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In Response To Plot Against Michigan Gov., Scott Condemns Rhetoric, Polarization

Phil Scott at a podium
ORCA Media
After a plan by right-wing extremists to kidnap Michigan's governor failed, Gov. Phil Scott said he's not scared for his own safety, though he worried about polarizing rhetoric in the country.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about Gov. Phil Scott's response to the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the end of a public utility disconnection moratorium and more for Friday, Oct. 9.

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1. Scott condemns rhetoric, polarization following thwarted plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Gov. Phil Scott says news this week that a group of right-wing extremists plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan is shocking and disturbing.

Speaking at his bi-weekly press conference on Friday, Scott said the type of rhetoric that incites what he calls "this path to violence" must stop.

"We all must do better because our kids are watching, and they're learning from us, and we're reaching a boiling point in this country,” he said. “So it's up to all of us to lower the temperature."

Scott says his thoughts are with Gov. Whitmer and her family. As for his own safety, he said he feels secure.   

“From my own safety, I feel I am in good hands. I have a great deal of respect for our l enforcement community, and I feel very well protected,” Scott said.

Vermont's public safety commissioner says the state is in close contact on security matters with federal officials, ranging from protecting state leaders to keeping elections secure.

- Henry Epp

2. Utility disconnect moratorium to end Oct. 15

Public utilities will once again be allowed to disconnect customers' service starting on Oct. 15.

The Public Utility Commission made that announcement Thursday.

The commission put a moratorium on utility disconnects in place in March, to keep essential services running, whether or not customers were able to pay during the pandemic. The commission says $8 million is available in federal funds to assist customers with utility payments.

A spokesperson for Green Mountain Power, the state's largest utility, says the company will keep its own moratorium on disconnects in place through the end of the year, and may extend it further.

- Henry Epp

3. Racial justice protesters demand change to city charter outside Burlington city councilor's home

More than 100 protestors gathered Thursday evening outside a Burlington city councilor’s home, demanding the city change its charter to allow for more flexibility in firing police officers. The city’s charter currently only allows the chief of police to hire and fire officers.

The Burlington City Council unanimously passed a resolution last month charging the city’s charter change committee to assess how the city could revise police disciplinary decisions, according to VTDigger.

Last week, racial justice protestors ended a more than 30-day encampment in Burlington’s Battery Park, calling for three city police officers involved in use-of-force cases to be fired. One has since accepted a buyout from the city.  

- Karen Anderson

4. Immigrant advocates applaud stimulus included in budget

Advocates for immigrants are applauding a measure to send stimulus checks to all residents of Vermont who weren't eligible for $1,200 dollar government payments early in the pandemic.

Included in the budget signed by Gov. Phil Scott last week is up to $5 million to fund payments to residents who were excluded from the original program, particularly those who are not U.S citizens.

Will Lambek with the group Migrant Justice says the payments will give immigrant families a needed economic boost, and they send a message.

“As our state responds to a public health crisis that effects every single one of us, our response as a state is going to include every single one of us,” Lambek said. “And that recognition of the importance of equity in the response, and the importance of inclusion, is something that people are celebrating."

Eligible adults will receive $1,200, as well as $500 for each eligible child in their household.

- Henry Epp

5. Education Secretary: No indoor track, wrestling this winter; school board members can get waiver to substitute teach

There will be no high school wrestling or indoor track events this winter because of health concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

That's the word from Education Secretary Dan French. French says a special task force is currently reviewing the feasibility of allowing some other winter sports to take place.

“I'm not optimistic about our ability to allow wrestling or indoor track this winter,” he said. “Wrestling is problematic due to the high degree of physical contact. Indoor track has the challenge of having a large number of participants indoors during their meets. The task force is still working on finding a path forward for allowing other winter sports, including basketball and hockey."     

The Scott administration will make a final decision about all winter sports at the end of the month.

In the meantime, French says the state is giving approval for school board members in some districts to become substitute teachers.

He added that districts anticipate a shortfall of fill-in instructors in the coming months, and while school board members are typically not allowed to be district employees, they can now request a state waiver to be substitute teachers.

French said the education agency has seen an uptick in those requests.

"So we've been expediting those waiver requests,” he said.

French says an overall lack of substitute teachers was an issue prior to the pandemic.

- Henry Epp

6. Champlain Orchards workers with COVID-19 to have access to sick leave

A group of nearly 30 migrant farmworkers at an orchard in Shoreham who've tested positive for COVID-19 will have access to sick leave.

That's according to Health Commissioner Mark Levine. He says the leave will be available either through a federal coronavirus relief program, or Champlain Orchards, where the workers are employed.

Levine says other supports are available as well.

"Right now, the best solution for housing is on-site, but should the need change, the state emergency operations center stands ready to provide alternate housing."

Levine says the state has also provided food, thermometers, and face masks to the workers, as well as calling cards and cell phones to help them get in touch with family. All of the workers are in Vermont under a visa program, which allows residents of other countries to do seasonal agricultural work in the US.

- Henry Epp

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: Inside The Outbreak At Champlain Orchards

7. New law provides free condoms to all Vermont middle, high school students

Gov. Phil Scott has signed a bill that requires all middle and high schools in the state to provide free condoms to their students.

Lucy Leriche is with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

“With abortion in the spotlight at the U.S. Supreme Court, there was a real desire to make sure that, yes, we should be protecting abortion rights,” Leriche said. “But we should also make sure that the full spectrum of reproductive care is supported in state policy.”

The provision that makes condoms more accessible to teenagers was part of a larger bill that also strengthens sex education in the schools.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

8. Steps to End Domestic Violence to open new shelter

Two non-profit organizations in Chittenden County are using federal COVID relief funds to open a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Champlain Housing Trust applied for the money through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and bought a motel in Colchester. CHT will lease the space to Steps to End Domestic Violence.

The organization's current shelter can only hold seven households, and with the pandemic, its capacity was reduced to comply with public health guidelines.  The new shelter will be able to serve up to 21.

Nicole Kubon, executive director of Steps to End Domestic Violence, says they've needed a bigger shelter for years. 

“And then on top of that, it just provides more dignity and privacy for folks who are fleeing domestic violence,” Kubon said. “They'll have their own spaces, they can give their kids baths in their own private bathrooms, they can make their own meals coordinate the support that they need.”

Unlike the current shelter, the new one’s location won’t be confidential. Kubon says that decision was in part about adding a sense of normalcy to the lives of people staying in there:

“You don't have to tell your kids that they have to keep it a secret, you don't have to navigate all those rules and regulations all the time that put you in the position of feeling like if you break a rule, you're doing damage not only to your own safety but everyone else's.”

Kubon says there will be security measures to make sure people staying at the shelter are safe, and that Steps to End Domestic Violence hopes to open the new shelter by the end of the year.

- Liam Elder-Connors

9. Eight new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported eight new cases of COVID-19 Friday. 

Three of the new cases are in Windsor County, two are in Chittenden County, and there is one each in Rutland, Addison and Bennington counties.

More than 170,439 people have been tested in the state, and no one is currently hospitalized with the disease in Vermont. 

- Karen Anderson

10. Burlington's new head of policing reform starts the job

The recently appointed head of police reform in Vermont’s largest city says he’s not ready to make specific policy recommendations yet.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger named Kyle Dodson to the temporary position of “Director of Police Transformation” at the end of September. The appointment came after racial justice protesters camped in from of the police department for a month and demanded the firing of three cops accused of using excessive force.

Dodson says he’s still learning about policing issues and reforms, like the release of disciplinary records, and he’s not ready to recommend specific policies.

“So I don’t want to jump to conclusions,” Dodson said. “I’m a deliberative person, I’m an analytical person, and all of the content that I need to make good decisions, I just don’t have it yet.”

Dodson is taking a 6-month leave of absence from his position as President and CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA to work for the city.

Read/listen to the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

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