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Vermont News Updates For Tuesday, July 28

Popcorn machine, closed due to COVID-19
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Sam's Outdoor Outfitters in Brattleboro normally serves up popcorn all day for customers shopping for outdoor gear. Though they're open for business, the popcorn is on hold.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus and more for Tuesday, July 28.

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The latest coronavirus data:


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

The Vermont Department of Health reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, with two new cases identified in Chittenden County and one new case identified in Caledonia County. The state has identified 1,405 cases to date.

So far, 91,861 people have been tested for active cases of the new coronavirus in Vermont. There is one person currently hospitalized with an active case, and there are 14 people hospitalized with cases under investigation. So far, 1,194 people have recovered from confirmed cases.

The state is currently monitoring 44 close contacts of confirmed cases.

- Abagael Giles

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Pat Winburn calls for higher income tax on wealthy Vermonters

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Pat Winburn says a higher income tax on wealthy Vermonters is one way to deal with a possible state budget shortfall.

Vermont's budget is facing uncertainty as the state deals with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and related business shutdowns.

Winburn, who is a Bennington lawyer and political newcomer, said a more progressive income tax is one solution.

“We don't believe that the millionaires are going to head to the hills if we raise their taxes,” Winburn said. “On the contrary, during the pandemic, the housing market skyrocketed with people eager to move to Vermont."

Winburn also said he supports taxing and regulating marijuana sales as a way to raise state revenue. Winburn is one of four Democrats seeking the party's nomination for governor.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Henry Epp

VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress. You can find our full coverage of the 2020 Primary, including a schedule of debates, here.

State officials hope for federal relief in resolving $200 million deficit

The Vermont budget is starting the new fiscal year with a projected $200 million budget shortfall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but state officials are hoping that Congress will soon help.

Administration Secretary Susanne Young said one solution would be a direct payment to states in a new stimulus package. Many Democrats support this approach, but a number of Republicans don't.

Young said a second option would give states much greater flexibility in using the federal money they've already received.

“That revenue replacement is going to be one-time money, so I don't see that as being the ‘silver bullet’ but it certainly will help if Congress decides that that's going to be an allowable use for states,” Young said.

However, Young said the state is likely to end the fiscal year in better shape than initially feared.

Many economists believed that COVID-19 would devastate state revenues, Young said. She said a number of Vermonters did delay filing their income tax forms, but said money is coming in at a good clip.

"It looks like we will be in good shape for closing the books with sufficient '20 revenues, so we won't have to borrow from reserves and that we'll have those reserves available for us, should we need them in '21," Young said.

She said a final accounting of the 2020 fiscal year, which ended June 30, will be available in a week.

Senate Republicans hope to vote on a stimulus bill in the next week.

- Bob Kinzel

Consumer spending was up in Vermont in June

Consumer spending in the state has held up better than expected, and that's good news for the Vermont Education Fund.

Based on June's monthly tax report, revenue from the state sales tax met previous projections. All of that money goes directly in the Education Fund.

Administration Secretary Susanne Young said it's clear that the fund won't now need to borrow money to meet the state's needs.

“People have been purchasing ‘online’ during the pandemic when they couldn't go into retail stories so that there's a positive story there to that we're not doing as poorly as we had expected in that fund,” Young said.

Young said this development means that reserves in the Fund would be available, if needed, next year

- Bob Kinzel

Gov. Scott delays school reopenings until Sept. 8

Gov. Phil Scott and members of his administration are trying to reassure anxious parents and teachers that it's safe for students to return to school this fall.

Scott said he will delay the school re-openings to September 8 to give educators and administrators time to implement procedures needed to keep students and teachers safe from COVID-19.

Many schools were scheduled to resume classes in late August. But Scott said schools need more time to develop plans that can include a hybrid model of in-person classes and remote learning.

“And I know anxiety is high, even while the health data and experts clearly support in-person instruction,” Scott said. “And I can assure you that, if necessary, we will not hesitate to act to protect our students and school employees.”

A pediatric health specialist at Scott's Tuesday news briefing said younger children are less likely that adults to contract and transmit the new coronavirus.

However, Agency of Education Secretary Dan French said he understands the anxiety parents and teachers feel about students returning to classrooms this fall.

French is a former high school principal and school superintendent. He said his own family has felt the uncertainty, as he plans for a statewide reopening and his wife plans to return to the classroom as an elementary school teacher.

"What we can do is pay attention to the science, keep our assumptions realistic and use our best judgement," French said. "To be successful, we must be flexible and be prepared to respond to what is happening, whether or not it fits our plans. Because our plans are just today's best-informed guess about what will happen in the future."

Scott said Tuesday that Vermont's low rate of COVID-19 cases is a strong argument in favor of children returning to the classroom.

"Fortunately, Vermont is in a much better position than most other states. In fact, we're probably in a better position than any other state in the country right now to return to school, and opportunities to do what's right for our kids and families, because of how successful Vermonters have been in limiting the spread of this virus," Scott said.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon


Pediatric health specialist says for kids, benefits of in-person school outweigh risks

A specialist on children's health said the benefits of children being in school outweigh the risks of catching COVID-19 in the school setting.

Doctor Rebecca Bell is the president of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She said at Gov. Phil Scott's press conference Tuesday that younger children are far less likely to come down with COVID-19 and are also less likely to transmit the disease. She said students need to be back in school, both to learn, and for the other support that schools provide.

“But I can tell you, both from my experience and my pediatric colleagues’ experience, that children and adolescents, especially those who are most vulnerable, are really untethered right now,” Dr. Bell said. “They're not doing okay. The loss of structure and routine and consistent adult presence and social and emotional connection has been really upending.”

The Scott Administration said schools should reopen on September 8, although some may chose a mix of in-person instruction and remote learning.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon


Franklin County towns team up in pursuit of broadband access

The towns of Enosburgh, Fairfax and Montgomery have banded together to try to get broadband internet access.

The St. Albans Messenger reports that select boards from all three communities have agreed to be founding members of the Northwest Vermont Communication Union District.

In Enosburgh, more than half the residents who live outside the village of Enosburg Falls lack access to high speed internet.

The towns of Fairfield and Georgia are expected to consider joining this week, and the district could also eventually include Bakersfield, Berkshire and parts of Grand Isle County, according to the Messenger.

- Mark Davis

Farmer returns prosthetic leg to West Addison skydiver

A Vermont skydiver who lost his prosthetic leg during a jump has it back, thanks to a farmer who spotted it in a soybean field. Double amputee Chris Marckres went for a jump Saturday at Vermont Skydiving Adventures in West Addison and lost one of his prosthetic legs after leaping from the plane while harnessed to an instructor.

Marckres told New England Cable News that his adrenaline was so high, he didn't realized he'd lost it. When he spread the word on social media about the missing prosthetic, farmer Joe Marszalkowski saw the post, kept an eye out and found it.

Except for scratches, the prosthetic leg was undamaged.

- The Associated Press


Vermont National Education Association supports move to delay start of school

The union that represents most Vermont public school teachers said Gov. Phil Scott's decision to delay the start of the school year is a quote "good first step."

The Vermont NEA said that Scott's executive order pushing the first day of school to Sept. 8 will help with safety.

But the union, which has 13,000 members, also urged more preparation and other steps before the school year begins.

Scott said he still wants in-person classes to resume as soon as possible. The union and the Scott administration have often clashed on education policy.

- Mark Davis

Secretary of State allows town clerks to 'process' early ballots before election day

Because of a big surge in requests for early ballots, Secretary of State Jim Condos has issued new rules to make it easier for town clerks to "process" these ballots well before election day.

Previously, clerks were allowed to submit early ballots into an optical scan machine within 24 hours of the election.

But with a record demand for mail in ballots, a new rule allows clerks to scan ballots within 30 days of an election.

Montpelier City Clerk John Odum said the change is important.

“So all we are doing is getting a sense of how many ballots we have, but it has nothing to do at this point with the results,” Odum said. “That information is still locked into the tabulator and that doesn't get generated until the end of the election." 

All polls will be open on August 11 for residents who want to vote in person.

- Bob Kinzel

In Montpelier, requests for early ballots are up more than 400% from 2018

There are strong indications that Vermont's Early Voting system is going to lead to a dramatic increase in voter participation in the August 11 primary.

Statewide requests for Early Ballots have broken all records primarily because of concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Montpelier City Clerk John Odum said requests for early ballots are up more 400% from 2018 and he thinks overall voter turnout rates will also be up significantly.

“I think absolutely. I think that's unquestionable. I think we're already seeing that,” Odum said, when asked if participation appeared to be up. “By the time the dust settles, I think we're all going to have our jaws hanging open at how much participation there was and I think we're going to learn a lot."    

Odum said states with "vote by mail" systems often experience higher turnout rates for primaries.

- Bob Kinzel

Sen. Leahy calls for billions in federal relief for state budget deficits

Sen. Patrick Leahy said any new federal COVID-19 stimulus package should include billions of follars to help individual states cope with their budget crises.

Leahy, who's the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, said that's why he backs a Democratic plan to allocate roughly $3 trillion to a new recovery effort, including $2 billion to the state of Vermont.

"And the reality is that we have to have money to be able to: one, fight this virus, but two, keep our people, our communities stable, so the jobs can come back and businesses can come back," Leahy said. "That is essential."

Senate Republican leaders and House Democratic leaders are hoping to reach an agreement on the size of a new recovery package by the end of this week.

- Bob Kinzel

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