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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Losing Streak: State Pays $8,000 a Month for Idle Lottery Machines

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 3:45 PM

A'Touch Play lottery console - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • file: matthew thorsen
  • A'Touch Play lottery console
This story was first published at 1:38 p.m.

This gamble didn’t pay off.

Since last June, 25 lottery machines leased by the state of Vermont have gathered cobwebs in storage — unplugged and unused — at a cost of $8,000 a month.

That means the state has paid $72,000 in fees — for nothing. And the tab is still mounting. Neither the governor nor legislators were happy to hear about the losing proposition.

"I don't like that we're wasting money and having these machines sit idly," Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday. His staff learned about the situation in February while working on his proposal to merge the Lottery Commission with the Liquor Department.

"It's a waste of money," said House Ways and Means Committee chair Janet Ancel (D-Calais), who has long opposed expanding the state lottery.

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Vermont Senate Rebuffs Attempt to Raise Smoking Age

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 12:43 PM

Sen. Debbie Ingram speaks earlier this month in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21. - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Sen. Debbie Ingram speaks earlier this month in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21.
The Vermont Senate on Tuesday shot down a last-ditch attempt to raise the state’s smoking age from 18 to 21.

The bill was set aside earlier this month to give supporters time to round up enough ‘yes’ votes. But when it returned to the floor Tuesday, it was defeated by a vote of 13 to 16.

In an unsuccessful attempt to make the bill more palatable, its sponsor, Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden), proposed an amendment that would have eliminated penalties on underage smokers found with tobacco in their possession.

Senators remained reticent, voicing concerns about dictating Vermonters’ decisions, particularly those old enough to serve in the military.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Secure Lockers for the Homeless Proposed in Burlington

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 8:11 PM

The Salvation Army - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • The Salvation Army
From his popcorn stand on Church Street in Burlington, Paul Buschner has seen people walk by with all their belongings on their backs.

Three times, Buschner has paid for new birth certificates or IDs for homeless people whose belongings were stolen. In the 15 years that Buschner has operated his A-Maize-ing Kettle Korn cart, he's spoken with people who have lost prescription medication, important documents and other personal items.

Now, the New North End resident is spearheading a project to construct 40 secure lockers where the homeless could safely store their belongings for free. Buschner's still finalizing the cost estimates, but figures the total will come in between $5,000 and $10,000 for building materials, locks and possibly a security camera.

Buschner hopes to have the lockers completed in downtown Burlington by midsummer.

"I see people burdened by their stuff," Buschner said. "They can't go to the doctor's, can't go grocery shopping, can't get into the store with a big backpack." Lockers would help "give them some dignity and security."

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Feds: South Burlington Student 'Admitted' Sending Email Threat

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 6:15 PM

The Rebels scoreboard at South Burlington High School - FILE: MOLLY WALSH
  • File: Molly Walsh
  • The Rebels scoreboard at South Burlington High School
The South Burlington High School senior charged with threatening to kill students and staff last week "admitted" to police that he sent a threatening email, prosecutors wrote in a court filing ahead of his first court appearance.

Josiah Leach, 18, showed no emotion during the U.S. District Court hearing Monday afternoon in Burlington, at which he was assigned a public defender. Leach did not enter a plea and is scheduled to return to court on Thursday. He is being held without bail.

Authorities charged Leach with knowingly transmitting a threat via interstate commerce, which carries a five year maximum sentence. The teen, who is African American, allegedly made eight threats last week to kill students and staff in retaliation for the racially charged decision to drop the high school's Rebels nickname.

The February decision to drop the name has roiled the community. Critics say it's a reference to the Confederate South and slavery, while defenders say it's a benign tradition.

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Despite Scott's Concerns, Senate United on Lunge Confirmation

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 12:05 PM

The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier - DREAMSTIME
  • dreamstime
  • The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier
Despite concerns from Gov. Phil Scott, the Vermont Senate appears poised to confirm Green Mountain Care Board member Robin Lunge without opposition — even from Scott’s fellow Republicans — this week.

Senators are working on a consensus resolution that would acknowledge that former governor Peter Shumlin’s administration made mistakes in the appointment process, but that there was no question he intended to appoint Lunge, according to Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland).

“It seemed like the wisest option,” said Flory — meaning Senate Republicans decided against contesting the appointment.

The Senate is likely to vote on Lunge’s confirmation Tuesday or Wednesday.

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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 and Thursday. The school day ended in lockdowns 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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