News roundup: Vt. House committee rejects governor's $50M tax cut proposal, suggests alternative plan
Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Friday, Feb. 4.
While Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended, the omicron variant is now circulating around the state.Click here for the latest on new cases, and find the latest vaccination data online any time.
1. State data show five more Vermonters have died from COVID-19
Five more Vermonters have died from COVID-19, according to state data. Vermont’s death toll is now 553 lives lost.
Vermont’s COVID dashboard shows 92 people are hospitalized with the virus, including 21 people in the ICU.
State officials reported 508 new COVID cases Friday. Vermont’s seven-day positivity rate continues it’s slow decline, and is at 8.9%.
- Elodie Reed
UVM Medical Center still squeezed for space
The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington has fewer COVID patients than in recent weeks, but the hospital is still full.
There are almost 50 people waiting for a space to open up at a nursing home, and over 12 psychiatric patients waiting for beds in the emergency department.
Dr. Stephen Leffler says the hospital is not back to normal.
“We're still using our boardroom today for monoclonal antibody infusions,” he said. “We’re using our gift shop for blood donations. We're using our first-floor lobby for psych overflow space. We're not doing all the scheduled surgeries that we wish we could do. So there are a lot of things that we’ve done for so long sometimes they feel normal – but they’re really not normal.”
The hospital is still receiving help from nurses contracted through the federal government and troops from the Vermont National Guard.
- Lexi Krupp
VT National Guard unclear on impact of Army vaccine mandate
The U.S. Army this week said it would begin discharging soldiers who had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Nathan Rivard with the Vermont National Guard says it’s not yet clear what that means for the state.
“We’re looking at the Army directive that came out, and who it applies to, and we’re still waiting on a little bit of further clarification and guidance on what that will mean for the Vermont National Guard,” he said.
More than 90% of the Vermont Guard is vaccinated. Rivard says the Guard’s immediate work will not be affected if it has to discharge soldiers.
- Howard Weiss-Tisman
2. House committee advances tax cut for families with young children
A key House committee has rejected Gov. Phil Scott's $50 million tax cut package and substituted its own proposal.
The governor's plan primarily targeted retirees, health care and child care workers, and the state's earned income tax credit.
House Ways and Means Committee chairperson Janet Ancel says her panel decided to instead provide tax cuts to families with young children.
“We were trying to say something a little bit different with this tax credit, which is to say we're focused on children – families with young children tend to be at the beginning of their earnings power, and so they tend to have more challenges financially and every other way,” Ancel said.
Under the committee's plan, families would receive $1,200 a year for each child ages 6 and under.
The legislation could be on the House floor for debate as early as next week.
- Bob Kinzel
Indigenous property tax exemption bill moving through Legislature
A bill that would exempt land owned by Indigenous tribes from state and municipal property taxes is moving through the Vermont Legislature.
Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs commissioner Doug Bent is a member of the Koasek of the Koas Abenaki Tribe. He told lawmakers Wednesday that the tribe currently conducts its activities on his property, including growing and preserving traditional food there.
Bent says the Koasek Tribe is looking to acquire land in Newbury, and that the legislation would make it easier to do so.
“It would definitely help all of us – because we pretty much live off of grant money, if you will – to sustain what we do,” he said.
The bill would apply to just over 150 acres of land owned by three of Vermont’s four state-recognized Abenaki tribes. The parcels are in Barton, Brattleboro, Brunswick Springs and Swanton.
- Elodie Reed
Proposed legislation would require state agencies to better accommodate non-English speakers
Senate lawmakers are considering a bill that would require government agencies to do a better job communicating with Vermonters who aren’t proficient in English.
Advocates say immigrant communities are often unable to access information about urgent public safety issues.
More than 1,000 refugees from 11 countries have moved to Vermont over the past six years.
And foreign-born Vermonters now make up nearly 5% of the state’s population.
Alison Segar with the Vermont Language Justice Project says refugees and immigrants can have trouble accessing critical information disseminated by government agencies.
“We need to ensure that people who have limited English proficiency are given information in a language that they understand, in a format that is accessible, so that they can lead informed lives while they navigate their new homeland,” Segar said.
Legislation introduced in the Vermont Senate would require state agencies to create new plans for communicating with non-English speakers.
- Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Senate advances lethal use of force bill
The Vermont Senate on Thursday gave unanimous approval to legislation clarifying that someone can use lethal force in cases where their own safety isn't being directly threatened, but the safety of another person is.
Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning told his colleagues that a law passed last year appeared to question this tenet of common law.
Benning says the new proposal restores the intent of Vermont's original justifiable homicide law.
"The way we had left the statute raised a question about whether or not I had the ability to exercise lethal force if I myself was not in imminent peril. So we have cleaned that language up with this bill,” he said.
The House will now review the bill.
- Bob Kinzel
3. Hartford, Hinesburgh, and Springfield latest Vermont towns to adopt declaration of inclusion
Hartford, Hinesburgh, and Springfield are the latest Vermont towns to adopt a declaration of inclusion.
It's a statement that rejects racism and discrimination. It also calls on communities to be more inclusive and protective of minority groups by promising that individuals can live freely.
“The town condemns racism and welcomes all persons regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age, disability – and wants everyone to feel safe and welcome in our community,” he said.
Wakefield says measures like the declaration are an easy way for the state to recruit and maintain a diverse population.
- Connor Cyrus
4. Nursing compact goes into effect in Vermont
Starting this week, Vermont is an active member of a national agreement meant to help address a shortage in the state's nursing workforce.
The Nursing Licensure Compact allows nurses from 38 other states to begin practicing in Vermont without extra licensing requirements.
Secretary of State Jim Condos said in a statement that the compact allows quick onboarding of vetted, competent nurses at a time when hospitals are short on staff.
The Legislature signed the compact into law in June.
- Kevin Trevellyan
5. Older Vt. schools will be tests for PCBs starting this spring
Older Vermont schools are going to be tested starting this spring for the presence of a harmful group of chemicals commonly used in building materials and electrical equipment before 1980.
The state says that if levels of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs are detected at or above school action levels, the schools will be required to reduce potential exposure.
Numerous studies in both animals and humans have shown that exposure to PCBs can affect the nervous, immune, reproductive and endocrine systems.
A law passed by the legislature last year requires schools constructed or renovated before 1980 to test their indoor air for PCBs by July 1, 2024.
- Associated Press
6. Carl Powden, a conservationist, former legislator, and friend to many, dies
A conservationist, former legislator, and friend to many died last month.
Carl Powden loved the land. During almost 30 years at the Vermont Land Trust, he was instrumental in conserving more than 200,000 acres.
Former Land Trust President Darby Bradley says he was honest, clever, and forthright.
“Carl had a deep love and respect for people who made their living from the land,” Bradley said. “Farmers and loggers and truckers and foresters, and this permeated the organization.”
A former state representative, he also played a role in passing landmark education legislation.
But those who knew him say he’ll be remembered for his annual cider party, the time he accidentally burned his computer, and his sense of humor.
Carl’s younger brother, Mark, says he had curly hair that he used to hate when he was a kid, and a twinkle in his eye.
“You know, he was a good stout fellow, worked hard, and you know was doing chores, improving his land right up to the end,” Mark said.
Carl Powden died suddenly on Jan. 12. He was 68-years-old.
- Anna Van Dine
7. Vermont State Police ID victim in Swanton homicide
A man found dead in Swanton Wednesday has been identified as 22-year-old Elijah Oliver of Haverhill, Massachusetts.
An autopsy performed by the chief medical examiner's office determined the cause of death to be gunshot wounds and manner of death a homicide.
- Lydia Brown
Authorities investigating suspicious death in Danby
Vermont State Police are investigating a suspicious death in Danby.
Police say a man's body was found Thursday morning with multiple gunshot wounds.
The man's identity has not yet been released.
Police say anyone who observed anything suspicious along Danby Mountain Road between early Wednesday to Thursday morning should call Rutland State Police barracks or submit an anonymous tip online at vsp.vermont.gov/tipsubmit.
- Lydia Brown
Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.