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Leahy On COVID Relief Funds: 'Why Aren't We Voting?'

A man in a suit and tie and blue face mask
Sen. Patrick Leahy, seen here during a C-SPAN recording of a Dec. 7, 2020 Senate session, is urging Congress to pass a coronavirus relief bill. ,

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a federal relief bill and more for Wednesday, Dec. 9.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. New COVID cases in every Vt. county, another person dies

Vermont state health officials reported 105 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and another death from the virus, bringing the pandemic death toll in the state to 86.

All of Vermont’s 14 counties saw new cases today, with 29 in Chittenden County, 19 in Franklin County and 10 in Windsor County.

Some 25 people are hospitalized with the disease, and two are in ICU. The state has administered nearly 600,000 tests for the coronavirus since March.

- Karen Anderson

Northern N.H. nursing hospital reports 19 deaths in past 40 days

The Coos County Nursing Hospital has reported 19 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 40 days, 13 of which were due to a recent outbreak of the virus among residents.

TheCaledonian Record reports the West Stewartstown, New Hampshire facility is investigating possible sources of exposure to the virus, from community spread to visitations from late October.

CCNH employees are required to wear masks in public, avoid groups and maintain social distance. But there's currently no consequence in place for employees who ignore health guidelines.

The nursing hospital continues to monitor employees and residents for symptoms.

- Karen Anderson

2. Leahy argues for inclusion of state, local government aid in COVID relief bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy says the country will face a series of economic disasters if Congress fails to quickly pass new COVID-19 relief.

The House and Senate are currently at odds over the size and scope of a bill. At the center of the debate is a $900 billion package proposed by a bipartisan group of senators.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Leahy said the time for action is now.

“My state of Vermont is like everywhere else, health care workers, caregivers, business owners, employees, teachers and students all in need of support in these difficult and uncertain times,” he said. “We have families wrestling with heightened food insecurity, people who for the first time in their life they can't feed their children, they can't feed themselves."

Democratic leaders are also insisting that the package include new money for state and local governments, but Senate Republicans oppose including those provisions in a new bill.

Leahy, who serves as the vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said many states will have to cut essential services if Congress doesn't act.

"We have states that are strapped by budget shortfalls that are forced to lay off thousands of employees, people who have worked so hard for the people of their state,” he said. “Why aren't we voting? Look what happens we can't bring ourselves to actually vote on something to help Americans."

- Bob Kinzel

Lawmakers not ready to approve governor's $24M relief proposal

On Wednesday, the Scott administration asked a key legislative panel to sign off on $24 million – the last of Vermont’s federal coronavirus relief funds – to provide hazard pay to mental health workers and direct grants to struggling businesses.

But lawmakers say they had barely a day to digest the administration’s proposal and aren’t ready to approve the expenditures.

And Washington County Sen. Ann Cummings, who chairs the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee, says there may be other worthy uses for the money.

“We are somewhat uncomfortable with making a commitment today without having the opportunity to look at all the needs out there,” Cummings said.

Some lawmakers want to delay any new spending decisions until the full Legislature reconvenes in January.

But administration officials say Vermont could face serious public health and economic consequences if elected officials don’t allocate the money before the end December.

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Court trials can resume after New Year, with permission

The Vermont Supreme Court says local courthouses can hold criminal and civil jury trials in the New Year, provided they have permission from court officials.

TheBennington Banner reports criminal jury trials were set to restart this week, but with coronavirus infections climbing since Halloween, the state judiciary put things on hold through November.

The state Supreme Court announced Monday that trials in 2021 will require the OK from the chief superior judge and court administrators before jurors can be summoned or trials can be held.

Factors like the pandemic's course in Vermont and a given courthouse's space for a socially-distanced trial will be considered.

Hundreds of Vermont inmates are currently being held in jail awaiting trial.

- Matthew Smith

4. Vermont Independent Restaurants leader: Enhanced unemployment benefits would help

Under current COVID-19 guidelines in Vermont, restaurants can only operate at limited capacity, and some have chosen to close completely.

Many will need federal help to survive, according to one of the founders of an advocacy group for the restaurant industry in Vermont.

Sue Bette owns Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington, and she's one of the leaders of the group Vermont Independent Restaurants. She says the industry has been in a bind since the beginning of the pandemic.

"You know, you operate within the conditions to keep your business afloat, but that has a public health impact potentially,” Bette said. “If you make the decision to close, you're looking at layoffs and the potential loss of your business."

Bette says the most useful form of aid would be enhanced unemployment benefits. She says that would allow some restaurants to "hibernate" for the coming months, while ensuring that their employees are able to get by until the businesses choose to re-open.

- Henry Epp

5. State college system won't increase tuition next year

The Vermont State College System will not increase tuition next year.

The Board of Trustees voted Monday to freeze student payments for the 2021-2022 academic year in response to the financial impact of the pandemic on students and families.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Vermont State College Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said, “Our first priority is ensuring a Vermont State Colleges education remains accessible to and affordable for our students.”

The Vermont State College system includes Castleton University, Northern Vermont University, Community College of Vermont and Vermont Tech. About 83% of students are Vermonters.

- Karen Anderson

Vermont Law School eyes move to Burlington

The board of trustees of the Vermont Law School is considering moving the school’s campus to Burlington from its current home in South Royalton.

TheValley News reportsthe law school continues to develop a strategic plan to keep the campus in South Royalton, but is also evaluating a move to Vermont’s largest city.

VLS had more than 600 students enrolled and learning remotely this fall.

The law school faces financial instability during a time of falling enrollment. The state’s only law school opened in 1973 relies on tuition, with little endowment, to continue operating.

- Associated Press

6. Consolidated Communications receives $19 million for Vt. broadband projects

Consolidated Communications is the big Vermont winner in a federal program that awarded $9 billion to build out broadband internet around the country.

Consolidated will get $19 million for Vermont projects. The company is Vermont's main landline phone company, but also provides internet service in many locations.

Michael Shultz is a Consolidated senior vice president. He says the federal money helps boost Consolidated's current five-year plan to install high-speed, fiber optic service around the state.

“It gives us funding to build to almost 10,000 locations in Vermont,” Shultz said. “So we'll get almost $2 million annually, for the next 10 years, starting in 2022. And we will be building to all of those locations basically fiber to the home.”

Other Vermont winners in the federal award include Starlink, an internet satellite service founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk.

- John Dillon

More from Brave Little State: What's Vermont Doing To Improve Broadband Access?

7. Temporary classrooms in former downtown Burlington Macy's expected ready by March

Burlington High School students displaced by PCB contamination at their school could move into temporary classrooms in the former downtown Macy’s department store by March.

WCAX reports school board members on Tuesday said construction will begin next week and finish up by late February.

The temporary campus will house students for the next three and a half years, costing about $1.9 million a year.

- Matthew Smith

8. Major League Baseball severs affiliation with Lake Monsters

The future of the Vermont Lake Monsters is in doubt after Major League Baseball severed its affiliation with the team on Wednesday.

The Lake Monsters had long been an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, and hosted dozens of players in Burlington who went on to play in the major leagues.

But baseball announced a national consolidation of the minor league system, and the Lake Monsters are one of 40 teams who lost their affiliation with a parent club.

The Lake Monsters said in a statement today that the club was not prepared to announce its future but is "highly encouraged" that it will remain in professional baseball, in some capacity. The team plays at the University of Vermont's historic Centennial Field.

- Mark Davis

More from VPR: Champless Summer: Lake Monsters Season Is Officially Called Off

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