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News Roundup: Vermont's Courts (Mostly) Reopen To The Public

An orange background with vermont news round up written, with a small green graphic of vermot on the "R" of roundup
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about courts reopening, a settlement between the city of Burlington and the family of Douglas Kilburn and more for Tuesday, July 6.

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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. Vermont officials report 8 new COVID cases over holiday weekend

Vermont health officials reported eight new COVID-19 infections over the long holiday weekend.

That includes four cases Saturday, three on Sunday and one case Monday.

Six people are currently hospitalized with the virus, two of whom are in intensive care.

To date, 82.4% of Vermonters 12 or older have gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

- Matthew Smith

Most Vt. courts reopen to public today

Most Vermont courts will reopen to the general public today after more than a year of restricted access due to the pandemic.

Some COVID-19 protocols will remain, like wearing masks most of the time. Remote hearings will continue across all Vermont court divisions.

But not all courthouses are opening up. Several, including the Orleans criminal division and Windham civil division, will remain closed for now.

The Vermont Judiciary says the buildings aren't large enough to allow physical distancing and some need better air circulation systems. The judiciary says it’s working to upgrade the closed courthouses.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Some U.S.-Canada border restrictions easing this week

Some restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border have loosened this week, but they will have little impact on Americans looking to travel to Canada.

CBC-Montreal reports that as of Monday, Canadians and permanent residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now skip a 14-day quarantine upon returning to Canada.

International students and those registered under Canada's Indian Act are included in the new measure.

Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau says the goal is to manage more traffic at the border before loosening restrictions further.

"Right now, Canadians and permanent residents can come back to Canada without having to quarantine,” he said. “That's a big step, we're going to see travel volumes go up."

Border restrictions preventing all nonessential travel, including tourism, will remain in place until at least July 21.

- Matthew Smith

2. Family of Douglas Kilburn reaches settlement with Burlington

The city of Burlington has reached a settlement with the family of a man who died after a city police officer punched him in the head.

The family of Douglas Kilburnfiled suit in November of last yearagainst Burlington Police Officer Cory Campbell, alleging he used excessive force they say led to Kilburn's death.

In March 2019, Kilburn got into an altercation with Campbell outside UVM Medical Center.

In video footage, Kilburn seems to try and hit Campbell, who then punches Kilburn in the face several times.

Kilburn was found dead days later. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, but couldn't determine a specific cause of death.

VTDigger reportsthe Kilburn family received $45,000 in the settlement.

Campbell was one of three officers at the center of protests last summer against use of the force by Burlington Police. He is still employed by the Burlington Police Department.

- Matthew Smith

3. State creates task force to address mental health staffing shortages

The Agency of Human Services has created a new task force to try to deal with a staffing shortage at community mental health agencies.

Cheryle Wilcox, director of planning at the agency, says the workforce shortage has led to waiting lists for mental health services.

“And so we’re looking at things like how do we support programs like tuition reimbursement and loan repayment — those are huge issues for folks that work at the mental health agencies,” Wilcox said.

Officials say there are more than 800 staff vacancies at mental health agencies across Vermont.

The staffing shortage coincides with a spike in demand for mental health services.

Read/hear the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Barre Police used underwater drones in search for Ralph Jean-Marie

Barre City Police investigators have deployed underwater drones in the ongoing search for a Black man who disappeared from a Barre motel more than a year ago.

38-year old Ralph Jean-Marie was last seen in April of 2020 near the Hollow Inn and Motel. Police say his disappearance was suspicious because he left behind his ID, wallet, glasses and medications.

Now the Times-Argusreports Barre City Police contracted with a Minnesota company to use underwater drones to search quarries in Central Vermont for five days in late June for Jean-Marie's body, or other evidence linked to his disappearance.

An update from the Barre City Police Department on Friday did not say if anything was gleaned from the searches, but investigators say they'll only attempt them again if they're based on "credible information, not rumors or speculation.”

- Matthew Smith

5. Governor vetoes housing bill over rental registry

Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a housing bill designed to create more affordable housing and establish a statewide registry for all rental apartments.

Speaking toVermont Edition Friday, Scott said it was a tough choice, because he supports the parts of the bill that provide grants to rehabilitate housing units and encourage first home ownership.

But he says a statewide registry would add unnecessary regulations for small "mom and pop" operations.

"Those who have to rent out a room or rent out a portion of the house so they can afford to stay there pay the property taxes — pay the mortgage, if they still have them — maybe retirees, and they would have to register as well,” Scott said.

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce said it's disappointed with the veto, because it believes the registry was a good way to ensure the availability of safe, short-term housing units in Vermont.

Hear the full interview.

- Bob Kinzel

Scott not interested in U.S. Senate seat

Gov. Phil Scott says he has absolutely no interest in serving in the United States Congress.

There's been speculation that Scott might be interested in running for the U.S. Senate in the event that Sen. Patrick Leahy decided not to run for a ninth term in 2022.

Leahy says he hasn't made up his mind yet, but he is fundraising, and reportedly telling his colleagues that he expects to run.

Speaking on VPR'sVermont Edition, Scott says the political atmosphere in the Senate is toxic, and he wants nothing to do with it.

"It's just become so septic, I couldn't see myself being in that environment, I don't think I would do well, and one person can't heal what's happening in our country,” he said.

Scott says his temperament and interests are more aligned with the governor's office.

Hear the full interview.

- Bob Kinzel

6. Rutland undergoing new housing needs assessment

Advocates in Rutland say a new housing needs assessment couldn’t have come at a better time, considering the unprecedented amounts of federal money that will become available from federal COVID stimulus bills.

Mary Cohen directs the Housing Trust of Rutland County. Her group commissioned the study which looked at needs in Rutland, Rutland Town, West Rutland and Brandon.

“Our market is so tight, and what’s contributing to that tightness is not only the blighted properties, but the additional units that have come offline,” Cohen said. “So this is the first time I have seen on paper that, ‘Yes there is a need for all types of housing.’”

Cohen says directing future funding not only to new projects, but also to help existing landlords bring rental units back on the market, will be a priority.

- Nina Keck

7. CCV to offer technology "bootcamps"

The Community College of Vermont (CCV) last week announced a partnership to help Vermonters get their first tech job.

Upright Education is a re-training and education provider that connects students to tech industry jobs such as coding and user interface design. CCV will offer technology bootcamps with Upright Education to help adults land well-paying careers in the tech industry.

Vermont is one of a handful of states to deploy programs aimed to re-skill workers.

Michael Keogh is the director of business engagement at CCV. He says all are welcome to participate in the program.

“The only prerequisite is that students have to be 18-years-old,” Keogh said. “Other than that, there are no prerequisites. So this is another thing that's really exciting for me. You can come into this program without any experience or education. However, while you don't need any prior work experience or college education, the programs do require hard work.”

The CCV bootcamps will begin next month.

- Marlon Hyde

8. Vermont Law School hopes to help demystify food labels

A project from the Vermont Law School is hoping to help demystify food labels and packaging.

The law school’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems recently overhauled it’s “Labels Unwrapped” website.

The site breaks down terms commonly found on food labels that don't have strict legal or regulated definitions.

Laurie Beyranevand is the center's director. One example she's found: Processed foods advertised as "healthy" might tout nutrients like fiber on the label — but don't reveal that they also include unhealthy amounts of other ingredients.

“Yes, you can say that that product is high-fiber, the product might also be low-fat, but then when you flip over the package, and you look at the sugars, the amount of sugar is so high, that it would be hard to think of that as a product that might be ‘healthy,’” Beyranevand said.

She says food companies can’t make false claims on their labels, but she urges shoppers to carefully weigh any claims about a food’s healthfulness.

- Matthew Smith

9. Vt. Swimming Hole Collaborative preaches safety, etiquette

As Vermont heats up, natural areas such as swimming holes across the state are getting busier. And members of the Vermont Swimming Hole Collaborative are reminding anyone going into natural areas to remember safety and etiquette.

Overcrowding these natural areas create challenges such as litter, dangerous overflow of cars and trespassing on private property.

Jessica Savage is the recreation program manager at the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation. She encourages everyone planning a trip to a swimming hole to prepare a plan B.

“The Vermont River Conservancy has some great places to go,” Savage said. “Green Mountain National Forest, there's lots of places to go. And of course, people don't share their secret stash swimming hole. But again, just having that backup plan or thinking that maybe, maybe if it's full, we're gonna find another activity to do nearby.”

The groups are asking anybody that is planning to go out into swimming holes to help keep Vermont clean.

- Marlon Hyde

10. Ride Vermont's Amtrack route for $1 on July 19

Train fans and transportation officials are planning a celebration to mark the return of Amtrak passenger service to Vermont later this month.

The July 19 event at the Montpelier Amtrak station will also include officials from the town of Berlin and the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Amtrak service in Vermont ended when the pandemic hit in March of last year.

Amtrak will offer $1 fares at each Vermont station, from Brattleboro to St. Albans.

The Agency of Transportation will offer return shuttles to get people back to their point of departure.

- Associated Press

Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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