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Vermont News Updates For Thursday, September 10

Staff member sanitizes playground equipment at Milton Elementary
Abagael Giles
VPR File
At Milton Elementary School, a staff member sanitizes playground equipment as students arrive for the first day of school on Sept. 8.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, Vermont's vote-by-mail preparations for the General Election and more for Thursday, September 10.

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The latest coronavirus data:


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

The Vermont Department of Health reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases detected so far in Vermont to 1,661. One case was detected in Chittenden County, one in Washington County and one in Lamoille County.

The state reports it has now tested 147,306 people for active cases of the disease, and is monitoring 59 people as close contacts of confirmed cases. To date, 58 people have died. No new deaths were announced Thursday, and one person is hospitalized with a confirmed case of the disease.

- Abagael Giles

Killington to open to passholders November 14

Killington resort plans to open November 14 for skiing and riding – but this season will be different.

In a press release, Killington President Mike Solimano said, weather permitting, the resort will initially open for season passholders only, to assess operations and capacity limits.

Chair lifts and gondolas will be filled to allow for physical distancing – and base lodges – which will only be open for skiers and riders – will act more as warming huts with limited grab and go food.

Portable outdoor toilets will be added.

Solimano said the resort will implement an online parking reservation system for all guests to track and manage volume – and day tickets must be purchased in advance.

Early season uphill skinning will not be allowed

Solimano said the resort also plans to launch a new app this season that will allow skiers and riders to get real time trail status and lift wait times and a text feature that will enable direct communications between the resort and guests.

Pico Mountain is slated to open December 19.

- Nina Keck

Burlington to sue BTC Mall Associates over stalled mall reconstruction

The city of Burlington is suing the developers of a long-stalled mall reconstruction projection in the heart of downtown.

The city alleges BTC Mall Associates, the developers, broke repeated promises to get the project built and make public improvements that were part of the original redevelopment plan.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said now the city is demanding the developers start the public improvements, like reconnecting two streets — and cover the costs.

“They have taken steps to unwind this agreement; they don’t get to do that unilaterally. We’re going to do everything we can to hold them to those promises they’ve made to the people of Burlington and I think that’s what the people of Burlington expect the mayor to do,” Weinberger said.

Developer Don Sinex said in an email the lawsuit was “without merit” because he had terminated the development agreement between his company and the city.

In court filing, the city argued that Sinex can’t end that agreement.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Rutland restaurant teams up with Vermont artists to entice diners

Restaurant owners across Vermont are grappling with how to stay in business as the weather gets colder and indoor seating is limited.

Donald Billings, who owns Roots in downtown Rutland is trying an experiment.

Using what had empty space next to his regular restaurant, Billings will be able to seat up to 50 people safely.  But with no crowded bar to provide atmosphere, he plans to pay artists – two at a time – to make art during dinner in the new space.

"It will create conversation amongst guests,” he said. “You’re going to be like, ‘Hey lets go check it out. Let's go see what's going on. Let's go see if that person got that mural done, ‘cause I really want to know what they were going to do.’ Creating the energy and giving people something different to go check out.”

Artists from Burlington, Middlebury, Castleton and Brandon have signed up for a for a four-week trial run beginning September 22.

Read the full story.

- Nina Keck


Vermont House debates next year's state budget

The Vermont House debated next year's state budget on Thursday, a spending plan that relies heavily on about $850 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.

Danville Democrat Kitty Toll chairs the Appropriations Committee. She told her colleagues the budget is balanced, and does not cut essential social service programs.

“This budget makes important investments for our communities and local business, and supports our education system from pre-k to 12, [and for] all our colleges and universities, providing educational opportunities that can be found in in every corner of our state,” Toll said.

The budget includes about $24 million dollars in bridge funding for the state college system. College officials say the system needs the money to stabilize operations while they look at restructuring.

- John Dillon


New climate bill would allow citizens to sue the state over accountability

A bill passed by the Vermont House this week would allow residents to sue the state if it does not meet its carbon emission reduction goals.

The bill would create a council in state government which would create a plan for the state to reduce emissions. Representative Sarah Copeland Hanzas of Bradford co-sponsored the bill.

She said if the state is sued, the only action that could be taken to resolve the suit would be for the council to re-examine its plan.

"So the question is, you know, did we meet our reduction targets? If the answer is no, then the remedy is go back to the drawing board and write a better plan," Hanzas said.

The bill passed the House on Wednesday. It now heads to Gov. Phil Scott.

Scott has signaled he may veto it, but both the House and Senate passed the bill with veto-proof majorities.

- Henry Epp

About one-third of Vermont's rent relief program has been doled out

About a third of Vermont’s $25 million dollar rent relief program has been doled out since the program launched in July.

Roughly $7 million dollars in back rent has been claimed by nearly 1,000 landlords, affecting an estimated 2,000 families.

Jean Murray— an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid— told Vermont Edition that keeping people housed amid the ongoing pandemic is the priority.

“This program is critical in preventing more homelessness,” Murray said. “Keeping people where they are, and paying the rent so they can stay where they are, is really important. And this program is really vital for that reason.”

The remaining $18 million dollars in the rental stabilization fund has to be claimed by the end of the year.

Murray said anyone who is struggling should apply.

“Talk with the landlord about your financial situation. I know that is scary for people, because they are afraid if they reveal that their finances are precarious that the landlord might dislike them, but this is a pandemic, a lot of people’s finances are precarious,” Murray said.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Matthew Smith

Zuckerman differentiates himself from Scott on COVID-19 response

Vermont public schools opened Tuesday for the start of the fall school year. Some opened for in-person learning, some for remote learning and most for a hybrid of both.

David Zuckerman, the Democratic and Progressive nominee for governor and current lieutenant governor, told Vermont Edition that he would have reopened schools differently than the Scott Administration did.

“When the conversation was clear that there was likely to be another rise in COVID cases in the fall as we get into the colder season, maybe we could have declared September outdoor education month and said: before we go indoors in our schools, let's facilitate outdoor education,” Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman said this also would have given the state time to learn from other states' reopening plans.

Listen to the full interview on Vermont Edition.

- Emily Aiken

Secretary of Education says shortage of subs will be a challenge

Education Secretary Dan French says it's likely that there are not enough substitute teachers to step in when teachers get sick this year, and suggests that schools might have to shift to remote learning in those cases.

When asked if there were sufficient subs in the system, French said that the issue predates the pandemic.

“There were not enough subs before the COVID emergency. Once again, I think the hybrid learning, remote learning does provide some flexibility and that might be an option where districts can utilize staff working from home to support the learning of students,” French said. “But it's going to be a challenge, I think as we go forward, for sure.”

French said that teachers and staff were returning to in-person instruction with a mix of enthusiasm and anxiety.

Listen to the full story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Dartmouth quarantines 23 Tuck students following dorm party

Dartmouth College has quarantined at least 23 Tuck School of Business students after they attended a party at a dormitory.

In an email to the community, Tuck Dean Matthew Slaughter said that Dartmouth Safety and Security officers discovered the social gathering on Friday night which was "in significant violation of multiple Dartmouth and Hanover public-health requirements.”  That's according The Valley News.

The students will go through a 14-day quarantine and additional testing, and there will be a review to determine whether they will face disciplinary measures.

- Sam Gale Rosen

Teachers union raises concerns about dearth of substitutes

As students return to school this week, the president of Vermont's teacher's union says that a lack of substitute teachers could be a problem during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vermont NEA president Don Tinney said that there was a shortage of substitutes even before the pandemic.

“It's going to be a real challenge now because our educators cannot go into work if they're running a fever, or have any symptoms,” Tinney said. “It's their responsibility to stay home until it's determined that they don't have the virus. So we're going to have a greater need for substitutes at a time when we have a shortage of substitutes.”

Tinney said schools are also facing shortages of nurses and bus drivers.

Read or listen to the whole story.

- Sam Gale Rosen

VPR and Vermont PBS to merge

Vermont PBS and VPR have announced that they will merge. If approved by regulators, the merger would create the state's largest and most well-funded non-profit media organization. But organization leaders say they still hope for strong donor support as they fundraise.

After combining, the new organization would have about $80 million dollars in assets, including property and equipment.

Marguerite Dibble, chair of the Vermont PBS board, said those assets help weather hard times. Dibble added that people contribute in part to gain accountability from the organizations.

“I believe in that shared connection to the public. I believe in maintaining that sense of ownership that I have as an individual who is served by these stations,” she said. “And I think that through that public ownership is how we’re really able to build the continued trust and continued mission of service between the organizations.”

The merger requires approval from the Federal Communications Commission. It's expected to be finalized in July 2021.

Hear more from VPR’s President onVermont Edition.

- John Dillon

Federal lawsuit challenges Vermont's vote-by-mail initiative

A new lawsuit is challenging the constitutionality of Vermont’s plan to conduct the 2020 election with universal mail-in ballots.

Robert Frenier is one of the plaintiffs in the case. He said sending ballots to every registered voter in the state is bound to result in errors.

“There’s no question that there’s going to be ballots floating around addressed to people that are either dead, no longer living there, or just to the wrong address,” Frenier said.

The lawsuit alleges that bad actors will use those ballots to cast votes fraudulently.

Secretary of State Jim Condos said Vermont’s voter checklist is one of the best maintained in the country.

And he said numerous studies into vote-by-mail systems in other states have found that voter fraud is exceedingly rare

Read the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Vermont House approves climate change legislation

By a roughly two-to-one margin, the Vermont House has given its approval to legislation that supporters say will significantly reduce carbon emissions in the coming decades.

The legislation calls for a 26% reduction in emissions by 2025 and an 80% reduction by 2050.

It creates a special climate commission to recommend how to achieve these goals.

The bill also allows citizens to sue the state if the goals aren't met.

Opponents expressed concern that the plan would hurt the Vermont economy, but Manchester Representative Kathleen James said the opposite was true.

"We will transition our economy away from its reliance on imported fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy sources, building the resilient, sustainable and fast-growing economy of the future," she said.

The Senate will consider the bill next week. If it passes the Senate, it faces a possible veto from Gov. Phil Scott.

- Bob Kinzel

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