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Vermont News Updates For Tuesday, September 22

A white sign reading I Can't Breathe on a dirt road in Shelburne
Elodie Reed
On Pond Road in Shelburne, a sign reads I Can't Breathe, a rallying call of those protesting acts of violence by police against Black Americans.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a new VPR-Vermont PBS poll and more for Tuesday, September 22.

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The latest coronavirus data:


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

The Vermont Department of Health reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. One person is currently hospitalized with a confirmed case in Vermont.

So far, the state reports it has tested 157,341 people for active cases of the disease.

The new cases identified today were in Chittenden and Windsor counties.

- Abagael Giles

Vermont House approves bill that would establish statewide police regarding use of force

The House has given its approval to legislation that backers say will help deal with police brutality and systemic racism in the state.

South Burlington Rep. Martin LaLonde said the bill creates a uniform statewide policy on the use of force by police officers and establishes a system to hold officers accountable if their actions violate the policies.

LaLonde said a number of law enforcement groups urged the House not to put these provisions directly into law.

“This approach would shirk our oversight responsibility, our duty to create standards governing the use of force this body has authorized,” LaLonde said. “In addition, policies generally are not enforceable in court; statutory standards are."    

The Senate, which has passed similar legislation, will now review the changes made by the House.

More from VPR: City Council Approves Buyout Of Burlington Cop After Month Of Protests

- Bob Kinzel

Senate approves tax-and-regulate bill for cannabis

The Senate has approved legislation that will tax and regulate the sale of marijuana in Vermont.

The vote was 23-to-6.

Under the bill, marijuana will be regulated by the state much in the same way that alcohol and tobacco products are.

There will also be an overall tax rate of 20% on all marijuana products.

Caledonia Senator Joe Benning said it's essential that the state regulate cannabis.

“The need for people to receive a proper understanding of what they are consuming; the safety of the product; the access of youth to this product in the current underground economy [are] nothing short of horrific,” Benning said.

The bill now goes to Gov. Scott. The governor has said the bill addresses some of his major concerns about a tax and regulate system.

More from VPR: Public Schools Will Be Allowed To Start Using Cafeterias, Holding Sports Competitions

- Bob Kinzel

Springfield Hospital files bankruptcy plan

Springfield Hospital has filed its bankruptcy plan with the court, and the hospital says it has a way to survive its dire financial situation.

The hospital filed for bankruptcy last year, and under terms of the Chapter 11 code the hospital had to come up with a plan to show it can pay back some of its debt, and move forward.

Springfield Hospital, as well as the nine clinics that are aligned with it, filed separate plans. If the plans are approved the hospital and clinics will operate as independent organizations.

According to the court papers, the hospital owes Berkshire Bank about $9.5 million. It says it will pay back $4 million if the plan is approved.

The hospital also owes the state about $9 million in back taxes and loans.

As part of the proposed plan, the state is giving Springfield a $6 million grant, which the hospital says it needs to emerge from bankruptcy.

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: As COVID-19 Spreads, Hospitals Face Financial Woes

- Howard Weiss-Tisman


Forest Service continues response to Killington forest fire

The Green Mountain National Forest still has crews working on a ground fire that was discovered last Friday at the popular Dear’s Leap hiking trail in Killington.

Ethan Ready, a forest service spokesman, said the fire covered less than an acre and was contained after fire fighters from seven surrounding communities responded. But the terrain is dry and difficult to reach and hot spots remain.

"We scouted the area this morning and we've been using bladder bags, which is essentially a backpack that's filled with water to spray down remaining hot spots,” Ready said.

Ready said the fire appears to have been started by an abandoned campfire. No was one hurt and he said no structures were damaged.

- Nina Keck


Voting in the General Election begins

In the next week or so, all active registered voters in Vermont should receive their ballots in the mail. 

Voters can then mail their completed ballot to their town clerk, deliver it in person to the clerk's office or take it to the local polling place on Election Day: November 3.

Montpelier City Clerk John Odum is expecting a crush of mail-in ballots, since many voters used that method in the August primary.

“We're also obviously going to have a lot more turnout. It's a general election – they're always the most turnout – and this one is one that is obviously energizing a lot of people,” Odum said. “So there's going to be a lot more mail coming in. We are prepared to process quite a bit more mail this time around." 

Towns that use machines to tabulate votes will be allowed to process their mail-in ballots as early as 30 days before the election.

Questions about how to vote in the General Election? Check out VPR’s voter guide, here.

- Bob Kinzel

Senate overrides veto to pass Global Warming Solutions bill into law

With no debate, the Senate voted Tuesday to override Gov. Phil Scott's veto of the Global Warming Solutions bill.

This means the legislation will now become law. The House overrode the veto last week.

The proposal calls for a 26% reduction in the state's carbon emissions by 2025 and an 80% reduction by 2050.

The legislation creates a special Climate Commission to draft plans to reach these targets.

Scott vetoed the bill, in part, because he feels it grants too much authority to the non-elected Commission.

The veto override needed 20 votes to be successful - Lt. Governor David Zuckerman announced the vote.

“The results being: 22 yeas and eight nays; the governor's veto has been overridden,” Zuckerman said.

The bill also allows people to sue the state if the targets aren't met.

More from VPR: Unpacking Vermont’s Newest Climate Change Legislation

- Bob Kinzel

New poll shows Vermonters are divided over reopening K-12 schools

Results from a new VPR-Vermont PBS poll show opinions vary on reopening elementary and high schools for in person instruction this fall. 

The question was: Given the current state of the pandemic, do you favor or oppose having K-12 schools open for in-person instruction?

Just over half of the respondents – 52% – said they supported schools reopening. 34% opposed reopening and 14% said they weren’t sure.

Men were somewhat more likely to support sending kids back to the classroom.

But the biggest differences showed up between Republicans and Democrats.

Of Republicans, 74% favored opening K-12 schools for in person instruction, while only 39% of Democrats did.  Independents fell somewhat down the middle.

The poll has a 4% margin of error.

More from VPR: Public Schools Will Be Allowed To Start Using Cafeterias, Holding Sports Competitions

- Nina Keck

Former Secretary of State reflects on her personal connection to Justice Ginsburg

A former Vermont Secretary of State is reflecting on her personal connection to Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and Ginsburg's role in pivotal sex discrimination cases before she joined the Supreme Court.

Deb Markowitz was Vermont's Secretary of State for over a decade. As a Georgetown law student in the 1980s, she interviewed Ginsburg about her strategy as a litigator working to bar sex discrimination.

Markowitz told Vermont Edition Ginsburg won five of the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court.

“And so her goal was to bring easy cases, cases that just on their face seemed like they didn’t make sense, it was unfair, and slowly lead the court down the garden path,” Markowitz said.

President Bill Clinton’s staff later called Markowitz when vetting Ginsburg for her nomination to the Supreme Court in 1993.

Ginsburg died Friday.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Matthew Smith

Leahy condemns push for new Supreme Court nominee

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said the push to rapidly fill the vacancy on the U. S. Supreme Court will harm the country — regardless of how it plays out.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday from complications related to pancreatic cancer.

Leahy — who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which vets court nominees — told Vermont Edition the rush to name and possibly confirm a nominee six weeks before an election damages the courts — and the nation.

“I have never, in all my years in the Senate, seen a political spectacle made of a Supreme Court nominee like this,” Leahy said. “And I think the country is going to be damaged for years to come, no matter who is president, because of it.”

Pres. Trump has pledged to name someone to fill Ginsburg's seat by the end of the week.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Matthew Smith

Pandemic, drought put pressure on private wells

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, parts of Vermont are experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions, while the rest of the state is categorized as abnormally dry.

Ken White is president of the Vermont Groundwater Association. He said some private wells, especially shallow ones, are running dry and there's been an increased demand for well-drilling services.

“In weather like this, there's a lot of pressure on the wells … to water the lawns, water the gardens. So in a typical year, with a fair amount of rainfall, the wells don't get used as much,” White said. “The drier it is, the more we rely on the wells. And that puts more pressure on the wells.”

White says more pandemic time at home also means more water usage.

More new arrivals and second home owners spending time here have also placed increased demands on private wells. 

- Betty Smith

Vermonters appear split over the return of college students

Vermonters are split on whether it’s good idea to have college students back on campus during the pandemic.

That’s according to the latest VPR/Vermont PBS Poll.

A little less than half of the people who took part in the poll said they thought it makes sense to have colleges and universities open during the pandemic.

In total, 42% were opposed and 9% didn’t have an opinion.

Support for having students on campus varied by region. In Chittenden County, the home of University of Vermont, 58% favored the return of the students.

In Addison, Orange and Washington counties, the majority of those polled were against the idea. 

The poll has a margin of error of 4%.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman
More from VPR: Sept. 2020 VPR-Vermont PBS Poll: Gov. Scott Very Popular, Lt. Gov Race, Vaccine Eagerness Toss-ups


Burlington City Council approves buyout of city cop

The Burlington City Council approved a deal Monday night to allow a police officer to resign from the department after a month of protests calling for his firing.

Sergeant Jason Bellavance will leave the department on Oct. 5, according to the separation agreement.

Bellavance is one of the three officers who racial justice protesters wanted fired. All three were involved in high profile instances of alleged brutality, including against Black men.

Bellavance’s deal includes three years pay, which is about $300,000, and health insurance for 18 months.

City Councilor Zoraya Hightower says she hopes the resolution marks a turning point in how the city handles issues around race and policing.

“I hope that this confirms our resolve not to make those same mistakes again, to act boldly when we should have, to make sure that we are listening to the community,” Hightower said.

Mayor Miro Weinberger says he will not support separation agreements with the other two officers who protesters want fired.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

New poll shows less than half of Vermonters would be very or somewhat eager to get a COVID-19 vaccine

When Dr. Anthony Fauci joined Gov. Scott in last week’s COVID-19 press conference, a key part of his message was to reassure the public on vaccine safety. Fauci told reporters if a vaccine is approved, he would take it.

But a new VPR-Vermont PBS poll indicates less than half of Vermonters feel likewise.

The question in VPR’s recent poll was this: “When a vaccine becomes available, how eager or reticent would you be to get it as early as possible?”

Of the 604 people who took part, only 48% said they would be very or somewhat eager to take the vaccine, while 43% leaned the other way – saying they would be somewhat or very reticent.

This is concerning to health experts because to reach herd immunity, you need a large percentage of the population to be vaccinated to slow the spread of the disease.

Men were more likely to want to take the vaccine than women – 54% versus 43% – and Democrats were more eager than Republicans or Independents.

Read the full story.

- Nina Keck

57% of Vermonters polled said they would vote for Congressman Welch

The new VPR-Vermont PBS poll finds widespread support for Congressman Peter Welch as he heads into the November election.

Overall, 57% of the Vermonters who took part in the poll said they would vote for Peter Welch if the election were held today.

Only 18% supported the Republican challenger, Miriam Berry.

Full September VPR-Vermont PBS 2020 Poll Results

Welch had the strongest support in Chittenden County, where better than two-thirds of those polled said they’d vote for the Democratic candidate.

But in northern Vermont, the race is a little tighter. Just under half of the respondents favored Welch.

Even among Republicans, Welch found some support, with 18%  saying they’d vote for the incumbent Congressman.

The poll has a margin of error of 4%.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

More from VPR: Sept. 2020 VPR-Vermont PBS Poll: Gov. Scott Very Popular, Lt. Gov Race, Vaccine Eagerness Toss-ups

New poll shows broad support for a system to tax, regulate cannabis

There’s broad support among Vermonters for setting up a system to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana.

The new VPR-Vermont PBS poll found that 68% of those who were asked are in favor of a legal way to sell marijuana in Vermont.

But while support was strong, it was divided along political lines.

Some 77% of those who described themselves as Democrats or leaning toward the party supported legalizing the sale of marijuana. Among Republicans or those who leaned that way, 56% were in favor of a tax-and-regulate system.

And opinions differed with age. Nearly three-quarters of people between the ages 18 and 44 want marijuana be sold legally in Vermont.

For people older than 65, support dropped to 55%.

The poll has a margin of error of 4%  points.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

More from VPR: Sept. 2020 VPR-Vermont PBS Poll: Gov. Scott Very Popular, Lt. Gov Race, Vaccine Eagerness Toss-ups

More Vermonters would tell an 18-year-old to stay in Vermont than last year

When young Vermonters graduate high school, they face a choice: stay in the state or go elsewhere. While Vermont is known for its aging population, results from the most recent VPR-Vermont PBS poll indicate that Vermont residents think young people should stick around.

“If you were giving advice to an 18-year-old about where to build a successful life and career, would you recommend that they stay in Vermont? Or leave?”

That was one of the queries in the latest poll, and 47% of those polled said they would recommend staying in Vermont, while 36% said they wouldn’t.

One year ago, a VPR-Vermont PBS poll asked the exact same question, with near-opposite results. A year ago, a majority of respondents said they would advise an 18-year-old to leave Vermont.

The flip comes as Vermont receives national attention for its success in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, and as more remote work options become available.

- Anna Van Dine

More from VPR: Sept. 2020 VPR-Vermont PBS Poll: Gov. Scott Very Popular, Lt. Gov Race, Vaccine Eagerness Toss-ups

Pandemic appears to have boosted state pride

According to the CDC, Vermont has the lowest number of COVID-19 infections of any U.S. state. How are Vermonters feeling about this?

A majority of respondents to the latest VPR-Vermont PBS poll say the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more proud of being a Vermonter. 

Some 59% of people surveyed said their pride had increased, while 32% said the state’s response to the pandemic had no impact on their level of state pride.  The poll has a 4% margin of error.

Democrats reported more of a pride boost than Republicans. While 76% of Democrats polled said they felt increased state pride, that number was only 43% among Republicans.

A VPR-Vermont PBS poll conducted in July found that Vermonters overwhelmingly approved of how Gov. Phil Scott has been handling the pandemic.

- Anna Van Dine

More from VPR: Sept. 2020 VPR-Vermont PBS Poll: Gov. Scott Very Popular, Lt. Gov Race, Vaccine Eagerness Toss-ups

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