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Vermont News Updates For Thursday, June 11

Man works remotely, outside in Bradford
Sarah Priestap
Billy Lynn takes advantage of the picnic tables and WiFi at the park in front of the Bradford Dam in Bradford on June 10, 2020 to work remotely. Lynn moved up to his family's cabin in Bradford from Brooklyn, New York because of the pandemic.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of coronavirus, calls to cut funding from the Burlington Police Department, and more for Thursday, June 11.

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The latest coronavirus data:


Vermont Department of Health reports 16 new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health on Thursday reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 in the state, bringing the total cases confirmed to date to 1,110. Of the newly identified cases, 15 are in Chittenden County and one is in Grand Isle County.

Three people are hospitalized with confirmed cases of the disease and nine people are currently hospitalized with symptoms that suggest they may have COVID-19.

In total, 905 people are known to have recovered, and no new deaths were announced today.

The state has now tested 47,209 people, and free testing continues this week in Winooski and Burlington.

More from VPR: Protests, Indoor Dining, Out-of-State Travel: A Health And Economic Update From Vermont Officials

- Abagael Giles

Scott Administration aims to keep many state employees working from home

The Scott Administration is working on a plan to allow a significant number of state employees to continue to work at home after the current coronavirus pandemic is over.

Scott said he recognizes that some agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Labor, require person-to-person interactions.

But he's hoping that some employers in other departments will be able to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

"We're trying to continue to promote remote working opportunities, but at the same time, we know that some have to be face-to-face, so it won't be the same as before but again, we'll be doing that as we move forward here in the next couple of months," Scott said.

The DMV announced recently that it's resuming a number of services, including driver's tests.

Read the full story, from Vermont Edition, here.

- Bob Kinzel

Gov. Scott applauds NASCAR move to ban the Confederate flag

Gov. Phil Scott said a decision by NASCAR to ban the display of Confederate flags at all of its future racing events sends a powerful message to the country.

Scott, who has raced cars professionally for several decades, said the decision is important in light of the racing organization's very strong southern roots.

"It is something that is near and dear to my heart, racing, and for them to take this action in terms of banning the Confederate flag I think is a bold move, and I applaud them for doing that," Scott said. "I think we're going to see more and more entities step up and ask themselves, 'What can I do to help?'"

Some NASCAR drivers feel very differently about this issue and they've vowed to boycott the association's events until the ban is lifted.

Read the full story, from Vermont Edition, here.

- Bob Kinzel

State officials aim to move homeless individuals into long-term housing

The state hopes to soon reduce the number of homeless individuals housed in hotels and motels.

Well over 1,000 people who are homeless have been staying in hotels in Vermont since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Sherry Marcelino with Lamoille County Mental Health said she's working with people to help them find long-term housing.

"I think the overwhelming majority of them will want to locate a sustainable, permanent apartment," Marcelino said. "One of the barriers to that is there just isn't enough of them around here."

Marcelino said ultimately, some homeless individuals in Lamoille County will not be able to find housing, and others may not want something long term.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

Gov. Scott calls on lawmakers to prioritize funding for body cameras

Gov. Phil Scott is asking lawmakers to provide the funds to ensure that every member of Vermont State Police wears a body camera.

Scott said body cameras help provide transparency and accountability for law enforcement officers and he thinks using them is one of several steps that should be taken in the coming weeks.

"And whether it's hiring practices, or modernizing training, requiring body cameras, creating more of a statewide use of force policy, rather than just [doing so] individually, I think all those are important," Scott said Thursday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently  looking at many of these issues.

Read the full story, from Vermont Edition, here.

- Bob Kinzel

Gov. Scott says he's confident schools can reopen safely

Gov. Phil Scott said a decision to reopen Vermont schools this fall was made, in part, to provide clarity to parents, students, teachers and school administrators.

Scott said he believes the schools can reopen safely with a number of health guidelines in place, including daily temperature checks for all students and requiring staff to wear masks.

"In announcing the school reopenings, it was like putting a stake in the ground, a goal, that we made the decision that we're going to have to get back to some sort of normalcy, a new normal, in some respects, and we recognize - I recognize - that this is a big step."

The head of the state teachers union, Don Tinney, called the governor's announcement "unfortunate." He said many safety issues haven't been resolved.

Read the full story, from Vermont Edition, here.

- Bob Kinzel

Northern Vermont University announces 'accelerated semester'

Northern Vermont University said it will hold what it calls an "accelerated semester" of in-person classes on its campus this fall.

NVU is the latest school to roll out plans for a condensed fall semester at its Johnson and Lyndon campuses.

The university will welcome students back to campus in mid-August and start classes a week earlier than usual.

There won't be any breaks throughout the semester in order to minimize the time students spend away from school and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Students will leave campus for Thanksgiving and take final exams from home the following week.

And students are being told to plan to be off campus from November 21 until the spring semester starts in mid-January.

- Amy Kolb Noyes

Hunger relief groups ask for $38 million in federal COVID aid

Hunger relief groups are asking state lawmakers for $38 million in federal aid to fight rising food insecurity due to the coronavirus.

The Vermont Foodbank said federal data show an additional 70,000 Vermonters are food insecure due to the pandemic.

Foodbank CEO John Sayles told Vermont Edition that food budgets get squeezed when people are out of work, but the pandemic is also spiking food insecurity among those still working.

"We have thousands of people - tens of thousands - who work and still can't bring all those pieces together. You know, the wages are too low, they can't get enough hours," Sayles said. "It's lots of working families that are struggling."

The $38 million request includes money for overburdened programs and food distribution as well as funds to expand 3SquaresVermont.

Listen to the full conversation, here.

- Matthew Smith

Senate Agriculture Committee aims to allocate $30 million in aid to farmers

Lawmakers are drafting legislation to steer $30 million to dairy farmers and other producers hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has worked on the bill for almost a month. Chairman Bobby Starr said all sectors of the farm economy are hurting, with dairy farmers seeing a 40% drop in milk prices since March. Starr said smaller farms have been especially hard hit.

"The bulk of the money is going to small dairy and small agriculture producers to protect them," Starr said. "What we learned is last month, the month of May, we lost 14 or 15 small operators, so they're really taking it on the chin."

The bill also sets aside $7 million for non-dairy farmers, such as beef producers and vegetable growers. The legislation requires farmers to document their losses before getting any money.

- John Dillon

For a timeline outlining Vermont's response to COVID-19, head here.

Vermont mayors call for federal COVID-19 aid, Act 250 reform

Vermont's mayors say their cities will need state and federal aid to backfill revenue losses due to COVID-19.

Barre City mayor Lucas Herring said municipalities are facing significant budget shortfalls this year and next.

"As with many in the private sector, municipalities have experienced a loss in revenue as well," Herring said. "This includes the delayed tax payments, waived fees and penalties, lost revenue in local options and in some areas, marina fees and other types of fees we collect individually."

The Vermony Mayors Coalition said it's lobbying federal lawmakers for another COVID relief bill from Congress.

The coalition is also asking state lawmakers to steer as much federal aid as possible to local governments. 

Th coalition also says lawmakers can speed up the state's economic recovery by easing the permitting process for commercial and residential development.

The mayors of six Vermont cities said the Act 250 process is slowing down development projects.

Paul Monette, mayor of Newport City said, "I think it's especially critical during this economic recovery to make it easier and to streamline the whole process so that we can urge development to start up once again, now that things are reopening."

Mayors said the cities can use their own local zoning boards to vet proposed projects, and they're asking for an exemption from the Act 250 process in designated downtown districts.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Senate President calls for criminal justice reform package

The leader of the Vermont Senate wants swift action on a criminal justice reform package that makes police more accountable and sets a statewide policy for the use of deadly force.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe urged the Judiciary Committee Thursday morning to make criminal justice reform a top priority. He said senators need to act now, even if law enforcement or prosecutors want more time.

"I do believe that we can adopt a policy now, and let those same stakeholders come back in August or beyond with suggested modifications, essentially treating it like an emergency," Ashe said.

There's been a nationwide call for reform after the death of George Floyd, for which four Minneapolis officers face murder charges.

The Senate bill would cut off certain state grants to communities that do not provide racial data from traffic stops.

Ashe wants the Legislature to also pass a deadly force policy, ban chokeholds by police and mandate the use of body cameras by all state police officers.

- John Dillon

Rutland's Paramount Theatre to reorganize its leadership

Rutland's Paramount Theatre, the city's premiere downtown performance space, has announced it's reorganizing its leadership team.

Eric Mallette started working at the Paramount Theatre as a college intern and for more than a decade has been in charge of programming. On July 1, the 34-year-old will become Interim Executive Director.

Meanwhile, Bruce Bouchard, who has been leading the Rutland landmark since 2008, will step down to focus on fundraising.

The 71-year-old Bouchard said he'd been thinking about retiring for a while, but decided to stay on when Mallette suggested the role change.

Theaters everywhere are struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bouchard said innovative programming that Mallette has come up with - like planned drive-in movies and fireworks - along with creative fundraising will be key to the Paramount's future.

- Nina Keck

The Department of Corrections has now tested all Vermont prisons for COVID-19

The Department of Corrections said it has finished mass COVID-19 testing in all of its facilities.

Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield has no cases. The state performed 336 inmate tests and another 181 staff tests.

Southern State was the sixth and final DOC facility to have all staff and inmates tested. Northwest State Correctional Facility in Franklin County is the only facility to have any positive inmate tests so far.

- Mark Davis

Bill to facilitate voting by mail advances in the Vermont House

A bill that would pave the way for Vermont's first mail-in election to be held in November advanced Wednesday in the Vermont House.

Seven Daysreports that lawmakers rejected concerns that such a move would lead to voter fraud, stressing that mail-in voting would keep voters and poll workers safe in the event that COVID-19 made a fall resurgence.

The bill has already passed in the Senate. It will need a final vote Friday to be sent to the governor's desk.

- Sam Gale Rosen

New York Legislature passes law to allow independent investigations into deaths in police custody

The New York state legislature has passed a law to allow the attorney general to investigate and prosecute when an individual dies following an encounter with a police officer.

The bill strengthens and makes permanent Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2015 executive order that authorized a special prosecutor to investigate the deaths of unarmed people killed by police.

It's the latest legislation passed by the Democratic-led legislature in response to an uproar of calls for police brutality accountability in New York and across the nation in the wake of George Floyd's death. Cuomo has said he'll sign the bills.

- The Associated Press

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