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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Vermont Issues Guidance for Returning College Students

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2020 at 9:06 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Vermont will require all college students returning to campuses this fall to comply with a strict regimen of testing, quarantining and social distancing to try to prevent the kind of COVID-19 outbreaks sweeping the nation.

The announcement of the protocols Tuesday was intended to quell local fears about an influx of students from places with higher infection rates and convince anxious students that in-person education in the state was a low-risk proposition.

“The State of Vermont aims to make the state the safest place to go to college,” said Richard Schneider, the recently retired president of Norwich University. “All of our college presidents have that in mind and have that as their target.”

Schneider chaired the state higher education task force that drafted the new mandatory guidelines announced Tuesday. Schools are free to enact even tougher rules.

Gov. Phil Scott said he was confident that the new rules were strict enough and the state’s track record in managing the pandemic strong enough to allow Vermont to welcome thousands of students back to school.

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Farmworker Activist Dies of COVID-19 Following Deportation

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2020 at 4:25 PM

Durvi Martinez at a Burlington Pride Parade in 2019 - COURTESY OF MIGRANT JUSTICE
  • Courtesy of Migrant Justice
  • Durvi Martinez at a Burlington Pride Parade in 2019
A 32-year-old Vermont farmworker and Migrant Justice activist died of COVID-19 in Mexico last week after being deported in March, the group said Tuesday. 

Durvi Martinez, a trans woman who used they/them pronouns, "was a brave and outspoken advocate for immigrant and LGBTQ rights," the organization said in a statement Tuesday announcing their July 1 death. "Durvi will be remembered as a loving and supportive friend."

Martinez is believed to have contracted the new coronavirus in Mexico, but Migrant Justice said it holds U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement responsible for their "unjust" detention, deportation and death.

"Rather than releasing Durvi, ICE deported them to their death," the group said.

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Progressives Seek to Ward Off Perennials Vying for Party Nod

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2020 at 1:51 PM

Gubernatorial candidate Cris Ericson in a 2018 appearance on Vermont PBS - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Gubernatorial candidate Cris Ericson in a 2018 appearance on Vermont PBS
The Vermont Progressive Party is recruiting volunteers to write in the names of its top officeholders on its primary election ballot to ensure that a pair of perennial candidates don't claim the party's nomination.

The elaborate exercise is an attempt to allow Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, who is running for governor, and state Auditor Doug Hoffer, who is seeking reelection, to win the nominations of both the Progressive and Democratic parties. State law prohibits candidates from running in more than one party primary, but they can be nominated by additional parties if enough voters write in their names — or if no other candidates run in a given primary and party leaders choose to nominate them.

As they have in the past, Zuckerman and Hoffer both chose this year to run in the Democratic primary, and both face competition for that party's nomination. At the same time, perennial candidate Cris Ericson of Chester is seeking the Progressive nomination for governor, auditor and every other statewide office on the ballot. Boots Wardinski, an organic farmer and horse logger who has run for office several times, is also seeking the Progressive gubernatorial nomination.

To prevent Ericson and Wardinski from winning the Progressive nod in the August 11 primary, the party is seeking 250 to 300 Progressive stalwarts to write in Zuckerman's and Hoffer's names in that party's primary, according to its executive director, Josh Wronski.

"It's definitely not an ideal system," Wronski said. "The whole primary system is not geared toward nontraditional parties."

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Monday, July 6, 2020

Data Dive: Feds Reveal Which Vermont Employers Got Coronavirus Relief Loans

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 11:33 PM

  • Thomas James
Updated at 2:21 p.m. on July 7, 2020

Some of Vermont's best-known companies have received millions in emergency federal coronavirus relief loans: Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Logic Supply in South Burlington, and S.D. Ireland in Williston, to name a few.

Nearly 12,000 Vermont employers — including Da Capo Publishing, which puts out Seven Days — have received loans totaling some $1.2 billion through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. They reported employing at least 113,000 people, according to data released on Monday by the federal Small Business Administration.

Both nationally and in Vermont, about two-thirds of all loans were for less than $50,000. Only 13 percent of the loans to Vermont businesses were for more than $150,000. And just seven businesses received between $5 million and $10 million: Bennington College, Copley Hospital, GW Plastics, iTech US, PC Construction, Momentum Manufacturing and the Vermont Energy Investment Corp.

After this story was published, VEIC clarified that it returned more than $5 million of that loan after the SBA narrowed the program guidelines, keeping just $254,411 of its original $5.4 million.

The SBA released the data after the Washington Post and 11 other news organizations sued for the names of every company that received a loan, as well as the dollar amount each received. The agency had previously released only summary data.

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Auditor Candidate Accuses Incumbent of Playing Politics

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 8:21 PM

Linda Joy Sullivan - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Linda Joy Sullivan
A candidate for state auditor has accused her opponent, four-term incumbent Auditor Doug Hoffer, of playing politics with his office by timing a recent report to hit just as voting for the August primary got under way.

Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan (D-Dorset) issued a statement Monday that accused  Hoffer, a Democrat in office since 2013, of issuing a July 1 health care report to coincide with the start of voting by absentee ballot.

But Hoffer struck back Monday afternoon, defending his office’s work and calling her statement “riddled with errors” and a “back-handed political stunt.”

The spat, the first significant salvo in the so-far subdued statewide race, illustrates the pressure some candidates for political office — and challengers of incumbents in particular — feel to attract attention to their campaigns during a pandemic with the primary now just over a month away.

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Vermont State Colleges System Appoints New Chancellor

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 8:05 PM

The Vermont State Colleges System took a step toward stability on Monday and appointed
  • Courtesy Vermont State Colleges System
  • Sophie Zdatny
 interim Chancellor Sophie Zdatny as its new permanent leader.

Zdatny has led the chancellor's office since late April, taking over for Jeb Spaulding after he resigned in the wake of his highly controversial proposal to shutter three campuses.

The college system's board of trustees offered Zdatny a one-year renewable contract Monday night following an hourlong executive session. Trustees praised her efforts to stabilize the system and thanked her for taking on the challenge of leading it into the future.

"She's rewritten the definition of 'interim,'" said board of trustees chair J. Churchill Hindes during Monday's virtual meeting. "Most people think of interim as a caretaker, just keep the lights on. It's been nothing like that whatsoever."

"The change from the emotional and the practical situation we were in when we appointed [her] ... to where we are now, is remarkable," he added.

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Saturday, July 4, 2020

Calls to 'Rebuild' Country at Independence Day Protest in Burlington

Posted By on Sat, Jul 4, 2020 at 9:44 PM

A speech at Saturday's rally - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • A speech at Saturday's rally
More than 1,000 people marched through downtown Burlington on the Fourth of July to draw attention to the country's legacies of racism and oppression.

The Black-led event began at 4 p.m., just as many others in the city were sipping beers or barbecuing to celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Protesters gathered outside Burlington City Hall, then walked up the Church Street Marketplace and through Pearl Street to Battery Park.

Organizers with The Black Perspective said they asked Church Street businesses to close early in solidarity. Leunig's Bistro & Café lined its shuttered outdoor seating area with Black Lives Matter flags, and Outdoor Gear Exchange posted fliers announcing its early closure so employees could attend the rally.

Other businesses and restaurants stayed open. The mass of mask-clad rally-goers squeezed past shoppers and outdoor diners along the Marketplace and chanted the names of Black men and women killed by police.

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Friday, July 3, 2020

Absentee Ballot Requests Surge in Vermont

Posted By on Fri, Jul 3, 2020 at 5:58 PM

A South Burlington polling place in May - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • A South Burlington polling place in May
Some 25,000 Vermont voters have already requested absentee ballots for the August 11 primary election, according to the Secretary of State's Office — a nearly tenfold increase in such requests since the last state primary.

"We expect that number will continue to climb," said Secretary of State Jim Condos.

The surge is almost certainly due to concerns over in-person voting prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. But according to Condos, it's too soon to say whether the shift means more Vermonters intend to vote this year or whether a typical number will vote but will do so in a different manner.

"I'm hoping there will be an increase because it's your constitutional right to cast your ballot, and typically a primary gets a lower turnout than a general election," he said.

At an equivalent point in the 2018 election — 40 days before the primary — only 2,603 voters had requested ballots, according to Condos' office. At the same time in 2016, when there were competitive primaries for open gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial positions, 4,885 voters had requested ballots. The 24,988 who had done so by the end of the day Thursday represented close to a quarter of the 107,000 Vermonters who voted in any manner during the 2018 primary.

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Federal Furloughs Would Impact More Than 1,100 in Vermont

Posted By on Thu, Jul 2, 2020 at 9:26 AM

A sign near the border - FILE: MARK DAVIS
  • File: Mark Davis
  • A sign near the border
A federal immigration agency will furlough more than 1,100 Vermonters next month in response to a looming budget deficit, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who implored his colleagues Wednesday afternoon to pass a new relief bill that could prevent the temporary job losses.

"These are men and women who day after day do important work for the nation," Leahy said in remarks from the Senate floor. "They've continued to do that work every day even during the COVID-19 pandemic. And even though they've been doing the work loyally and effectively, after August 3rd, they can no longer do their job; they no longer will receive a paycheck."

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has more than 19,000 employees whose main tasks include processing requests for asylum, immigration benefits and American citizenship. Vermont hosts one of the nation's five USCIS service centers, with 1,700 workers located mainly in Essex and St. Albans.

The agency had warned for weeks that it would need to furlough employees in response to the pandemic, but it had not confirmed exactly how many Vermonters would be impacted. That revelation came last Friday, when the agency sent furlough notices to 13,350 of its employees, 1,111 of whom are Vermont workers, Leahy said.

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Zuckerman, Gray Top Their Fields in Vermont Campaign Fundraising

Posted By and on Thu, Jul 2, 2020 at 1:24 AM

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman
Updated at 3:35 p.m.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman raised more money in the last two and a half months than any of his rivals for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, according to reports filed Wednesday with the Secretary of State's Office.

Zuckerman collected $130,328 in donations between March 13 and June 28 — more than the $101,276 reported by former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe.

Both candidates raised far more campaign cash than the incumbent Republican they hope to replace, Gov. Phil Scott. When he announced in May that he would seek a third term, Scott pledged to refrain from campaigning or fundraising until the coronavirus-induced state of emergency had been lifted.

The governor largely lived up to that promise, picking up a mere 30 donations worth a combined $8,155 in the most recent fundraising period. He did, however, spend $53,754 on his non-campaign — including paying just more than $50,000 to Washington, D.C.-based Optimus Consulting. That left Scott with only $49,893 remaining in his campaign account.

In a statement touting his recent fundraising success, Zuckerman noted that it had come during a period in which Vermont was largely on pandemic lockdown. “I am humbled by the outpouring of support from Vermonters during these difficult times,” the Progressive/Democrat said.

Holcombe, who entered the Democratic primary a full six months before Zuckerman, has raised far more money since the start of the race: $481,365 compared to Zuckerman's $288,818. She also reported having $104,979 cash on hand, more than his $69,701.

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