them instead.

“Every time the state raises taxes or passes new rules or regulations when you are on fixed incomes, where do you get the extra money to pay the increase in taxes?” Peters asked. “You have two choices: Do with less or go somewhere’s else where they are friendly to the elderly."

Peters, who is a retired state employee, said he believes there's a lot of waste in government spending that should be eliminated before any new revenue is raised.

Read the full story.

- Bob Kinzel

Gov. Scott seeks to rebuild Vermont's Republican party

Governor Phil Scott said he's seeking a third term in office in part to try to rebuild the Republican Party in Vermont.

Speaking during a VPR – Vermont PBS debate featuring Republican candidates for governor, Scott said party representation in the Legislature has declined in recent years.

He noted that the House Republican caucus has only 43 members – far short of the 75 needed for a majority. And he's concerned that Democrats and Progressives hold a 24 to 6 margin in the Senate.

“I'm like the last person standing at this point in time between common sense and some of what we're seeing in the legislative process," Scott said   

Scott faces four challengers in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Read the full story.

- Bob Kinzel

Prisoner's Rights Office calls for more oversight of state prisons

The Prisoner's Rights Office issued a report Wednesday detailing failures by prison guards and medical staff which led to the death of inmate Kenneth Johnson, a Black man. Johnson was charged with rape and human trafficking.

The report by the office, which works under the Vermont Defender General, describes Johnson's unheeded pleas for help as he struggles to breathe due to an undiagnosed tumor in his airway.

It concludes with recommendations to reinstate oversight mechanisms which Defender General Matt Valerio said the state cut to save money.

"One of the things that we recommended is to try to put back in place some of these review and accountability structures so that if something's gone wrong, there's some place to go," Valerio said.

Other recommendations include initiating additional investigations into racial bias and employee conduct.

Read the full story.

- Emily Corwin

University of Vermont, faculty reach settlement

The University of Vermont's faculty union and the school administration have agreed to settle a dispute related to fall reopening plans.

United Academics said it filed an unfair labor practice against UVM on June 30. The union said Wednesday that the settlement states that the administration must continue to bargain in good faith and in a timely manner. UVM said it's pleased to engage with the union on topics that impact faculty working conditions and said faculty had been participating in the reopening planning long before the union filed its claim.

- The Associated Press

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