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News Roundup: Legislature Overrides Veto To Legalize Non-Citizen Voting In Winooski, Montpelier

Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the Legislature, the state of Lake Champlain and more for Friday, June 25.

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As Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended and coronavirus restrictions lifted statewide, we will no longer be reporting daily case numbers at the top of this newsletter. Click here for the latest on new cases, and findthe latest vaccination data online any time.

1. Residents who are not U.S. citizens will be allowed to vote in Montpelier and Winooski

Non-U.S. citizens residing in Montpelier and Winooski will be able to vote on local ballot measures in their cities’ next elections.

The Vermont Legislature on Thursday took the final step in overriding two vetoes that would have blocked the new voting rules from going into effect.

Gov. Phil Scott said he wants Vermont to adopt a statewide policy for non-citizen voting.

But Windham County Senator Jeannette White says the Legislature should honor charter changes approved by residents of Winooski and Montpelier.

“Their changes were constitutional, legal, followed legal procedures and overwhelmingly were adopted by their town residents,” Whites said.

Scott says he’s open to adopting a statewide law that would allow non-citizens to vote in all Vermont municipalities.

- Peter Hirschfeld

2. Tunbridge loses its town historian

A towering figure of the Tunbridge community passed away this week. Euclid Farnham was a dairy farmer, historian, and leader in civic life.

“He is Mr. Tunbridge—was Mr. Tunbridge,” said Mick Maguire, a close friend who succeeded Farnham as president of the Tunbridge historical society.

Farnham held a decades-long tenure as president of the Tunbridge World’s Fair and town moderator. He served as treasurer of his church, justice of the peace, and worked as a substitute teacher.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a man who is quite so loved by so many people,” said Macguire. “At the fair he would spend four days with a stream of people seeking him out to have great long conversations about things. And it would be hundreds, hundreds of people.”

In his time as president, Farnham helped transform the fair’s reputation as a “drunkard’s man reunion” into a family friendly event, said Ben Wolfe, a nephew and Tunbridge resident.

Farnham had planned to study history after serving in the Korean War, but he returned to Tunbridge to run the family farm. “His dairy cows always listened to classical music,” recalled Wolfe.

He spent his life documenting Tunbridge’s past, and was particularly fond of Civil War history. He helped organize annual ghost walks in the town’s many cemeteries, where he liked to impersonate Civil War soldiers.

“He didn’t really tire,” said Wolfe. “He was a voracious reader. He was always doing something.”

Euclid died Monday. He was 87.

- Lexi Krupp

3. Vermont's unemployment rate falls to pre-pandemic levels

Unemployment rates have been slowly decreasing since they spiked, dramatically, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While national and regional unemployment rates remain higher than they were before the crisis, Vermont's unemployment rate has fallen to pre-pandemic levels.

Vermont's May unemployment rate of 2.6% is in stark contrast to a national rate of 5.8%.

The state's unemployment rate was also down 0.3% from April, according to the latest report from the Vermont Department of Labor.

Within the state, unemployment rates ranged from 1.2% in Burlington to 2.4% in Woodstock.

The state reinstated its work search provision last month, requiring those who file for unemployment to prove they are looking for work.

- Anna Van Dine

4. Vermont Senate approves bill that would create statewide registry for all rental units

The Vermont Senate has given final approval to a bill that would create a stricter enforcement mechanism for rental housing conditions.

Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint says Vermont’s failure to enforce health and safety codes has forced many lower-income residents to endure substandard housing conditions.

“In my district there are excellent, decent landlords,” Balint said. “And there are some who seem to have no moral dilemma about renting substandard housing.”

The legislation would create a rental registry of all apartment units in the state.

And it includes a new fee to be imposed on landlords that would fund a more robust health and safety enforcement apparatus.

Gov. Phil Scott, however, says he opposes the new registry. And he could decide to veto the bill when it arrives on his desk.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. 2021 State of the Lake report shows more work needs to be done to reduce phosphorous levels in Lake Champlain

To consistently meet federal water quality standards, more work needs to be done to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Champlain.

That was a key takeaway from the most recent State of the Lake report. Scientists with the Lake Champlain Basin Program on Thursday dove deeper into the report’s main findings at a virtual press conference.

Matthew Vaughan is a technical coordinator with the program. He says climate change is already making it harder to limit runoff into the lake.

“While management practices may help to reduce inputs, the increasingly intense rainstorms associated with climate change may release more phosphorus, possibly canceling out some of the gains made through pollution reduction efforts,” Vaughan said.

Vaughan said many efforts are currently underway to reduce phosphorus in the lake.

- Marlon Hyde

6. Vt. Dept. of Health reports six new COVID-19 cases Friday

Health officials reported six news cases of COVID-19 in Vermont Friday.

Seven people are hospitalized, with two in intensive care.

81.4% of eligible Vermonters have received at least done of the vaccine.

Judge rules that Newport businessman violated Vt.’s emergency mask mandate

A judge has reaffirmed her ruling that a Newport businessman violated Vermont's emergency mask mandate when he refused to wear a mask in his former print shop during the peak of the pandemic.

The Vermont Attorney General's office reported Thursday that Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout ordered Andre Desautels to pay $850 in penalties.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan said he was pleased the court ordered the requested penalty.

He called it lenient because the pandemic emergency is over and the state wants to move on.

- Brittany Patterson

Dartmouth College relaxes COVID-19 protocols

Dartmouth College has relaxed many of its COVID-19 rules, such as no longer requiring people who are fully vaccinated to wear masks, and lifting physical distancing and dining restrictions.

The Valley News reports that Provost Joseph Helble said Wednesday that Dartmouth was easing restrictions in light of the fact that 83% of the students who will be on campus this summer have been vaccinated.

The college announced in April that all students will be required to be vaccinated ahead of the fall term. Dartmouth also is requiring employees to be vaccinated by Sept. 1.

- The Associated Press

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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