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Vermont News Updates For Monday, July 27

A woman takes a photo on her phone of a man holding a fish on the end of a fishing line next to a smiling girl.
Sarah Priestap
/
For VPR
Blueberry Kang, 7, poses with her grandfather, Dae Kang, with a fish Dae had just caught from Silver Lake in Barnard on July 17 while Blueberry's mother, Soo Kang, photographs. The Kangs have been living in Barnard since the beginning of the pandemic.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, plans for schools reopening in the fall and more for Monday, July 27.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Health officials report two new cases of COVID-19

Vermont’s Health Department reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. They came from Orange and Franklin counties.

Just over 1,400 cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in the state. One person is hospitalized with the disease in Vermont, 56 people have died and 1,190 are reported to have recovered.

- Mark Davis

Superintendent publishes open letter asking Gov. to address child care, workforce issues

Although school districts around Vermont have been announcing plans for the fall, uncertainties remain.

In an open letter published over the weekend, Harwood Union Unified School District superintendent Brigid Nease worries that staffing shortages will make reopening unsustainable.

Nease writes that she is “pretty certain that there is not a superintendent in this state that knows with certainty that they can staff their school.” She said that even if schools open as planned, they are "unlikely" to sustain those plans.

The letter calls on the Scott administration to address child care and workforce issues on a statewide basis.

- Anna Van Dine

Rutland High School planning for spread out class space in fall

School districts across Vermont are starting to release information about whether they will open this fall, and if so, what school days might look like.

Rutland High School plans to offer a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, so only about half of their 800 students will be in the building at one time.

Assistant principal Steve Sampson says flexibility will be key, like using the gymnasium for large classes.

“We're thinking about using the library as classroom space, the cafeteria, which is now not going to be used for breakfast or lunch, as classroom space,” he said. “We're even considering temporary structures outside."

Rutland City School Superintendent Bill Olsen says they want every family to feel comfortable with the plan their child takes part in.

Read the full story.

- Nina Keck

Leahy: $1 trillion GOP recovery package not adequate

Sen. Patrick Leahy says a new Republican COVID-19 recovery package falls far short of meeting the needs of the country.

The $1 trillion plan provides additional aid to businesses and gives states more flexibility to use federal funds.

The GOP proposal also reduces an additional unemployment benefit from $600 a week to roughly $200.

Leahy says the Democrats are backing a $3 trillion proposal to directly help states and maintain the $600 unemployment benefit.

"It has been a cataclysmic challenge, especially for a small state like ours, and I think it would take years to recover,” Leahy said. “What we're saying is, ‘Why don't we make months to recover, not years?’"  

The Republican bill is expected to come up for a vote later this week. If it passes, House Democrats will try to negotiate a final settlement with GOP Senate leaders.

- Bob Kinzel

Vt. utility regulators fine national solar company

Vermont utility regulators have fined a national energy company more than $57,000 for violating permit conditions at the state's largest solar project in Cavendish and Ludlow.

Florida-based NextEra began operating its 20 megawatt Coolidge project at the end of 2018. The solar development is by far the largest in Vermont. Its renewable energy credits are sold in other New England states to meet their greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Last year, the Public Utility Commission looked into a complaint that the developer did not follow the conditions of its permit. The commission found that instead of burying power lines as required, Nextera suspended the cables above-ground. The company also made other equipment and construction changes without telling regulators.

A NextEra spokesman says safety was not compromised, and that the company has since modified construction procedures to ensure full compliance with regulatory orders.

The company did not challenge the violations and said it regrets not getting approval from regulators,  although it argued for a lower fine. But the PUC hearing officer, and then the full commission, agreed that the $57,500 was appropriate.

- John Dillon

Leahy argues feds need to provide money for local schools

Senator Patrick Leahy says the federal government needs to provide financial support for local schools if they are to reopen in the fall.

While some Vermont schools are considering an in-person model, others are looking at a hybrid approach that also includes remote learning.

Leahy says all schools are going to need enormous financial resources to be ready for students and teachers.

“Well I think the federal government has got to provide the money, but it's going to have to allow the states and the local communities to figure out the best way to do it,” he said. “There is no one-size-fits-all – small towns have different situations than larger."   

Later this week, Congress is expected to debate a plan to provide schools with additional funds.

- Bob Kinzel

Sen. Bernie Sanders endorses Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman

Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman has received a high-profile endorsement as he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor.

Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Zuckerman's campaign Monday, pointing to Zuckerman's progressive record in the state Legislature on issues like climate change and raising the minimum wage.

More from VPR: David Zuckerman Seeks Democratic Nomination For Governor

Zuckerman has called Sanders a mentor and says Vermont's junior senator inspired him to run for office for the first time back in 1996. In a statement, Zuckerman said he was "honored" to receive the endorsement.

Zuckerman is one of four Democrats seeking the party's nomination in the Aug. 11 primary, along with former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe, attorney Pat Winburn and activist Ralph Corbo.

- Henry Epp

Vermont court system studying how to resume jury trials during pandemic

The Vermont court system is studying ways to resume jury trials safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late May, the Vermont Supreme Court established a committee to look into the issue, and it just submitted a report. It includes 28 recommendations for resuming criminal jury trials. They address community safety, public health and other issues. The report does not address the resumption of civil jury trials.

The Supreme Court has asked a superior court judge and the state's court administrator to review the report and give the high court a plan for implementing it.

- Associated Press

More from VPR: Vermont's Courts Prepare To Ramp Up As COVID-19 Restrictions Relax

New York state still tabulating mail-in ballots from June primary

New York state's quest to keep voters safe from COVID-19 by letting them vote by mail in the June primary has led to big delays in tabulating results, concerns about disenfranchisement and questions about whether there will be an even bigger mess in the fall.

Election officials say it'll take until early August to finish counting a tidal wave of absentee ballots that overwhelmed a system typically handling only around 5% of the vote. About 1.8 million New Yorkers requested mail-in ballots for June's primary.

Candidates and good-government activists say a bigger problem is that thousands of votes cast in good faith are getting invalidated during the counting process.

- Associated Press

State police hope to use genealogy to ID infant found dead 40 years ago

Vermont State Police hope the vast trove of genealogy information now available online will help them identify an infant who died nearly 40 years ago.

The baby boy, who died of exposure, was found along a road in Northfield in 1982. The infant’s identity was never established, but authorities do have his DNA. 

State police have now contracted with a Virginia company that will search genealogy databases in hopes of finding someone related to the infant.   

- Steve Zind

Bennington town strikes deal with camp over noise complaints

The town of Bennington has struck a deal with a summer youth camp operating on the former Southern Vermont College campus to resolve noise complaints.

The Bennington Banner reports the camp will move all assemblies from a large tent to the campus gym within a week, and in the meantime take steps to reduce loud noise coming from the property.

The agreement headed off a court hearing on a restraining order issued July 15.

- Karen Anderson

Allowed public gathering size to increase in Quebec

The limit on public gatherings in Quebec will increase from 50 people to 250 people starting Aug. 3. 

The news comes amid a recent spike in coronavirus cases across the province.  Quebec reported 163 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and one more death. 

CBC News reports that Quebec officials say the change was recommended by public health authorities.  Established rules for physical distancing and hygiene will remain in effect.

- Karen Anderson

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