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News roundup: Firearms background check bill heads to Gov. Scott's desk

A blue background with the words Vermont News Roundup with a green Vermont icon over the "R"
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the Legislature and more for Friday, Feb. 11.

*Editor's note: Today's VPR news roundup will be the last. Thanks for reading!

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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. One more Vermonter has died from COVID-19

One more Vermonter has died from COVID-19, state officials reported Friday.

According to the Vermont COVID dashboard, the state’s cases and positivity rate continue to decline from all-time-highs in January. Officials documented 391 new COVID cases today, and the state’s seven-day positivity rate is 7.6%.

A total of 80 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 20 in the ICU.

- Elodie Reed

Newport prison COVID outbreak grows to 30+ people

A COVID outbreak at the Newport prison has grown to more than 30 people.

Since Tuesday, 28 incarcerated people and three staff members have received positive test results.

The prison is now on full lockdown. State Health Department officials are working with facility staff to prevent further spread.

- Grace Benninghoff

2. Firearm background check bill heads to governor’s desk

Legislation that extends the time period for a firearm background check has received final Legislative approval – but faces an uncertain future with Gov. Phil Scott.

The bill also bans guns in all hospitals.

Rutland Rep. William Notte says the bill is needed because the current three-day background check period sometimes doesn't give federal officials enough time to do a thorough screening process.

"In the state of Vermont, we are not going to allow someone to purchase a firearm until public safety has been satisfied with the completion of a background check,” he said.

Scott says he doesn't support the bill because he thinks it's unnecessary. But he has not said that he would veto the legislation.

- Bob Kinzel

Governor vetoes legislation that would create statewide registry for independent contractors

Gov. Phil Scott Thursday afternoon vetoed legislation that would create a statewide registry for independent contractors, because he says the bill places undue burdens on small businesses.

The bill requires contractors who have projects worth more than $3,500 to register with the Secretary of State's office and to carry liability insurance.

Scott says the bill "has the potential to undermine and weaken a large number of Vermont's smaller businesses."

Senate Economic Development chairman Michael Sirotkin says the governor is wrong.

“So the next step is that we will have to seriously consider an override of the veto,” he said. “I've heard some of the objections from the governor's office, and I quite honestly think they're misplaced."

Sirotkin says he's also willing to work with the administration to try to find an acceptable compromise.

- Bob Kinzel

3. Since summer of 2020, police oversight committees have formed, police force slightly diversifies in Vt.

Calls for police reform have echoed across Vermont since the summer of 2020.

They've led to the formation of police oversight committees, and a slightly more diverse police force.

Speaking on Vermont Edition Thursday, Colonel Matthew Birmingham with Vermont State Police says the agency has been working on reform measures for the past decade.

“We've worked with the Legislature closely on many different ... from body cam implementation to Act 56, which is a de-certification process of law enforcement officers... to the recent use-of-force policy that's gone out,” Birmingham said.

NAACP leaders in Vermont say improving community relations should factor heavily into police reform efforts.

Hear the full episode.

- Connor Cyrus

4. Bald eagle officially removed from Vermont’s Threatened and Endangered Species List

After more than a decade of effort to restore its population, the bald eagle has officially been removed from Vermont's Threatened and Endangered Species list.

Bald eagle populations in Vermont and neighboring states have been on the rebound since 2006. In 2020, 64 fledglings were found in the state.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife says the bird's recovery is remarkable – but conservation efforts can't stop now.

Short-styled snakeroot, a flowering plant that grows in woodland habitats, was also delisted.

The American bumblebee and brook floater mussel, along with Houghton's sedge and rue anemone, are now officially "endangered." The eastern meadowlark is now listed as "threatened."

Vermont also listed three locations as "critical habitat" for eastern spiny softshell turtles, the common tern and several varieties of bat.

- Abagael Giles

Elodie Reed and Kevin Trevellyan compiled and edited this post.

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