It’s been another interesting news week.
Following a proposed plan to adjust the state’s pension system, local educators joined others across the state in protest. Earlier that day, the Scott administration announced that it would be making more Vermonters eligible this week for vaccination.
A couple of petitions have also stirred interest. In Montgomery, a petition is circulating to allow ATVs on town roads, a measure that was voted down on Town Meeting Day. Meanwhile, in St. Albans City, a petition is seeking to put the establishment of a legal marijuana market to a vote.
All this took place after the first full weekend in which bars were allowed to be open following a loosening of pandemic restrictions.
Here are five big stories we covered this week:
1. Educators picket against pension plan
A large group of teachers gathered near the Collins Perley Sports Complex on Tuesday in protest of a proposed pension change.
The House Government and Operations Committee's proposal does not apply to workers who are at or within five years of their retirement.
For everyone else, however, the proposal would increase base employee contributions toward retirement from 5% to 7.25% of gross salary for teachers, and increase the annual benefit on the average of an employee’s seven consecutive years of salary.
Currently, it bases it on the average of three consecutive years.
Additionally, the proposal would increase the pension vesting period to 10 years, up from the current five. The proposal also eliminates the possibility of early retirement at age 50 for educators with 20 years of service.
2. State expands vaccine eligibility
State officials announced several changes to public health guidance Tuesday in a bid to increase COVID-19 vaccine eligibility and edge Vermonters that much closer to normality.
During Tuesday’s press conference updating the public on the state’s response to the pandemic, it was announced that eligibility would be expanded to parents of children with high-risk conditions and Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) in Vermont. In addition, public health guidance for hospitals was updated to allow greater access for vaccinated Vermonters.
“Hospitals do have discretion to use more stringent measures and guidance,” said Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services.
3. Montgomery ATV petition
A petition formulated in Montgomery aims to bring the issue of ATV use on town roads before the town’s selectboard.
The petition, brought by resident Brad Alexander, contains the same language as Article 9 on the 2021 Town Meeting ballot. That warrant article failed on Town Meeting Day, 175-196.
The request seeks to open up Montgomery’s roads legally to the other end of Highway 58, bridging the gap between the town of Westfield and Richford, which have both already opened their roads, as well as opening Highways 118 and 242.
4. Marijuana market petition
Jack Nichol, owner of Canna-Trim cannabis trimming in Georgia Center, is petitioning for a cut of the market. He’s got 50 signatures from city residents so far after setting up shop in Taylor Park recently, but he needs 275 for St. Albans City to give voters a chance to say whether they want recreational cannabis businesses.
He also has 15 to 20 votes from St. Albans Town, but needs 226 to succeed in scheduling a vote by the people.
Nichol, who operates his own mobile cannabis trimming and equipment rental business, said he thinks the cannabis industry would be an enormous benefit to downtown St. Albans, and even thinks he’s the man to do it.
5. First weekend of open bars
Four months after closing, bars in Franklin County, and across the state, were allowed March 24 to continue business under the same guidance that allows restaurants to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some bar owners are left scratching their heads over why they were shuttered in the first place.
McClurg’s Scottish Pub in Enosburg Falls is named after the owner — David Erbe’s — grandmother. The McClurgs came to the United States from Ashier, Scotland in the early 1900s. He says that when he opened the bar last year it was just to create a place where people could hang out, but that business has been hurt by COVID-19 restrictions.
“We reclassified as a restaurant at the beginning of the year. I just needed a way to stay open, but we still consider ourselves a bar,” Erbes said.