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Vermont News Updates For Tuesday, June 23

Sign reading Racial Justice in a flower bed
Abagael Giles
In Shelburne, a sign calling for racial justice sat in the flowerbed at one of a house near the village center on June 19.

Vermont reporters provide a round-up of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and more for Tuesday, June 23.

Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 20 minutes with The Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

The latest coronavirus data:


Vermont Department of Health reports just one new case of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health on Tuesday reported just one new case of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases identified to date in the state to 1,164. The new case was identified in Addison County.

Two people are currently hospitalized with confirmed cases, and 17 people are hospitalized under investigation for suspected cases of COVID-19.

To date, 56 people have died after contracting the illness, and 927 people have recovered from confirmed cases in Vermont.

The Vermont Department of Health reports it has tested 59,328 people for the new coronavirus so far.

- Abagael Giles

Vermont State Police seek help identifying body found in Middlesex

The Vermont State Police is asking for the public's help in identifying the body of a woman found in the Winooski River in Middlesex last week.

Police say she was White, between 30 and 50 years old, five-feet-three-inches tall and a little over 200 pounds.

She had several tattoos, including the names "Sue" and "Patty" on her left forearm.

Police said it is unclear how long she has been deceased. They ask anyone with information to call the state police's Middlesex barracks.

- Henry Epp

Groundwater to be tested for toxic chemicals in Pownal

More testing will be done around a former town landfill in Pownal after potentially toxic chemicals were found in standing water, as well as shallow groundwater.

The Bennington Banner reports that the town found out two years ago that the West Landfill was inadequately lined and covered when it was closed in the 1980s. An assessment showed that some of the buried materials had started to leak into groundwater and move away from the site.

A state officials said the next testing of groundwater will include drinking water samples. About a dozen private wells in the area are being considered for testing.

- Henry Epp

New visa restrictions from Trump Administration will impact Vermont businesses

Immigration experts say new visa restrictions from the Trump Administration will have a "definite" impact on Vermont businesses.

Pres. Trump's executive order Monday freezes green cards for new immigrants and suspends work visas like the H1A Visa, often used by tech workers.

The administration said the order is to stem job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Burlington immigration attorney Leslie Holman told Vermont Edition the order will affect Vermont workers and employers.

"What it has done is, it's creating a level of uncertainty. You know, we're in a period where employers are trying to figure out how to move forward. Yo've got to retool, you've got to retrain... it's going to be a crazy time," Holman said.

She said the new order won't apply to Canadians, who are usually visa exempt.

The order does not apply to H2A agricultural workers, about 500 of whom work on Vermont farms every year.

- Matthew Smith

Vermont DACA recipient weighs in on what the Supreme Court decision means to him

A recent Supreme Court decision preserving the DACA program is giving recipients in Vermont more time to plan for their future - even if that future remains uncertain.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program allowed thousands brouht to the United States as kids to live, work and study in the country without fearing deportation.

The Supreme Court rejected the way the government ended DACA, but noted the program could be shuttered another way.  

Juan Conde was brought to the United States when he was nine. He's now a University of Vermont medical student and a DACA recipient.

Conde told Vermont Edition that, despite the ruling, many in the program face an unknown future.

"Stability and certainty have never been provided to us. We've always had this uncertainty, and that hasn't stopped us," Conde said.

He said he wants Congress to pass immigration reform.

Listen to the full episode.

- Matthew Smith

Comm. of Public Safety objects to body camera requirement for state police

Vermont's Commissioner of Public Safety said he's on the verge of acquiring body cameras for Vermont State Police.

But he's balking at new legislation that would make them a requirement.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said state police may have to pay more for the devices if prospective sellers know the state has a legal obligation to purchase them.

"It actually may have deleterious effects on our ability to negotiate with a vendor or vendors," Schirling said. "It kind of boxes us in."

Schirling has other concerns about the bill as well. Legislation passed by the Vermont Senate on Tuesday would require police to activate their body cameras while on duty.

But Schirling said it's unconstitutional for police to record footage inside people's homes without their consent.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont Senate approves legislation that would ban police use of chokeholds

The alleged murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month has prompted Senate lawmkers to fast-track policing reforms in Vermont.

Legislation approved by the Vermont Senate on Tuesday would make it illegal for police to use chokeholds under any circumstance.

But Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Schirling is asking House Lawmkaers to carve out an exception.

Schirling said police officers should be able to resort to neck restraints if lethal force is warranted, and they're in an environment where they're unable to use a firearm.

"A neck restraint in that particular circumstance would be a valid tactic," Schirling said.

Schirling said Vermont State Police already prohibit the use of chokeholds or neck restraints to subdue people in situations that do not merit lethal force.

But some police reform advocates say the Legislature is moving too quickly.

Etan Nasreddin-Longo chairs a panel that spent months studying racial disparities in the criminal justice system in Vermont.

"There's a good sense from many people that this is all going so quickly that no one other than the Legislature can have a handle on what is really taking place," Nasreddin-Longo said.

Nasreddin-Longo said that members of communities affected by racism in Vermont haven't had an opportunity to weigh in.

The Senate legislation would also create a new use-of-force policy for all law enforcement agencies in Vermont.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Anti-hunger advocates criticize USDA plan to feed those impacted by COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended a program designed to feed people affected by the coronavirus. But anti-hunger advocates say the program is more geared towards helping farmers than the hungry.

The farmer foodbox program provides fresh milk, cheese, produce and pre-cooked chicken at distribution events held around Vermont.

John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Foodbank, said the program is an inefficient way to feed people.

"Mass food distribution is logistically challenging; it's expensive, people get what they get," Sayles said. "You don't get to choose what's the right food. It's not culturally appropriate. It's not appropriate to medical conditions people may have."

The Abbey Group, a food services company based in Franklin County, has won most of the $8.5 million contract to supply the boxes of food.

Nina Hansen, senior vice president for the Abbey Group, said the next round of distribution events will be more widely dispersed.

"So the next phase, the distributions are going to be smaller, so smaller trucks going to smaller installations, like food shelves that would never be able to take more than 25 cases of something, so I think there will be deeper penetration across the state," Hansen said.

She said the boxes include local produce, cheese and milk, and frozen chicekn from a company in Wisconson.

- John Dillon

Springfield Hospital asks bankruptcy court for more time to file reorganization plan

Springfield Hospital said it needs more time to put together a reorganization plan as it tries to emerge from bankruptcy.

The hospital, which lost $9 million last year, was supports to file a plan with the bankruptcy court by the end of the month.

Interim CEO Mike Halstead originally said Springfield would have to partner with another hospital to survive.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that plan. The hospital is now trying to come up with a stand-alone option.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

City of Winooski doubles down on translation services, COVID-19 outreach

Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced at a press conference Monday that the Winooski and Burlington COVID-19 outbreak total case count stands at 110 people; 65% of whom are adults and 35% of whom are children.

Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott told Vermont Edition on Monday that the city is working on clear communications with residents about the virus - through translation services, but also effective communication strategies.

"You know, hearing, 'I need to quarantine,' might not make sense to you. You might not know what that means. So we really need to be cognizant of the language that we're using being accessible, having multiple languages accessible to us, but also having a consistent message," Lott said.

Lott said the city is working with community partners to make health and safety precautions accessible to everyone.

- Emily Aiken

More from VPR: 'We Don't Not Pick Up The Phone': Working As A Community Liaison In A Pandemic

Northfield sock maker to eliminate nearly 50 jobs

Darn Tough Vermont, the Northfield-based sock maker, is eliminating nearly 50 jobs.

The company notified employees of the job cuts in a letter mailed on June 19 and told customers in a Facebook post Monday.

VTDigger reportsthat before the cuts, Darn Tough employed about 330 people in Northfield and Waterbury. The company sent home most employees in March. It has now brought back about half of its workforce, but was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and will not meet its 2020 financial projections.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Welch backs efforts to reduce distribution of military equipment to local law enforcemen

Congressman Peter Welch is backing efforts to sharply reduce the amount of military equipment that the Defense Department sends to local law enforcement organizations.

Welch said the Pentagon, in recent years, has distributed equipment that Welch said isn't well-suited to local policing.

"Military equipment has been transferred to many police departments around the country, and it puts the police officers in equipment and vehicles where [it] feels much more like an occupying force than the local police officer who is a member of the community and part of the community," Welch said.

Welch's plan to limit the accessibility of military equipment is part of legislation that also includes a second federal stimulus package. It has passed the House and is now being considered in the Senate.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont Senate stalls again on Act 250 review

The Vermont Senate has once again stalled action on legislation that would ease Act 250 development review in designated downtowns.

The Senate voted Monday to table the bill, just before hearing a series of controversial amendments that would have added additional review for projects in un-fragmented forests. But Windsor County Senator Dick McCormack spoke against the downtown provision as well. He said Act 250 has served the state well for the last 50 years, and should not be weakened in the name of compromise.

"My guess was that the ink was not yet dry on Act 250 when someone said, 'Act 250's reat, but we need a balance, we need a compromise," McCormack said.

It's not clear when - or if - the Act 250 bill will come up again. The Senate has set a Friday deadline for work on all but non-COVID related bills before it adjourns for an August recess.

- John Dillon

Statewide plastic bag ban to proceed

Vermont is moving ahead with its ban on single-use plastic bags on July 1, while some other states postponed theirs out of fears of spreading the coronavirus with reusable bags.

The state said reusable bags can be used safely and are not any more of a risk than other surfaces that customers and employees come into contact with.

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker has banned shoppers from bringing in reusable bags and also lifted the ban on plastic bags during the pandemic. Maine has postponed its ban, and New Hamsphire Gov. Chris Sununu said the state was not ready to return to reusable bags.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Hardwick to receive grant to clean up former Greensboro Garage site

The town of Hardwick is getting a $36,000 grant to help clean up the site of the former Greensboro Garage.

The site is due to become home to the Yellow Barn Business Accelerator, an $8.6 million project that is expected to create approximately 50 jobs. For more than 30 years, the property served as an auto repair and body shop. This brownfield funding will help clean the soil in tandem with the construction of the business accelerator.

Hardwick Town Manager Shaun Fielder said the grant is an important factor in keeping the project budget and implemenation schedule on target.

- The Associated Press

Towns can proceed with drive-in July Fourth fireworks displays

Vermont towns can proceed with July Fourth fireworks displays.

But Sec. of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle said they'll have to follow strict COVID-19 health guidelines.

"Town-organized fireworks celebrations, if done as a drive-in event with people in their cars and properly distanced, can happen," Kurrle said.

Kurrle said Killington and Fairfax are planning to proceed with drive-in fireworks events next month.

Many Vermont municipalities, including Burlington, have already canceled their annual Fourth of July events.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Want or have to travel this summer? Travel agents recommend some research

The CDC is still recommending people avoid all non-essential travel, but with restrictions easing in many parts of the country, travel agents are fielding more questions about summer road trips.

Dan Goodman of Triple-A Northern New England said anyone thinking of driving across state lines this summer needs to do their homework.

"Educate yourself on what's going on along the road, in your specific destination," Goodman said. "What's open? What's closed? You know, check the places you're visiting, [with] state and local authorities, [the] CDC, State Department."

Because restrictions vary state by state, Goodman also recommends packing plenty of disinfectant wipes and extra snacks, because roadside restaurants may be closed or may only offer limited seating. Most hotels have eliminated breakfast buffets.

Read the full story.

- Nina Keck

Rutland adapts its downtown to expand outdoor dining

Center Street in downtown Rutland is getting a summer makeover to help restaurants and bars hurt by COVID-19.

The city is narrowing and slowing traffic, pushing out parking spaces and adding curbside decking.

Steve Peters of the Downtown Rutland Partnership said they're also adding decorative planters with trees and flowers.

"We kind of have a couple of goals with this. One is to help the businesses that need the additional space right now, but also to think long-term and big picture of what a transformation of the street could look like with more space for pedestrians and for it to be an attraction," Peters said.

Brennan Duffy, head of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, said two-way traffic will remain, but lanes are being narrowed, parking spaces moved out and small decks installed in what had been parking spaces.

"To really create a nice, vibrant little area there in the center of downtown for people to come and be able to have time outdoors and eat dinner at some of these restaurants and have a beer," Duffy said. "You know, the kind of things that we're all used to doing during the summer that have been really challenged by the COVID-19 crisis items."

A half dozen businesses will benefit.

The work is expected to be completed by July 4. If successful, the redesign may become permanent.

- Nina Keck

More from VPR: Closes Some Street Parking To Help Restaurants Through Pandemic

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