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Vermont News Updates For Wednesday, July 29

A person in a neon vest and face covering wipes down a parking meter.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
VPR
Brattleboro town employee Jacob Gouger disinfects a parking meter downtown Monday, July 27.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, Burlington arrest data showing racial disparities and more for Wednesday, July 29.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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No COVID-related deaths reported in six weeks

Vermont’s Health Department reported just one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, in Bennington County, plus another 600 negative test results.

In the five or so months since the pandemic began, the state has analyzed 92,461 tests, and found 1,406 positive results.

One person is hospitalized with the disease, and 1,199 people are reported to have recovered. A total of 56 people have died in Vermont. No new deaths have been recorded in six weeks.

- Mark Davis and Elodie Reed

Burlington report: Black residents arrested nearly four times as often as white residents

Data from the Burlington Police Department show that in 2019, Black residents were arrested at a rate nearly four times that of white people. The information is contained in a city report released Tuesday night.

Brian Lowe, the city’s Chief Innovation Officer, says Black individuals were also over-represented in four crime types.

“That’s drug-related offenses, assault, domestic violence and disorder-related crimes,” Lowe said. “And in 2019, arrests which officers had higher degree of discretion, which would be low-level non-violent crimes, showed less disparity.”

Arrest rates aren’t the only area where the data show racial disparities.

According to recently-released traffic stop information, while Burlington police stopped fewer drivers, Black people were still pulled over at higher rates. Use-of-force data for 2019 also show 20% of those incidents involved Black people – significantly higher than the percentage of Black residents in the city.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Crashes haven't dropped in Vermont despite pandemic-related decline in traffic

Vermont had one of its deadliest days on the roads in at least three years this past Saturday.

Paul White is with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, and said the number of car crashes in Vermont has not dropped, even though the traffic count is down to about 75% of where it was last year because of the pandemic.

“It’s no secret, really, that police officers were trying to minimize their contact with the public because of the virus,” White said. “And you know, a certain percentage of that population will follow the rules when nobody is looking. But you always have those risk-takers that, when presented with the opportunity, are going to take advantage and drive inappropriately.”

There were three crashes and four deaths on Saturday in Salisbury, Barre Town and Hinesburg.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Jury trials unlikely to resume Sept. 1

A report to the Vermont judiciary says much needs to be done to prepare for the resumption of criminal jury trials, and it’s unlikely they’ll begin on Sept. 1 as anticipated.  

The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus reports that a committee made up of two Supreme Court justices, two trial judges, a state’s attorney and a public defender says a lot must be done before jury trials can take place.

It lists modifications to courtroom buildings, cleaning protocols and educating jurors – all with an eye toward minimizing the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

The report also raises the possibility of reducing the size of a jury to fewer than 12 members, if a defendant agrees.

Most jury trials were suspended in March due to the pandemic.

- Steve Zind

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Holcombe supports a progressive tax system

Rebecca Holcombe, who's seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, says she supports a more progressive tax system in the state.

Holcombe's household took in over $400,000 last year, according to her financial disclosure. That's the highest income of any gubernatorial candidate this cycle.

She says she supports higher taxes on higher-income individuals, like herself.

"I'm happy to pay more taxes if it's going to go to creating a fair chance for my neighbors, so that they can participate in our economy, and live well and be well in our communities,” Holcombe said. “We need systematic tax reform that addresses some of these issues, and I'll support that."

Holcombe is the state's former education secretary. She's one of four Democrats seeking the party's nomination for governor in the Aug. 11 primary.

Read 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 Vermont primary, including debates, here.

Finance Commissioner: State revenue shortfall projected for 2021

The Scott administration is warning that despite a strong close to the last fiscal year, Vermont's tax revenues won't be enough to cover a large budget shortfall in 2021.

Finance Commissioner Adam Greshin told the Joint Fiscal Committee that higher-than-anticipated personal and corporate tax payments helped the state close the books in June on a solid financial footing.

Greshin says that's not the case for fiscal year 2021, which started July 1. He says that's when the real impact of the COVID crisis will be felt.

“We have, as of June 8, the most recent forecast, roughly a $218 million dollar General Fund shortfall that we will be trying to close,” Greshin said. “So again, you know, under any financial scenario, I think we still have work to do.”

Lawmakers will be back in session in late August to finish the 2021 budget.

- John Dillon

In N.H., officials investigate nursing home ventilation systems, Dartmouth students' movement restricted

New Hampshire health and fire safety officials will spend the next two weeks investigating whether ventilation systems contributed to coronavirus outbreaks at more than 30 nursing homes.

The review will seek to determine whether air flow and ventilation systems played a role.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth College says students arriving on campus will be restricted to their dorm rooms for at least 48 hours after they arrive on campus, and for the first two weeks will be allowed to leave only to pick up meals, exercise alone outside or attend very limited college-organized activities.

- Associated Press

More from VPR: What Will Fall Semester Look Like On Vermont College Campuses? It's Complicated.

Upper Valley select boards debate reciting Pledge of Allegiance

Two Vermont towns have come down on different sides on the issue of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at select board meetings.

The Valley News reports that this week the Windsor Select Board decided to discontinue the pledge at meetings. The paper quotes one board member as saying he could no longer recite it knowing that it doesn’t have “the same value for everyone.”

The paper says there was a similar discussion with a different result in Hartford, where the board decided to continue to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

There, one member who supported continuing the pledge described it as something Americans aspire to.

- Steve Zind

Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Brenda Siegel sees COVID-19 crisis as opportunity for change

Brenda Siegel, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, says that the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis, but provides an opportunity to build a better Vermont.

Siegel, an activist who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, says the pandemic highlights crises that Vermonters have been facing for generations.

“No matter what's coming, we're not going back to what it was six months ago, nor should we want to, because six months ago, people were in tents, sleeping and freezing,” she said. “We do not want to live in a Vermont like that. I believe that while this has been a huge crisis for so many families, it's also our opportunity to really build better out of it.”

Siegel is one of four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Read or listen to the full story.

 - Sam Gale Rosen

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 Vermont primary, including debates, here.

Mask mandate may exempt children at camps, child care

Children may not have to wear facial coverings at camps and child care centers despite Gov. Scott’s recent mask mandate.

Currently, the state allows camps and child care centers to operate without kids in masks. But the new executive order requires facial coverings for kids above the age of two in all public spaces.

Tracy Dolan, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health said the state is still deciding whether or not they will make an exemption for kids at camps.

“There is a difference between a 3- or 4-year-old who goes into the grocery store wearing a mask and comes back out, versus a 3- or 4-year-old all day wearing a mask,” Dolan said. “And so that is one key difference here. So it is possible that we’d allow that policy to stand.”

The mandate goes into effect Aug. 1.

Listen to the full Vermont Edition conversation.

- Emma Pinezich

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