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Friday, November 27, 2020

COVID-19 Cases Climb in Vermont's Long-Term Care Facilities

Posted By on Fri, Nov 27, 2020 at 2:50 PM

Health Commissioner Mark Levine at a press conference in the spring - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Health Commissioner Mark Levine at a press conference in the spring
Updated at 6:26 p.m.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Friday that Vermont will increase coronavirus testing at long-term care facilities in response to a worrisome number of recent outbreaks.

Speaking at Gov. Phil Scott's regular press briefing Friday, Levine said he was becoming "more and more concerned" about the growing number of cases at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which have proven to be particularly susceptible to major outbreaks. 

"This is causing more patient illnesses, hospitalizations and even deaths," he said, while also making it harder for facilities to maintain adequate staffing levels amid a nationwide shortage.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Burlington Council Votes to Divest From Fossil Fuel Companies

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2020 at 12:39 AM

FILE
  • File
Burlington city councilors voted unanimously on Monday to divest the city's pension funds from fossil fuel companies and invest in more sustainable  industries.

Spearheaded by Councilor Jane Stromberg (P-Ward 8), the resolution asks for the city to consider creating a "Burlington Green New Deal Investment Fund" to support the city's goal of becoming a net zero community by 2030.

Stromberg said the move combats the climate crisis and sets an example for other cities and towns.

"We need to step up, and we need to be brave," she said. "For some, this is long-awaited and overdue, and for others, this may be a new priority.  But the point is we have an incredible opportunity to lead the way."

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Monday, November 23, 2020

Republicans Choose Brock as Senate Minority Leader

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2020 at 7:21 PM

Sen. Randy Brock - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Paul Heintz ©️ Seven Days
  • Sen. Randy Brock
Vermont Senate Republicans have chosen Sen. Randy Brock (R/D-Franklin) to lead the caucus during the upcoming biennium.

The unanimous vote last Thursday means that Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), who’s served as minority leader for seven of the last eight years, will hand over control on January 6, after new legislators are sworn in. Republicans gained one seat in November’s elections, growing the caucus to seven in the 30-member Senate.

Brock said his goal in the position is “to continue having our voices be part of the debate.

“One of the beauties of the Senate in Vermont is that we talk, and we listen to each other,” Brock said. “We don’t always agree, but we’re never disagreeable. And I think that is really a testament to how the body works. We do in fact deliberate, and ideas from all sides are typically welcomed.”

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Sunday, November 22, 2020

In Coming Session, Women Will Dominate Vermont Senate Leadership

Posted By on Sun, Nov 22, 2020 at 2:19 PM

Sen. Becca Balint - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Becca Balint
Democratic Vermont senators on Sunday chose women for key leadership posts for the upcoming legislative session, a historic shift that was celebrated by senators and tempered by the daunting task before them.

During a caucus vote Sunday morning, Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham) won nomination to be Senate president pro tempore. If confirmed in January, the mother of two from Brattleboro would be the first woman and the first openly gay lawmaker to hold the post.

Balint, 47, said little about those firsts and instead focused on the challenges ahead, for which she said she and her colleagues will need to “bring our A games” to address the “Herculean task” ahead.

“Our top priority this session will be to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, while also trying to shift the system and policies to better address Vermonters’ needs going forward,” Balint said.

Balint will succeed Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P- Chittenden), who did not seek reelection to the Senate and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor. Her nomination had been assured for weeks.

Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) said Balint was “absolutely the best candidate for the job,” praising her “warmth, energy and strategic intelligence.”

Balint's bid for pro tem opened up her job as majority leader, a position that often is an indicator of upward political mobility. It was less clear prior to Sunday how that contest would shake out.
Sen. Alison Clarkson - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Sen. Alison Clarkson
Sen. Chris Pearson (P/D- Chittenden) had expressed interest in the post and lined up several supporters. But he identifies as a Progressive first and a Democrat second. That set off some grumbling in the caucus about whether it was wise to have him leading the Democrats.

"I think it's very important to have a Democrat as the majority leader," Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) told Seven Days as she rounded up votes to be leader herself last week. "This is the majority party."

Sen. Brian Campion (D-Bennington) had also expressed interest, and had the support of his seatmate, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), and others. But when Campion withdrew last week, Democrats who wanted a party loyalist coalesced around Clarkson, 65.

The Harvard University-educated mother of two and former Broadway theater producer urged her colleagues to think of the nation’s motto, e pluribus unum — out of many, one — as the “formula for our success” in state government

“My job will be listening to each of you, your needs and priorities, to coordinate those with our work to help our caucus advance our policy priorities and shared vision,” Clarkson said after her unanimous selection. “Together we can accomplish great things.”

Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor) praised Clarkson’s organizational skills, natural leadership and relentless energy, likening her to the “Energizer bunny.”

“Alison is a very present personality,” McCormack said. “In any room where she is, eyes turn to Alison.”

The third woman chosen Sunday for a leadership post was Sen. Cheryl Hooker (D/P-Rutland), who was named whip. Sen. Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) recalled with awe how Hooker, 70, traveled to Montpelier in a blizzard after helping her husband through a medical crisis.

“Having someone who is calm and fair and good-humored as our assistant majority leader, I think, is incredibly important,” she said.

Senators also opted to keep some institutional knowledge handy by leaving Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) in a key leadership role on the Committee on Committees.

The influential three-member panel makes committee assignments. The two other members will be the pro tem, Balint, and the new lieutenant governor, Democrat Molly Gray.

Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington), noting that House Democrats had selected a woman, Rep. Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington), to be speaker, hailed the changes.

“It’s really a new day, and a new form of leadership,” Pollina said. I’m really looking forward to being part of a Senate and a legislature that is primarily directed by women.”

Correction, November 24, 2020: Anthony Pollina's party affiliation was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

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Friday, November 20, 2020

Recount Confirms Johnson's Loss; Krowinski Likely Next House Speaker

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2020 at 8:04 PM

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson
A recount Friday confirmed that Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) has lost the seat she’s held for 18 years to Republican Michael Morgan of Milton in the highest profile upset this election cycle.

The result heralds a new beginning for the House, as Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) is poised to become the chamber’s next speaker. Johnson has held the speakership for the last four years.

Official election results for the two-seat Grand Isle-Chittenden district showed Johnson in third place, 20 votes short of Morgan’s 2,627 votes. Morgan's margin of victory increased by one vote after Friday's eight-hour recount at the North Hero Community Hall, according to results from Grand Isle County Clerk Susan Bohannon.

Morgan’s uncle, Rep. Leland Morgan (R-Milton), was the top vote-getter with 2,778 votes after the recount, an increase of two votes; Democrat Andy Julow earned 2,405, one vote more than before the recount.

Despite her loss, Johnson said this election’s record-breaking turnout earned her more votes than ever before. She said the coronavirus pandemic prevented her from running a typical campaign. For one, she didn’t knock on doors in the district, which usually afforded her the chance to hear from voters directly — and clear up any misconceptions about her record.

“Had I been able to do that, I easily could have flipped 12 votes,” she said. This year, she had to focus on leading the House through the pandemic.

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Vermont Could Receive First COVID-19 Vaccine Doses Early Next Month

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2020 at 4:09 PM

Artists rendition of the virus - © CHINNASORN PANGCHAROEN | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • © Chinnasorn Pangcharoen | Dreamstime.com
  • Artists rendition of the virus
Vermont could receive limited doses of a vaccine for COVID-19 by early December, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said on Friday.

It would likely take months longer for the general public to get access to the vaccine, however, and as the virus continues to spread, officials urged Vermonters to continue to take steps to slow transmission. That includes avoiding gatherings with members of other households, practicing social distancing and avoiding nonessential travel.

Pfizer, the first company to complete Phase 3 trials for its vaccine candidate, said Friday that it had submitted its application for an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That announcement came just days after it announced preliminary findings from its trial data showing that its vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections.

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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Kilburn Family Files Wrongful Death Claim Against Burlington

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2020 at 8:04 PM

Douglas Kilburn (left) and Officer Cory Campbell - COURTESY OF LISA WEBBER | BURLINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Courtesy of Lisa Webber | Burlington Police Department
  • Douglas Kilburn (left) and Officer Cory Campbell
The family of Douglas Kilburn is suing the City of Burlington, the mayor and police over his death last year following an altercation with a city cop outside the University of Vermont Medical Center.

The civil complaint, filed Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court, accuses Officer Cory Campbell of using excessive force when he punched Kilburn in the face, breaking multiple bones. The officer's actions in March 2019 ultimately caused Kilburn's "unjustified death," his family asserts.

The suit also targets former police chief Brandon del Pozo and Mayor Miro Weinberger, claiming they tried to conceal Campbell's wrongful conduct by seeking to change the state medical examiner's conclusions in the case.

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A Traveler Says Quarantine Info Is in Short Supply at BTV

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2020 at 2:06 PM

A sign in baggage claim - KEN PICARD ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Ken Picard ©️ Seven Days
  • A sign in baggage claim
Last week, before returning to Vermont from California, Bari and Peter Dreissigacker scheduled coronavirus tests for seven days after their November 17 flight home. All Vermonters returning from out-of-state trips must complete either a 14-day quarantine or a seven-day quarantine followed by a negative COVID-19 test.

But upon their arrival at Burlington International Airport Tuesday evening, Bari Dreissigacker said, she was “astonished” to find that no one was greeting arriving passengers at the gate to inform them of the travel restrictions, nor did she notice flyers or signage to that effect. She had even printed the paperwork about the couple’s COVID test scheduled for November 24, expecting that someone in the airport would ask for it. No one did.

“There was no information in the airport [about the quarantine]. Zero,” Dreissigacker said. “Isn’t that surprising?” The only sign she noticed that referred to the mandate was a flashing highway sign as they drove off the airport grounds. That sign reads, “If you enter Vermont to stay / self-isolate 14 days.”

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More Than 35,000 Vermont Workers Will Get Hazard Pay

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2020 at 12:28 AM

From left: Sen. Michael Sirotkin, Sen. Tim Ashe and Sen. Chris Pearson at a press conference last week - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Paul Heintz ©️ Seven Days
  • From left: Sen. Michael Sirotkin, Sen. Tim Ashe and Sen. Chris Pearson at a press conference last week

Roughly 35,600 frontline workers in Vermont will get hazard pay for filling essential roles during the pandemic, Finance Commissioner Mike Pieciak said Wednesday evening, hours after the extended deadline for companies to apply for a final round of grants passed.

Legislators allocated the aid from federal CARES Act funds, saying that people who put themselves at risk while others hunkered down at home deserve the money.

An initial round of grants targeted health care workers; a more expansive round that concluded Wednesday included businesses such as retailers, childcare facilities and pharmacies.

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Media Note: VTDigger Announces Staff Departures

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2020 at 12:19 AM

VTDigger.org founder and editor Anne Galloway - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR ©️ Seven Days
  • VTDigger.org founder and editor Anne Galloway
Online news site VTDigger.org announced the departures of two employees Tuesday — longtime political columnist Jon Margolis and managing editor Colin Meyn.

Veteran journalist Margolis penned his final column Tuesday. He explained that he recently turned 80, and it struck him as “unseemly” for someone his age to be a political analyst in today’s climate.

“Such work is better suited for younger people who are more energetic and less jaded, people who have more to learn because they know less,” Margolis wrote.

In an interview with Seven Days, Margolis, a former political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, said his decade-long stint as a columnist for VTDigger was one of the most enjoyable of his career. But the switch to remote legislating made tracking down news tips tougher, while insightful pieces by VTDigger’s young Statehouse reporters made his political analysis redundant, he said.

“I’m going to miss the collegiality, I’m going to miss the challenge, and I’m going to miss being able to vent my spleen once a week,” Margolis said.

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