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Vermont News Updates For Thursday, September 17

A person paints a cement barrier in a downtown
Shanta Lee Gander
/
For VPR
Terry Sylvester is working in partnership with Youth Services to decorate this parklet outside of the Blue Moose Italian Bistro, one of many installed in the downtown Brattleboro area to help businesses ease their capacity limitations during COVID-19.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, the rejection of a lawsuit challenging Vermont's vote-by-mail plans and more for Thursday, September 17.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Three more people test positive for COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported three new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, all in Chittenden County. Another 1,131 people tested negative for the coronavirus.

The department has identified 1,705 cases total and tested 153,195 people so far. Two people in Vermont are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

- Anna Van Dine and Elodie Reed

Judge tosses lawsuit challenging vote-by-mail in Vermont

There's been an important ruling upholding Vermont's new vote-by-mail law.

Federal District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford has rejected an effort by a group of Republicans to block the Secretary of State from mailing ballots to all active registered voters beginning next week.

The judge ruled that the group didn't have proper standing to file the lawsuit, because they couldn't prove they would suffer direct harm from the new law.

Secretary of State Jim Condos applauded the ruling.

“The decision by Judge Crawford dismissing the lawsuit is actually a win for safe, secure, and fair elections in Vermont, that we remain on the right course of action so that no voter needs to choose between protecting their health and exercising their Constitutional right to vote,” Condos said.

He added that general election ballots will be sent out, as scheduled, next week.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Federal Lawsuit Challenges Constitutionality Of Vermont's Vote-By-Mail Plan For 2020

House passes marijuana tax and regulate bill

The Vermont House has given its approval to a bill that regulates and taxes the sale of marijuana. The vote was 92 to 56.

Under the bill, the state would regulate marijuana similar to how it regulates alcohol. Retail marijuana products would be taxed at a rate of 20%.

The legislation expands law enforcement drug recognition programs, and it allows a saliva test to be taken from a driver who's suspected of being impaired if a warrant has been issued.

Democratic Barre City Rep. Tommy Walz supported the bill.

"It's got to be perplexing to Vermonters: It's perfectly OK to walk around with an ounce of marijuana in your pocket, it's perfectly OK to grow a couple of plants, but it's totally illegal to obtain it in any way,” Walz said. “That makes no sense whatsoever." 

The measure now goes to the Senate, where it has strong support.

- Bob Kinzel

House overrides climate bill veto

The House has voted to override Gov. Scott's veto of a global warming bill. One hundred votes were needed to be successful, and 103 House members backed the effort.

The proposal calls for a 26% reduction of carbon emissions by 2025 and an 80% cut by 2050. It also creates a special climate commission to help reach these targets, and its allows people to sue the state if the targets aren't met.

Tim Briglin, who is the chairman of the House Energy and Technology Committee, urged his colleagues to override Scott's veto.

“H.688 moves us from aspiration to accountability,” Briglin said. “This is the first step to protecting Vermonters in building a more resilient state."

The Senate will now consider a veto override effort next week.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: Scott Vetoes Climate Bill, Override Vote Scheduled For Thursday

Burlington High School closed for entire semester

Burlington High School will stay closed for the whole semester as the district investigates high levels of PCBs detected in the air in the building.

Seven Days reports that the announcement came in an email from Superintendent Tom Flanagan on Wednesday. The district had originally announced that the school would move to virtual instruction until Sept. 21. Now, the date will be pushed back at least four months.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Doc recommends every adult fill out advance directive, especially during pandemic

Preparing an advance directive to make your wishes about medical care clear in the case that you become unable to make decisions is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a doctor at the Rutland Regional Medical Center.

Dr. Rick Hildebrandt, the center's chief medical information officer, says that the most basic part of an advance directive, naming a health care agent who can make decisions for you, is easy and important even if you are young and healthy.

“Naming an agent, and having a conversation with that person about what it is you want, is really a good recommendation for everyone,” Hildebrandt said. “And to do that is quite simple.

Forms to prepare an advance directive are available at vtethicsnetwork.org.

Read/listen to the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Pownal Fire Department responds to suspicious blaze at old racetrack

Fire crews responded to a significant fire at a former racetrack in Pownal Wednesday night.

According to WCAX, the Pownal Fire Department says there were no injuries, but the building is a "total loss," and the department considers the blaze suspicious.

The Green Mountain Race Track has been abandoned since 1991. The Bennington Banner reports several different proposals have been made for the site, including a plan to bring a casino to the property in the 1990s, and a biomass power plant planned in 2010.

- Henry Epp

State Board of Education approves first Act 46 breakup

A loophole in Vermont’s school district consolidation law has set up the first breakup of an Act 46-merged district.

At a meeting Wednesday, State Board of Education chairman John Carroll said an earlier state law allows districts to be dissolved after town-wide votes are held.

“This could be the first of many proposed porces,” Carroll said. “And it probably is something that the General Assembly might wish to look at, as to whether or not this provision is consistent with the policy that it set by virtue of enacting Act 46.”

The State Board reluctantly agreed to let Halifax and Readsboro separate after both towns voted to dissolve their merged district, which was created only two years ago.

Read/listen to the full story.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Vermont Senate advances bill making narrow changes to Act 250

The Vermont Senate has advanced a bill that makes some adjustments to Act 250. But it's not the sweeping overhaul of the land use law that passed the House earlier.

Addison Sen. Chris Bray chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The panel started work on the bill in June, and Bray says they decided to pare it back to deal with just two issues: unregulated trails and forest fragmentation.

“Act 250 is not a relic. As we change and as our use of the land changes, so too does Act 250 need to change with it,” Bray said. “I want to pause and just note that the Senate Natural is bringing a very much narrowed bill to the floor today.”

The bill will now need to be reconciled with the broader House bill that passed earlier this year.

- John Dillon

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