Vt. House committee votes for driver cellphone ban
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A Vermont House committee wants the state to ban adults from using hand-held cellphones while driving.
The House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill Friday, but the governor and lieutenant governor oppose such a ban.
Vermont already bans texting while driving at any age and prohibits teen drivers from using cellphones while driving. Twelve states ban adult drivers from talking on cellphones held by one hand to their ears, according to National Conference of State Legislators.
"This needs to become law. The message needs to get out there," said House Judiciary Chairman Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg. "Whether hands-free is a total solution, it has to be better."
Senate leaders indicated they would consider such a ban, The Burlington Free Press (http://bfpne.ws/1eoRPFe ) reported.
"This is a conversation that needs to happen," said Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor.
Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said earlier in the week that he's "not a big fan of passing legislation that's going to force people to break the law. The best thing we can do is use common sense," the newspaper reported.
On Friday, his staff said he would be "willing to look at the data as the discussion moves forward."
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945 cases of child sex abuse investigated in Vt.
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A new report says Vermont's special police units that investigate abuse saw 945 cases of child sexual abuse in fiscal year 2013, which ended last June -- down from 1046 in fiscal year 2012.
The report filed with the Legislature this week shows that Special Investigation Units worked with 1,414 Vermonters who were victims of abuse or in high-risk situations, and 1,164 were children.
The report says over half all reported child victims are 12 or younger.
Vermont Public Radio reports (http://bit.ly/1eE6LM7 ) that the Legislature required the start-up of the Special Investigation Units in 2005 -- with plans to have them across the state by 2009.
Bram Kranichfeld, the executive director of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, says 12 units now serve all 14 counties in Vermont.
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Vermont Tech offers courses for farmers
RANDOLPH CENTER, Vt. (AP) -- Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center is offering a series of short courses in the coming months for Vermont farmers and agricultural workers.
The courses are cold climate fruit and berry management, sustainable vegetable production and organic farm business.
They are offered through the college's Institute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems.
The college says the institute is dedicated to teaching courses that sustainably support the environment and our food systems. It's supported by a $3.4 million grant from the Department of Labor.
The fruit and berry management class takes place Feb. 18-20. The one-day organic farmer's business course is on March 5th and the sustainable vegetable production course takes place over a week starting on March 31.
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Diamond Run Mall in Vt. sold for $4.3 Million
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Paperwork filed at the Rutland Town Clerk's office shows that the Diamond Run Mall has sold for $4.3 million to a New Jersey-based company.
Anchor stores at the mall include JCPenney, Sears and Kmart. The Spartan Arena, where Castleton State College Men's Ice Hockey team plays, is also attached to the mall.
The Rutland Herald (http://bit.ly/1emMEWf ) reports that the mall sold previously for $53 million in 2007 to Gemini Real Estate Advisors. At the end of last year, the owners surrendered the mall to the mortgage holder with more than $30 million outstanding.
Besides the anchor stores, the mall is about two thirds empty.
The new owner is BAI Rutland LLC of Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
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Ignat Solzhenitsyn to discuss father's writing
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) -- Conductor and pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn (sol-zhuh-NEET'-suhn) will be in Brattleboro to discuss the writing of his father, former exiled Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and their family's life in the small Vermont town of Cavendish.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn lived in Cavendish from 1977 to 1994 and died in Russia in 2008.
Ignat Solzhenitsyn will give a talk at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at part of the Vermont Humanities Council's First Wednesdays lecture series.
His talk, "Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Writing the Red Wheel in Vermont," is free and open to the public.
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Vermont Law Schools hosts climate change talk
SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. (AP) -- Vermont Law School is hosting a discussion on the threats of climate change to the winter sports industry in New England.
Climate scientists and ski industry representatives will be part of the panel discussion on Thursday.
The symposium-- called "Brown Slopes, Bare Trails: The Impact of Climate Change on Winter Sports" -- will be held from 12:45 p.m. to 2 p.m.
The "Brown Slopes, Bare Trails" discussion will be held at the Chase Center on the Vermont Law School campus. Presented by the VLS Sports Law Institute and Environmental Law Center, the event is free and open to the public.
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Skier dies in crash at Vt's Sugarbush
WARREN, Vt. (AP) -- Vermont state police say the 19-year-old woman who died at Sugarbush Ski Resort in Warren was a student at the University of Vermont.
Police say Kendra Bowers, a Rhode Island native, was skiing with family and friends Saturday at the popular ski area when she lost control, went off the trail and hit a trail sign.
A UVM website notes that Bowers was in charge of public relations for the a cappella campus signing group known as "ZEST." She was a sophomore.
Police say the crash happened at the intersection of the Lower Rim Run and Lower FIS trails on Mount Ellen at Sugarbush.
Police say emergency responders provided medical treatment until she was transported to Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin. Police say she died upon arrival at the hospital.
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Sanders, Leahy criticize oil pipeline decision
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Vermont's two U.S. senators are sharply criticizing an environmental impact statement from the U.S. State Department that appears to support construction of the hotly debated Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.
Both Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders say the pipeline would enable a big increase in oil production and add to greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.
Leahy is labeling the project misguided and an environmental travesty.
Sanders says the State Department appears to be ignoring the problem of climate change.
The State Department issued its environmental impact statement for the project on Friday, saying it had no major objections to the Keystone pipeline.
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Vt. secretary of state gets new election software
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos says Vermont is about to roll out a new software that will help it manage elections and share information about them with the public.
Condos said the new applications will provide Vermonters with easier access to information, improve transparency, and strengthen the overall reliability of elections functions.
"This is a huge step forward for Vermont. Among the many benefits of the new elections system, the chief benefits are that it will enhance the security, accuracy, and integrity of our elections," he said.
The new elections system will support Vermont's voter registration checklist, absentee ballot tracking, election management, campaign finance reporting, and lobbyist disclosure, Condos said.
"The campaign finance reporting application will be the first to be rolled out," said Condos who said the upgrade to a new searchable database will be a big boost to transparency in the state.
Most of the more than $2 million cost of the project is being paid for with a federal grant under the Help America Vote Act.
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Vt. seventh-lowest for long-term unemployed
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A think-tank report is finding that nearly a quarter of Vermont's unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. But the state ranks seventh-lowest in the country in that category of long-term unemployed.
Vermont's unemployment rate for December was 4.2 percent, tying it with Iowa for fifth-lowest in the country. But the Economic Policy Institute puts the percentage of Vermont's unemployed who are long-term unemployed at 23.7 percent.
The jurisdictions with the highest long-term unemployment were New Jersey, the District of Columbia and Florida -- all between 46 and 47 percent. The states doing better than Vermont were all in the Great Plains or Mountain West, including the Dakotas, Iowa, Idaho, Utah and Oklahoma.
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Vt. national forest adopts 35 mph snowmobile limit
RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) -- U.S. Forest Service officials in Vermont have announced a new 35-mile-per-hour speed limit for snowmobiles in the Green Mountain National Forest.
The speed limit for what the service calls "over-snow vehicles," matches that already in place for snowmobiles on Vermont state lands.
The Forest Service says its trails are open not just to snowmobiling, but also to cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and dog sledding, and it wants to make sure the trails are safe for all users.
It also notes most of the trails are narrow and mountainous and have poor sight lines.
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Vt. woman pleads not guilty in Amber Alert case
BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) -- A Vermont woman who police say triggered an Amber Alert after she took her biological son to New Hampshire has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the case.
Forty-nine-year-old Patricia Kane of Manchester was charged Friday with unlawful restraint and custodial interference, both felonies.
She was being held on $10,000 bail.
Vermont State Police had issued an Amber Alert Monday after Zachary Lee was dropped off at his foster home by a school bus, but never made it inside.
Authorities say they found the boy late Monday night at a hotel in Lyme, N.H.
If released, Kane must check in daily with the Manchester Police Department, not have contact her son without court permission and submit to an alcohol test upon law enforcement's request.