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February 10, 2014

Essex Junction Considers New Land-Use Code to Prevent Unscrupulous Massage Parlors

Seiwa PhotoOn Tuesday, the Village of Essex Junction Board of Trustees will consider proposed changes to its land development code that would make it more difficult to open massage parlors that allow criminal activities on their premises. The measure, introduced by village trustee Elaine Sopchak, comes in response to revelations last year by Seven Days that at least three Chittenden County massage parlors, including the now-defunct Seiwa Spa in Essex Junction (seen right in a May 2013 photo), were allegedly offering sex for money, possibly by female workers who were the victims of human trafficking.

The proposal, scheduled for discussion at the board's February 11 meeting, would create a new section of the village's land development code that specifically targets massage establishments. According to Sopchak, the new code would define what constitutes a massage parlor and would require a public hearing before one may open, as well as routine inspections and an annually renewable business permit.

The new code would also place physical restrictions on such businesses, such as prohibiting sleeping quarters on the premises, banning locks on massage room doors and not allowing customers to enter and exit from the rear of the building. Sopchak, who's been working closely on the new code with Essex Police Chief Brad LaRose, said that many of the proposed changes are borrowed from a model ordinances developed by the Polaris Project, an international anti-human-trafficking group based in Washington, D.C.

Continue reading "Essex Junction Considers New Land-Use Code to Prevent Unscrupulous Massage Parlors" »

Video: Shumlin Talks Heroin on ABC's 'This Week'

Gov. Peter Shumlin made his Sunday morning talk show debut this weekend with an appearance on ABC's "This Week."

The topic? You guessed it: Vermont's "full-blown heroin crisis."

Shumlin appeared with guest host Martha Raddatz, ABC News correspondent Dr. Richard Besser and journalist Seth Mnookin, who wrote last week in Slate about his own struggle with heroin addiction. The segment segued from actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death by heroin overdose last week to Shumlin's State of the State address, in which he focused on Vermont's "growing epidemic" of opiate abuse.

Here's the video (and here's the transcript):

February 08, 2014

The Weekly 7: This Week in Vermont News

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Each weekday, Seven Days scans the news across the Vermont media landscape to find the smartest, best and most compelling stories. We bundle them up in an email and send them out to our subscribers early each afternoon. It's called the Daily 7.

So which Vermont news stories are you reading? And which should you be reading? Here are the stories you clicked on most from this week's editions of the Daily 7:

 

#1Disharmony on Prospect Street: A Dispute Between Neighbors Strikes a Sour Note
By Alicia Freese, Seven Days — Wednesday, February 5

A feud between neighbors over a Burlington man's home guitar workshop has gone on for a year and a half and could reach the Vermont Supreme Court.

 

#2 Potent Synthetic Being Sold as Heroin Causes Three Vermont Deaths
By Taylor Dobbs, Vermont Public Radio — Thursday, February 6

The Department of Health says three people in Addison County died after overdosing on what they thought was heroin but was actually the prescription painkiller Fentanyl.

Continue reading "The Weekly 7: This Week in Vermont News" »

February 07, 2014

On Trip to Vegas, Shumlin Met With Potential DGA Donors

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Shumlin and Health Commissioner Harry Chen spoke at a Burlington press conference Friday

Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday that while in Las Vegas this week, he "made a couple of fundraising visits" to potential donors to the Democratic Governors Association. But he would not say whether he raised any gold for his own reelection campaign while on his trip to the Silver State.

Shumlin traveled to Vegas on Wednesday to attend the National Association of Home Builders' annual meeting and trade show, at which the gov said he "spoke with the home builders about jobs and the work we're doing in Vermont to try to boost housing." The two-day trip was paid for by the DGA, a partisan electoral organization of which he is chairman. 

As Seven Days reported this week, the organization's nonprofit advocacy arm and its super PAC raised $28 million last year. Most of that came from five- and six-figure contributions from special interest groups, including labor unions and the pharmaceutical, insurance, telecom and tech industries.

Neither the DGA nor the governor's office responded to questions posed by Seven Days over the past week about whether Shumlin would be taking part in any fundraising activities while out-of-state. But Shumlin confirmed at a Friday press conference at Burlington's Community Health Center that he had.

Continue reading "On Trip to Vegas, Shumlin Met With Potential DGA Donors" »

Morning Read: Newsweek Skewers Vermont Health Connect (Updated)

MorningreadUpdated below with comment from Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson, who says the Newsweek story is inaccurate and "inflammatory."

How bungled was the rollout of Vermont Health Connect, the state's trouble-plagued health insurance exchange?

In a word, argues veteran reporter and New York Times alum Lynnley Browning, very. But Browning takes a full 3,400 words to make that point in a brutal new story published on Newsweek's website Thursday evening

In it, Browning writes that Vermont state officials "glossed over ominous warning signs and Keystone Cops-like planning" as they worked with contractor CGI Federal to build the federally mandated exchange. 

Continue reading "Morning Read: Newsweek Skewers Vermont Health Connect (Updated)" »

To Simulate a Shooting, Vermont State Police Occupy Burlington Town Center

_MG_2688_1It was only a drill. Five Vermont state troopers were moving through Burlington Town Center on Thursday evening, when suddenly, they came under fire. Four journalists had infiltrated the deserted mall and wouldn't stop shooting at them. 

Click. Click. Click. 

Undettered by the paparazzi's cameras, the troopers went on with their demonstration, proceeding from the mall's Bank Street entrance in a diamond formation, making their way down to the J. Crew store with guns drawn, turning around and exiting the way they came.  

Continue reading "To Simulate a Shooting, Vermont State Police Occupy Burlington Town Center" »

February 06, 2014

Media Note: With Campaign Finance Database, VTDigger Puts the State to Shame

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Who donated the most money to State Treasurer Beth Pearce's first bid for public office in 2012? Which Vermont politicians took campaign cash from tobacco giant Philip Morris during the last election cycle? How much money did renewable energy entrepreneur David Blittersdorf pump into Vermont politics in 2012?

Before this week, those questions were pretty tough to answer.*

To arrive at the first, you'd have to sift through seven PDFs (from seven reporting deadlines) of often handwritten disclosure forms, some as much as 12 pages long. To answer the second, you'd have to do the same as the first for each of the 205 candidates who reported fundraising activities last election. And to answer the third, you'd have to do the same as the second, but you'd also have to keep an eye out for all the entities through which Blittersdorf makes campaign contributions.

Now you don't. And that's thanks to nonprofit news organization VTDigger — not the state of Vermont.

Continue reading "Media Note: With Campaign Finance Database, VTDigger Puts the State to Shame" »

Barre Drug Witness Gets Extra Six Months for Refusing to Testify

Dondre Chisom turned state's witness last year and testified for Vermont prosecutors against a friend from New York City with whom he had sold heroin and cocaine in Barre.

As part of the arrangement, Chisom saw his potential 60-month prison sentence cut in half. But that assistance, Chisom later told officials, came with a price: He and his family were threatened back in New York City after word got around that he had cut a deal with prosecutors and testified against Kevin Harris during a trial last year.

So when it came time last week for Chisom, 20, to testify once again during Harris' sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Chisom defied Judge William Sessions III and refused to take the stand. His refusal did not seem to affect the sentencing; Harris was sent away for more than 12 years. But a few days later, Sessions grappled with what to do with Chisom.

Continue reading "Barre Drug Witness Gets Extra Six Months for Refusing to Testify" »

This Week's Issue: A Neighborly Noise Feud in Burlington, 'Border' Security and Maple Saplings

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Find these news and politics stories in this week's Seven Days...

February 05, 2014

Rural Vermont: Farmers Sold 53,000 Gallons of Raw Milk

LM-RawMilk-SPAs some farmers push for more freedom to sell raw milk, an  advocacy group reports that nearly 2,000 customers bought more than 53,000 gallons of the unpasteurized product in a recent 12-month period. 

For those of you interested in following the raw milk debate, head over to the website of Rural Vermont, which  released its annual raw milk report Wednesday morning. Because Vermont doesn't require farmers selling raw milk to register with the state, the Rural Vermont report is the best snapshot we have of what raw milk sales look like on the ground.

To recap, raw milk is unpasteurized. In Vermont, it's sold directly by farmers to consumers, and in almost all cases consumers have to travel to the farm to purchase this milk. Vermont passed regulations in 2009 covering the sale of raw milk, setting out guidelines for farmers intended to protect public health. People who love raw milk really love raw milk — but conversely, public health officials stand firm in their conviction that consuming unpasteurized milk (which hasn't been treated to kill off pathogens and bacteria) could make people sick.

Continue reading "Rural Vermont: Farmers Sold 53,000 Gallons of Raw Milk " »

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