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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Digital Forensics Led to Charge Against South Burlington Student

Posted By on Sat, Apr 22, 2017 at 6:25 PM

The Rebels scoreboard at South Burlington High School - MOLLY WALSH/SEVEN DAYS
  • Molly Walsh/Seven Days
  • The Rebels scoreboard at South Burlington High School
The student accused of making  death threats against South Burlington students and teachers posted news stories about the turmoil on his Facebook page as the drama was unfolding.

He also allegedly put his own name on the "murder list" that was issued with the threats via email and in a video.

Josiah Leach, 18, was arrested Friday night on a federal charge, ending a week of school lockdowns and a district-wide school closure Friday.

He was in jail awaiting arraignment Monday in federal court on a felony charge of knowingly transmitting  a threat via interstate commerce. Leach is a senior at South Burlington High School.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Opinion
Walters: House Panel Puts a Wrap on Ethics Bill

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 8:54 PM

House Government Operations Committee vice chair Ron Hubert (R-Vernon) and chair Maida Townsend (D-South Burlington) going over the wording of S.8. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • House Government Operations Committee vice chair Ron Hubert (R-Vernon) and chair Maida Townsend (D-South Burlington) going over the wording of S.8.
“I can’t believe it,” said Rep. Maida Townsend (D-South Burlington), chair of the Vermont House Government Operations Committee, when her panel reached agreement Friday afternoon on the language of an ethics reform bill.

She was only half kidding. The committee’s hours and hours of discussion had at times threatened to put a famous philosophical question to the test: If every step brings you halfway to your goal, do you ever actually arrive?

Well, the committee has finally arrived … almost.

The bill must be redrafted one more time before the panel can take a formal vote. Barring any last-second problems, that should be a formality.

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South Burlington Student Charged With Making Death Threats

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 7:16 PM

South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple (left) and South Burlington Schools Superintendent David Young at Friday's press conference. - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple (left) and South Burlington Schools Superintendent David Young at Friday's press conference.
Updated at 9:23 p.m.

Police arrested 18-year-old Josiah Leach, a South Burlington High School student, on Friday in relation to death threats made against staff and other students in the district.

South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple announced the arrest on federal charges at a press conference from the police department shortly after 9 p.m. Authorities had made the arrest just half an hour earlier, he said.

School had been canceled Friday after threats were sent Tuesday, Wednesday Thursday. The school day ended in lock downs on Wednesday and Thursday.

Leach, according to police, will be held in custody over the weekend until he's arraigned Monday in federal court.

Read the original story below:

Someone threatened South Burlington students and school district staff in a video Friday that included the same "murder list" which prompted a lockdown and school evacuation Thursday.

Superintendent of Schools David Young — along with South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple — confirmed at a 3  p.m. news conference that officials are aware of the video, which had been circulating on social media.

The video threatens specific school staff and students as retribution for the school board's decision to drop the Rebels team nickname. The name change has riled up the community. Critics say the name is racist while its defenders consider it a harmless tradition.

Young explained that the latest threat came in around 4 a.m. Friday and "was a video and essentially repeated a lot of the same information that was shared within the text that was sent previously. The police are continuing very, very aggressive investigation at this time.”

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Vermont Senate Votes 21-9 for Marijuana Legalization

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 12:54 PM

Sen. Dick Sears (right to left) confers with Sens. Bobby Starr and Peg Flory, Senate Secretary John Bloomer, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and Sen. Becca Balint on the Senate floor Friday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Sen. Dick Sears (right to left) confers with Sens. Bobby Starr and Peg Flory, Senate Secretary John Bloomer, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and Sen. Becca Balint on the Senate floor Friday.
The Vermont Senate voted 21-9 on Friday to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, a permissive stance on pot senators acknowledged the House is unlikely to embrace.

“We know that prohibition has not worked,” Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) said. “Let’s make it safer, less accessible to kids.”

The vote came in response to an amendment White made to another criminal justice bill. The Senate had been awaiting action from the House on legalization, but that chamber had yet to vote as the legislative session nears its early-May adjournment.

Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland) briefly succeeded in derailing White’s amendment when she questioned whether it was sufficiently related — or germane — to the underlying bill. It wasn’t, ruled Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.

But Senate rules allow the chamber to make a non-germane amendment germane, if they can muster a three-fourths’ majority. They did, by a 23-7 vote — exactly enough to meet the threshold.*

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

South Burlington Schools to Be Closed Friday After Repeated Threats

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 8:21 PM

Rebel banners at South Burlington High School - OLIVER PARINI
  • Oliver Parini
  • Rebel banners at South Burlington High School
South Burlington schools will be closed Friday after someone threatened teachers and students alike in an email message sent Thursday.

The district announced the closure Thursday afternoon, hours after the school day ended in a lockdown — for the second day in a row. All students were sent home by bus, even those who normally walk or drive to school, after someone sent an email threatening to kill five teachers and 11 students, WCAX-TV reported.

The email allegedly made reference to the controversial decision to drop the high school's nickname, the Rebels, according to the Burlington Free Press.

"THIS COULD’VE BEEN PREVENTED FROM KEEPING THE REBEL NAME. NOW I’m gonna have to attack you all. I don’t care for my own life as long as you’re all dead!!!!!" the email reads, according to the Free Press.

The name change has stirred up community members. Critics say the Rebel name has racist overtones because it alludes to the Confederate South. Defenders believe the name is innocuous and want to keep it — even though the school board approved a change in February.

The school budget, which includes money to scrub the Rebel name from playing fields, banners and sports jerseys, has twice failed in a vote.

South Burlington schools also went into lockdown Wednesday after threats. Someone emailed threats to the high school and Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School on Tuesday, too, according to WCAX.

A community forum on heroin that was scheduled to be held at the South Burlington High School on Thursday evening was subsequently canceled, police said.

Schools in Essex were locked down and evacuated last week after a threat there. Police later said the incident appeared to be a case of "swatting" — a false report of a crime intended to trigger a massive police response.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Opinion
Walters: Vermont Shield Bill Passes Key House Vote

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 5:55 PM

VTDigger's Mark Johnson interviews Paul Heintz of Seven Days and the Vermont Press Association after Wednesday's House vote on S.96. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • VTDigger's Mark Johnson interviews Paul Heintz of Seven Days and the Vermont Press Association after Wednesday's House vote on S.96.
A bill that would protect reporters from being forced to divulge confidential sources and hand over unpublished work material is one step away from the governor’s desk.

On Wednesday, the Vermont House approved S.96, the “shield bill,” on a lopsided voice vote after minimal debate. The chamber must reaffirm its approval in another vote Thursday, but barring a very unusual event, the bill is on track for final passage.

S.96 had earlier passed the Senate on a unanimous vote. Gov. Phil Scott’s office did not immediately return a call for comment; but during the gubernatorial campaign, Scott expressed support for a shield law with some qualifications — including an exception for cases where information cannot be obtained elsewhere. That exception is included in S.96.

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Senators Plan Renewed Push for Marijuana Legalization

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 3:19 PM

potbill.1.jpg
As the 2017 legislative session nears completion, two senators have plans to revive prospects for marijuana legalization.

Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) plans to introduce a revised version of a legalization bill that the Senate passed last year to allow for possession and sale of taxed marijuana starting in 2019. While last year's bill easily passed the Senate, it failed in the House.

White's effort would be in an amendment to another Senate bill — H.167 — expected to be up for action on the Senate floor Friday. Her revision would add legalization of homegrown marijuana.

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said he plans to vote for White's amendment. But anticipating that it's unlikely to pass the House, he has another, less ambitious plan. He'll offer up legislation to establish a study committee that would figure out how Vermont could tax and regulate marijuana. He plans to present it as an amendment to another bill on the Senate floor next week.

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Independent Ali Dieng to Run for Open Burlington City Council Seat

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 1:45 PM

Ali Dieng - COURTESY OF STEPHANIE SEGUINO
  • Courtesy of Stephanie Seguino
  • Ali Dieng
A West Africa native has announced his bid for an open Burlington City Council seat that represents the New North End.

Ali Dieng, 35, will run as an independent. He's seeking to replace Democrat Tom Ayres, who plans to resign from his Ward 7 seat in June. Dieng, who said he'll seek endorsements from the Progressive and Democratic parties, will face Vince Dober, a Republican who announced earlier this month.

City officials said Tuesday that a special election to fill the vacancy will be held on June 27, the day after Ayres steps down.

If elected, Dieng would be the only New American — and the only nonwhite member — of the city council. He said he wants to engage more diverse voices in city politics. "We need representation from the communities the city serves," he said.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

House, Senate Clash Over Fentanyl Penalties

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 10:38 PM

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington)
After the House quashed a Senate bill last week that would establish additional criminal penalties for people who possess fentanyl, senators are plotting to revive it.

“For the House to completely gut the bill and study it again, it’s disappointing,” said Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), who sponsored the legislation and saw it sail through the Senate.

Sears argues that the deadliness of fentanyl — which caused nearly half of the state’s overdose deaths in 2016 — warrants tougher penalties than those already in place for heroin and other drugs. “There’s no place in [state] law that mentions fentanyl, so it’s been difficult to prosecute,” said Sears.

His bill, S.22, would create new penalties specifically for possessing and dealing fentanyl. Possession would bring a maximum of two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, and penalties steeply increase for dealing: Someone selling four milligrams of a drug containing fentanyl would face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Lawmakers in both chambers say they’re committed to cracking down on big-time dealers who offer the incredibly potent and increasingly common drug. But the House and Senate disagree over whether S.22 would also ensnare low-level users, who both sides agree should receive treatment, not jail time.

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Despite Questions, Senate Plans to Vote on Shumlin Appointee

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 8:42 PM

Gov. Phil Scott and his legal counsel, Jaye Pershing Johnson, at a press conference Tuesday - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Gov. Phil Scott and his legal counsel, Jaye Pershing Johnson, at a press conference Tuesday
For months last year, D.C. politicians dickered over the validity of the president’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination. Now, Vermont has its own nomination fight.

As in Washington, this spat pits Democrats against Republicans.

Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican who took office in January, is questioning whether his predecessor, Peter Shumlin, properly nominated Robin Lunge for her position on the Green Mountain Care Board.

“We haven’t been able to find any of the paperwork,” Scott said.

Apparently, official documents detailing her appointment — announced in November — never went from the governor’s office to the Senate, or to the Secretary of State’s Office, as they normally would.

That raises questions about whether Lunge — who has served on the board for more than four months — can legitimately continue to work on the $95,000-a-year job, Scott said. The five-member board oversees health care spending in Vermont; one of its powers is regulating hospital budgets.

The Democratic Senate, which votes on nominees, plans to push ahead with Lunge’s confirmation, possibly this week, said Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chair Claire Ayer (D-Addison).

“We’re going to vote for her,” Ayer said.

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