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Vermont News Updates For Monday, August 24

Sign advertising coffee house on Westford Green
Abagael Giles
In Westford, folks used to connect regularly over hot beverages, cards and board games at an open mic and jam session at the Red Brick Meeting House. This summer, they've shifted their ongoing gatherings to the gazebo on the village green.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, a new report from the state auditor and more for Monday, August 24.

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The latest coronavirus data:


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

The Vermont Department of Health reported nine new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total number of cases detected so far in the state to 1,566.

Three people are currently hospitalized with active cases of the disease, and eight people are hospitalized with symptoms under investigation.

No new deaths were announced Monday, though 58 people have died so far.

The Department of Health reports it has so far tested 121,390 people for active cases of the new coronavirus. Currently, 42 people are being monitored as close contacts of confirmed cases.

Of the new cases reported today, two were identified in Chittenden County, one in Franklin County, three in Windham County, two in Rutland County and one in Washington County.

- Abagael Giles

Analysis of Vermont traffic stop data shows dramatic racial disparities

A new analysis of traffic stop data from eight Vermont police agencies shows that Black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be pulled over than white drivers.

Stephanie Seguino is the University of Vermont professor who conducted the research. She said the data show that Black and Hispanic drivers are also more likely to have their cars searched by police.

“And so what we see is not only continued disparities in some agencies, but actually wider disparities than existed even three years ago,” Seguino said.

Seguino said in Colchester, Black drivers are five times more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers.

In Brattleboro, Black drivers are nine times more likely than white drivers to have their cars searched by police.

- Peter Hirschfeld


Congressman Welch calls for independent review of Post Office

Congressman Peter Welch is calling for an independent review of the Post Office to be certain that the Department doesn't undermine mail-in-voting for the November presidential election.

Welch said the review is needed because Postmaster General Louis DeJoy can't be trusted to ensure the timely delivery of ballots.

“He's saying the right thing at this point because there was such a backlash to those detrimental changes, but I think we have to monitor this very carefully,” Welch said. “Because mail-in-voting this year for Republicans and Democrats is extremely important in the COVID environment and it's under fierce attack by President Trump, who claims it's fraudulent."  

Welch says either the Government Accounting Office or the Inspector General's office should oversee any proposed changes at the Post Office.

- Bob Kinzel

86 instructors, staff in Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union seek leave of absence or to work remotely

Eighty-six teachers, staff and para-educators from the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union have applied for a leave of absence or permission to work remotely when schools reopen September 8.

According to the Bennington Banner, SVSU Superintendent James Culkeen said, “There will be a priority to allow remote work, but in some positions it may not be possible and they may have to take a leave of absence.”  

SVSU has approximately 650 staff members throughout the district.

- Karen Anderson  

Dartmouth's Justin Mankin to co-lead new national drought taskforce

As climate change advances, droughts are expected to become more frequent.

And for the next three years, a group of scholars from around the country will work together as the National Drought Task Force.

Their chief objective will be to find better ways of predicting where and when drought conditions will occur.

One of the group's co-leaders is Dartmouth's Justin Mankin.

“If we can have a better estimation of what water availability is going to look like, individual decision makers can embrace strategies to diversify risk or to reduce the risk where they can,” Mankin said.

The Task Force will report to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which directs the National Weather Service. 

- Betty Smith


State auditor questions the legality of state incentive payments

Vermont's auditor is questioning the legality of a deal made last year to award a California-based semiconductor company of up to $5.3 million in state incentive payments.

Last October, a state board granted a job creation incentive to the company Marvell, shortly after it bought a subsidiary of GlobalFoundries with operations in Vermont. Days later, Marvell laid off nearly 80 of its roughly 300 workers in Essex Junction.

In a report released today, Auditor Doug Hoffer said state officials made the deal in an attempt to keep Marvell from moving its operations out-of-state, without evidence that the company had plans to do so. Hoffer said that goes against the intent of the incentive program.

"This program is about growth, not job retention," Hoffer said. "That's the problem."

The head of the board that oversees the program said Hoffer is raising "serious allegations" without "clear evidence," but did not offer specific rebuttals.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

Scott calls on Legislature to pass new COVID relief

When lawmakers return to work this week, they have a number of bills they'd like to pass, including a tax and regulate system for marijuana sales.

Gov. Phil Scott says they can debate what they want, but he hopes their main focus is on the budget and a new COVID relief package aimed at helping businesses.

“I'd ask them to prioritize the COVID related issues that we're facing. That seems to be from my perspective, the highest-priority,” Scott said.

Legislative leaders say the session could last through the month of September

- John Dillon

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