News Roundup: Vermont Dept. Of Health Reports 82 New COVID-19 Cases
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Tuesday, Sept. 28.
1. Vermont Dept. of Health reports 82 new COVID-19 cases
The health department reported 82 new COVID-19 infections today [Tuesday], only the second time this month Vermont had fewer than 100 cases per day.
Health officials also reported that three more Vermonters have died from COVID-19. Pandemic-linked deaths in the state now total 313.
Hospitalizations from the virus jumped to 44. Twelve people are in intensive care.
The rate of eligible Vermonters with at least one vaccine dose now stands at 87.8%.
— Matthew Smith
2. New England employees of Planned Parenthood ratify union contract
Planned Parenthood employees across the three northern New England states have ratified a union contract for the first time.
The contract covers nearly 100 Planned Parenthood employees in Vermont, and about 40 employees each in Maine and New Hampshire.
It ensures that the minimum wage at Planned Parenthood will rise from $15 an hour to $17.50 an hour. In addition to the wage boost, union leaders say they also made progress on their priorities around diversity, equity and inclusion, and made changes to the organization's employee discipline policies.
In a statement, a Planned Parenthood vice president says the organization sees the contract as "beneficial for us all."
— Henry Epp
3. Vermont Dairy Taskforce to present recommended actions to state Legislature
As part of an ongoing effort to help the state's dairy industry, Vermont’s dairy task force is preparing a list of recommendations to present to the state Legislature early next year.
Improving milk pricing through a formal hearing process is one suggestion the body received Monday.
Catherine de Ronde is vice president of economics and legislative affairs for the dairy co-op, Agr-imark.
She says Congress adjusted the milk pricing formula in 2019. a change that cost farmers $700 million nationwide when the federal pandemic food box program bought up a bunch of cheese.
To avoid unintended consequences like this moving forward, de Ronde says an official federal rulemaking process could help.
“What I like about the formal process is that it takes every perspective into account … whether that be the farmer or that be the consumer,” de Ronde said.
Farmers who lost money as a result of the food box program were recently offered federal payments to make up for the cost.
— Elodie Reed
4. Ski industry faces housing crunch, worker shortage after difficult season
With travel restrictions loosened, many in the ski industry are banking on the upcoming season.
But a housing crunch and worker shortage – problems that have been simmering for years – have worsened thanks to the pandemic.
Killington, Okemo, Mount Snow, Sugarbush and Stowe have all raised their base pay to $15 an hour.
And Molly Mahar, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, says many resorts will rely on cross training even for salaried employees.
“Say you work in accounting, or in the marketing department, you might be trained to fit ski boots at the rental shop, and then you might go to the cafeteria and scoop soup or make sandwiches or run a cash register,” Mahar said.
She says resorts have also invested in more automation for things like ticket sales, and may have to limit some services.
— Nina Keck
5. Possibility of government shutdown looms
Congressman Peter Welch says he's concerned that the federal government could be forced to shutdown on Friday.
This would happen if Congress fails to pass an emergency budget bill to authorize government spending for the next few months.
Republican leaders have threatened not to support the legislation over concerns about raising the nation's debt limit.
Welch says traditionally these disagreements are worked out, but he's worried that this year could be different.
"But we've got a different set of folks down here now who actually I think have the appetite to bring government to its knees regardless of the consequences, so it's a much more dangerous situation, as I see it, than we've been in the past," Welch said.
Welch says it's possible Congress could pass a one-week extension of the spending plan to give negotiators more time to seek a compromise on these issues.
— Bob Kinzel
6. Christian legal group pushes for public school districts to be able to pay tuition at private schools
A Christian legal group is continuing to push for public school districts to pay for education at religious schools.
For more than 20 years, religious schools were left out of school choice. That was until a federal appeals court ruled in June that three Vermont school districts had to pay tuition to religious schools
The Alliance Defending Freedom litigated the case on behalf of four students who wanted to attend Rice Memorial High School — a private Catholic school — and the Catholic Diocese of Burlington.
Just last Tuesday, attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion in federal district court, because they want a definitive ruling to ensure Vermont students can get public school districts to pay students’ tuition at religious schools.
— Anna Van Dine
7. Pres. Biden nominates Nikolas Kerest to run U.S. Attorney's Office in Vermont
President Joe Biden is nominating nine lawyers to run U.S. attorney's offices across the country, including Vermont.
The nominations were announced by the White House Tuesday.
Nikolas Kerest, a longtime federal prosecutor in the state, has been nominated to run the Vermont office.
He's previously been the chief of the Civil Division in the U.S. attorney’s office, and its civil rights coordinator.
Among Biden's nominees are several historic firsts, including the first Black female attorneys to lead districts in North Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
— The Associated Press
Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.