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Gov. Scott Vetoes Act 250 Bill And 5 Other Key Takeaways

Masked greenhouse worker sets out potted mums on a rack
Elodie Reed
Greenhouse technician Katherine Christie sets out potted mums at Claussens Florist and Greenhouse in Colchester on Sept. 25.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about coronavirus, an outbreak in Addison County, the governor's veto of the Act 250 bill and more for Tuesday, Oct. 6.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Gov. Phil Scott vetoes Act 250 bill

Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a bill that would have updated Act 250, Vermont's 50 year-old development review law.

At the beginning of the legislative session, the governor backed a compromise proposal that was also supported by many environmentalists. That bill would have provided additional protections for upper elevations areas and lifted Act 250 reviews in designated downtowns.

But bill got whittled down in the last few months as lawmakers struggled with the details while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In his veto message Monday, Scott said the final bill added new regulatory hurdles for recreational trails. He also issued an executive order that he says addresses the trails issue in the short term.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

2. Department of Health reports four new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported four new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday. Two of the new cases are in Windsor County, and there is one each in Chittenden and Windham Counties.

The 72 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Vermont this week is the highest in more than a month.

The health department is also monitoring an outbreak in Addison County, where 27 farmworkers at Champlain Orchards have tested positive. One of those workers is hospitalized.

The orchard's owner said the infected workers were all staying in a shared living space.

Will Lambek, with the group Migrant Justice, said his organization is not working with the seasonal workers at the orchard, but he said communal housing among migrant workers has been a concern during the pandemic.

"Workers oftentimes live in overcrowded housing, which makes isolation very difficult, and increases the risk of community spread," Lambuk said.

According to the health department, 25 of the infected workers are now isolated at the orchards.

At a bi-weekly press conference Tuesday, Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said the state's case numbers still compare favorably to the rest of the nation.

"We still however maintain the lowest seven-day infection rate in the country, obviously the lowest infection rate from the beginning of the pandemic, and have one of the lowest positivity rates, depending on how you calculate it," he said.

To date, over 167,000 people in Vermont have been tested and 58 people have died. The most recent death was more than two months ago.

More from Vermont Edition: An Update On The Outbreak In Shoreham From A Nurse On The Ground

Listen to the full conversation, here.

- Henry Epp and Anna Van Dine and Peter Hirschfeld

3. Criminal jury trials to resume in Windham County

The Vermont Judiciary announced Tuesday it has set a date for the first criminal jury trial since the pandemic began. Jury selection for the case in Windham County Superior Court is set to begin on Dec. 7, 2020.

While Vermont courts ramped up their operations this summer, they did not resume jury trials. The judiciary, in its reopening plan, said public health guidelines around social distancing and avoiding large gatherings would make it difficult to safely hold jury trials.

But with Vermont’s low rates of coronavirus, the judiciary is moving ahead with plans to resume trials – for now, just in Windham County. The court will follow public health guidelines, like social distancing, and masks will be required. Courtrooms have also been reconfigured and Plexiglass barriers were installed in some places.

The judiciary is still working to restart criminal trials in other counties. Civil jury trials are suspended until at least January.

- Liam Elder-Connors

4. Racial justice advocates, farmers call for Scott to veto cannabis bill

A cannabis bill that went to Gov. Phil Scott's desk last week is facing criticism from organizations across the state.

The bill would establish a tax-and-regulate system for cannabis in Vermont, but a coalition of farming and racial justice groups is calling for the governor to veto the legislation.

Vermont Growers Association Executive Director Geoffrey Pizzutillo says it would disadvantage small farms and businesses

“We represent the cannabis professionals in the state and we simply feel like we weren't included in this legislative process and we don't see ourselves in this bill,” Pizzutillo said.

Pizzutillo said over 100 Vermont organizations have signed a letter in opposition to the legislation, which critics also say does not adequately address the history of racism associated with cannabis in the U.S.

Gov. Scott has until Wednesday to make a decision.

- Anna Van Dine

5. Vermont is still working to meet its target for PPE stockpiles

The state of Vermont has acquired more than 4 million units of personal protective equipment since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

But Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Schirling says the state still doesn't have its target supply of certain items.

"In particular, N-95 masks, for example. We have 58 days of supply, based on the current distribution rate. Surgical gowns remain constrained," Schirling said.

He said the state is also struggling to obtain an adequate number of disposable gloves.

He said the state's goal is to have 120 days' worth of PPE on hand to deal with a potential resurgance of COVID-19.

Earlier this month, health officials said they were trying to acquire 400 ventilators to handle a potential influx of the virus into the state.

Schirling said the state has since settled on a less ambitious number.

"As a result of new experience with the virus and treatment modalities and the continued constraints on supply lines for ventilators, the overall orders have been diminished to 120," he said.

Schirling said 83 of those ventilators have arrived in Vermont, and are currently being stored at a warehouse.

He said the state is still waiting on the arrival of 43 ventilators.

- Peter Hirschfeld

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