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Friday, September 24, 2021

Vermont Supreme Court Deals Blow to Border Agents' Roving Patrols

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 3:36 PM

A vehicle leaving an interior Border Patrol checkpoint - MATTHEW ROY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Matthew Roy ©️ Seven Days
  • A vehicle leaving an interior Border Patrol checkpoint
Border patrol officers can search Vermonters' cars without a warrant under their special federal authority to conduct "roving" patrols within 100 miles of the U.S. border. But, as of Friday, evidence they collect during the controversial searches can no longer be used to prosecute crimes in state courts, a narrow majority of the Vermont Supreme Court ruled.

Civil liberties advocates, as well as the Vermont Attorney General's Office, celebrated the 3-2 decision as a significant check on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol's broad enforcement authority throughout most of Vermont.

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Labor Orgs Spar Over Vermont AFL-CIO Gun Rights Resolution

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 3:23 PM

At Sunday's convention - COURTESY OF VERMONT AFL-CIO
  • Courtesy of Vermont AFL-CIO
  • At Sunday's convention
Some local unions are calling for one of Vermont’s largest labor groups to withdraw a controversial resolution in favor of gun rights.

The measure, passed by the Vermont AFL-CIO at its annual convention last Sunday, puts a modern twist on the age-old argument against gun control: It says that extremist groups such as those that participated in the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol already have access to firearms, so tighter restrictions would only succeed in preventing law-abiding citizens from defending themselves.

“Organized Labor must not rely on the armed wing of the Government to defend democracy, our communities, labor organizations, allies, and regular people in the event of a crisis or attack by fascists, white supremacists, or individual extremists,” the resolution reads.

Echoing the document, union president David Van Deusen said in an interview that it’s “counterintuitive” to believe that progressive groups such as the Vermont AFL-CIO should not have access to firearms when “extremists on the right” are “armed to the teeth.”

“That’s just the reality of the America we’re living in today,” he said.

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Older Vermonters Can Sign Up for Pfizer Vaccine Booster Shot

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 11:00 AM

A health care worker preparing a dose of COVID-19 vaccine - COURTESY OF RYAN MERCER / UVM MEDICAL CENTER
  • Courtesy of Ryan Mercer / UVM Medical Center
  • A health care worker preparing a dose of COVID-19 vaccine
Updated at 11:30 a.m.

Vermont has opened registration to those 80 and older who are eligible for a booster shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The state's announcement on Thursday came hours after an advisory group within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the jabs for people 65 and older. Later, after midnight Friday morning, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that boosters would also be available to younger people at higher risk of contracting the disease because of underlying health conditions or their jobs, such as health care workers.

Walensky’s decision aligns with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which authorized emergency use of the vaccine for similar groups, including people who live in congregant settings, such as those in prison.

Later Friday morning, the state said it would open registration on October 1 to those between the ages of 18 and 64 who have underlying medical conditions.

"It is anticipated these conditions will be more specifically defined by the CDC later" Friday, the governor's office said in a press release.

The state, though, is waiting for further CDC guidance "on what occupational or institutional settings at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure should be eligible for booster shots." More information is expected next week.

Registration in Vermont is opening by age group. Those 80 and above could sign up on Friday morning; 75 and up can do so on Monday; 70 and up on Wednesday; and 65 and up on Friday, October 1. The Vermont Department of Health is setting up clinics to administer the jabs, which are also available at pharmacies and from health care providers. More information is available here.

Only those who have received their two-dose course of the Pfizer shot are eligible for the third booster shot, though “it is expected” that Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will receive federal clearance for boosters in the coming weeks, the state said in a Thursday night press release. The third shots are intended for people who received a second dose at least six months ago.

“Even though COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States are highly effective, a booster dose gives your body extra protection,” Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in the statement. “Getting vaccinated – and receiving a booster shot when you are eligible – is especially important as the world continues to face the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.”

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Texas Company Buys Gluten-Free Brattleboro Biz Against the Grain

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 10:52 AM

Against the Grain's factory and store in Brattleboro - COURTESY OF AGAINST THE GRAIN
  • Courtesy of Against the Grain
  • Against the Grain's factory and store in Brattleboro
HumanCo, a Texas food company with several celebrity investors, has purchased Against the Grain, a Brattleboro biz that makes gluten-free pizza, bread and cookies.

Founders Nancy and Tom Cain will still be involved in running the company, and the business will stay in Brattleboro, said Amy Zipper, HumanCo’s chief operating officer. Zipper lives in New York and has a second home in Stratton and said she, too, will be involved in running Against the Grain.

“It will grow in Brattleboro,” she said of the company, which has about 100 employees. “We love the founder’s story. We look for mission-driven companies that care about quality and taste.”

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Burlington Police Chief Requests Coronavirus Relief Funds to Pay Officer Bonuses

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2021 at 8:08 PM

Acting Police Chief Jon Murad - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Acting Police Chief Jon Murad
Updated on September 24, 2021.

Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad wants to use up to $1.27 million of the city's federal coronavirus recovery funds for bonuses to retain and recruit police officers.

The department roster has shrunk from 92 officers in June 2020 to 68 now — "an unprecedented rate of decline," Murad wrote in a memo to city councilors, who will consider the funding request at their meeting Monday. Only 65 officers are "deployable" as two are on a military deployment and another has an injury and is performing administrative duties, the memo says.

"Staffing shortages, increased overtime, and officer exhaustion are negatively affecting community engagement, response times, and the capacity to respond properly to incidents and follow through on casework," Murad wrote. "If staffing diminishes further, it will not only aggravate these conditions but also make it increasingly difficult to train new officers," as well as civilian employees who respond to nonemergency calls.

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Orleans County Schools Shift to Remote Learning Due to COVID-19 Clusters

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2021 at 7:51 PM

Derby Elementary School - COURTESY OF STACEY URBIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtesy of Stacey Urbin ©️ Seven Days
  • Derby Elementary School
Derby Elementary School and Newport City Elementary School, both in Orleans County, fared better than most Vermont schools last year when it came pandemic disruptions. Both schools were open for in-person learning five days a week and had just a small number of COVID-19 cases.

But less than a month into this school year, the two pre-K-6 North Country Supervisory Union schools are facing a different reality. Amid mounting COVID-19 cases, Derby Elementary School, which has more than 450 students, shifted to fully remote learning for all students on September 16. Nearby Newport City Elementary, with around 325 students, made the decision on Wednesday to go remote as well. 

In an email Thursday, Vermont Health Department spokesperson Katie Warchut said the cases in Newport have been classified as an outbreak, which means there are three or more cases with known connections in the educational setting. The Derby situation, which involves more cases and is more complex, is still under investigation, "but there appear to be multiple clusters of cases that are linked at this time," Warchut wrote.

Derby Elementary principal Stacey Urbin said that since the beginning of the school year, there have been 35 cases of COVID-19 in students and staff who were infectious while in school, and nine cases in people who were not infectious while in school. The overwhelming majority of those cases were in children, Urbin said.

RoseAnna Cyr, Derby Elementary’s school counselor and a parent of two children at the school, described the situation as “a rude reminder” that after a year and a half of keeping coronavirus under control in their community, things are not back to normal quite yet.

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Media Note: Fair Game Columnist Mark Johnson Departs Seven Days

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2021 at 1:45 PM

Mark Johnson, left, interviews then-governor Peter Shumlin at the Statehouse in 2015. - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Mark Johnson, left, interviews then-governor Peter Shumlin at the Statehouse in 2015.
Seven Days columnist Mark Johnson is leaving the newspaper.

A veteran journalist and broadcaster, Johnson took over Seven Days' weekly political column, Fair Game, in June after its previous writer, Dave Gram, retired because of health issues.

Johnson wrote 14 columns during his short tenure, covering a wide range of topics, from water quality to broadband expansion. In one, he took a stab at answering the perpetual question of whether Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt). will run again.

Johnson's most recent column — published Wednesday — will be his last. In an email, he said the demands of producing a quality column each week "requires more bandwidth than I can sustain."

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Some Vermont Businesses Received Excessive Pandemic Relief, Auditor Says

Posted By on Wed, Sep 22, 2021 at 7:57 PM

Vermont Statehouse - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermont Statehouse
Vermont Auditor Doug Hoffer says the state paid out too much in federal business recovery grants last year, helping some businesses make more money in 2020 than they did pre-pandemic in 2019.

In a report released Wednesday, Hoffer said the Agency of Commerce and Community Development paid $117 million in federal money to 2,278 businesses in the first year of the pandemic.

The agency processed most general business applications, as well as applications for women- and minority-owned businesses with no employees.

Private businesses received up to $300,000 through the program, part of a $600 million COVID-19 relief package that Gov. Phil Scott signed into law in early 2020 using funds from the $2 trillion federal emergency stimulus measure. (Hoffer's report doesn’t cover grants from a separate program administered by the state Tax Department, which processed applications for businesses such as restaurants, bars, lodging, retail and entertainment.)

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Vermont Officials Favor Vaccine Mandate for Public School Employees

Posted By on Wed, Sep 22, 2021 at 12:26 AM

Gov. Phil Scott - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Vermont’s in an unusual position this month: While COVID-19 case numbers are falling nationally,  they’re still rising in Vermont — a reversal after more than a year of better-than-average outcomes for the Green Mountain State.

Vermont's  seven-day average case rate has increased 27 percent since the start of the Labor Day weekend. Cases have risen more quickly among people who are not fully vaccinated.

At Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly news conference Tuesday, state officials outlined the measures they hope to put in place as part of a long-term response to the pandemic. Officials said that Vermont is one of 26 states that have approved OSHA state plans to expand a federal vaccine mandate for large businesses to include public employees, including school districts.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

UVM Medical Center Can Begin Planning for Surgical Center, Regulators Say

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2021 at 2:17 PM

The University of Vermont Medical Center - FILE: COURTESY PHOTO
  • File: Courtesy Photo
  • The University of Vermont Medical Center
Updated at 5:06 p.m.

State regulators have granted the University of Vermont Medical Center permission to begin planning its proposed outpatient surgery facility, overriding concerns raised by frontline workers about whether the hospital can adequately staff the expansion.

The hospital was required to seek this initial level of approval, known as a "conceptual" certificate of need, because the proposed facility is expected to cost more than $30 million. The hospital must still return for final approval before it can break ground on the project.

UVM Medical Center leaders have said the new facility would replace the shuttered seven-room outpatient facility at Fanny Allen, address existing surgical backlogs and meet future demand.

Determining that the project appeared to meet an "existing or anticipated need," the Green Mountain Care Board announced Monday that it was approving the hospital's request to spend up to $5 million on planning and designing the proposed facility.

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