MONTPELIER — Capital City leaders are standing firm in the face of the threat by President Donald Trump to dump undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities.
The threat came from Trump in recent days amid a spike in immigrants trying to cross the southern border. Democratic leaders have countered that the president is using innocent immigrants fleeing violence in their home countries as “political pawns” as a revenge tactic against Democrats for refusing to support funding for a border wall.
Official sanctuary cities in Vermont include Montpelier, Burlington and Winooski, while many smaller towns around the state have adopted “sanctuary status” resolutions. In March 2017, Gov. Phil Scott signed into law a bill, S.79, that prohibits state and local police from participating in some federal immigration enforcement efforts to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants. But he fell short of declaring Vermont a “sanctuary state.”
Capital City leaders said they would welcome undocumented immigrants if the president acted on his threat. The Montpelier City Council adopted a resolution to become a sanctuary city in November 2016.
Mayor Anne Watson said the president’s claim that undocumented immigrants are causing a crime wave in the country was unfounded.
“From the data that I’ve seen about crime rates among immigrants and undocumented immigrants is lower than the background population,” Watson said.
However, Watson acknowledged that a large influx of immigrants would be a challenge for a city that has a less-than 1 percent vacancy rate for housing but said the city would rise to the occasion.
“If we were to get lots more folks, we would figure it out,” Watson said.
“We’re already a town that provides a lot of services for people who don’t live here,” Watson said, referring to the city’s Montpelier Senior Activity Center, which caters to many seniors from neighboring towns and a large influx of state workers that pour into the city every day.
“We have 20,000 people that work here and use our services,” Watson said.
Watson also noted that many seasonal migrant workers pay taxes that support local economies and filled important jobs in the state’s farming sector.
“We have a shortage of workers here and it would be wonderful to add people to the population who could meet some of our workforce demands,” Watson said.
Watson also said she felt compelled to respond to the needs of people, mostly women and children, fleeing violence in their home countries.
“I just wish that people would be thoughtful about the fact that every one of these people has a story and it always bother me when people are quick to judge,” Watson added.
Montpelier’s legislative delegation, Democratic Reps. Mary Hooper and Warren Kitzmiller, also said they supported welcoming undocumented immigrants.
“I can only imagine that it would affect Montpelier positively,” Hooper said. “We have in the past welcomed immigrants from other countries.”
Hooper also noted the shortage of workers in Vermont and its bid to attract more people and workers.
“We have talked continually as a community and a state about what are we going to do about our aging demographics and declining population, welcoming people from away is the way other countries are rising to that challenge and solving their problems,” Hooper said.
Hooper did acknowledge the city’s tight housing market but said the city had managed with a higher population in the past.
“Housing is tight throughout the state,” Hooper said. “Montpelier, 30, 40 years ago, was 1,000 or 2,000 people larger than it was today and we accommodated those folks without any problem whatsoever.”
Kitzmiller was highly critical of the president’s policies on immigration.
“I give very little credibility to what this alleged president says,” Kitzmiller said. “It’s so typical of the man, he’s so uncaring. He doesn’t care about the effects on a small number of good and decent people who are seeking a better life or trying to escape violence in their home countries and he’s using them as political pawns in his own perverse games.
“We are a sanctuary city and we welcome new members of our community and we welcome the diversity that they would bring,” he added. “If they brought us 300 or 400 people, I don’t know how we would deal with that, but we would. We would welcome them and raise money in the community and we would find ways to house them on an emergency basis. I’m sure we would because Montpelier is a very caring community.”
Asked about a state response to a large influx of immigrants, Kitzmiller was less certain about providing the resources needed.
“I believe there would be many willing to consider that, but the trouble is state government cannot move that quickly,” Kitzmiller said. “We have some money that could be available on an emergency basis, coming from unknown directions. We could find some money but probably not enough to do the job, and I’m not sure that it would be state government’s job to do it.”
CALAIS — Three documents designed to preserve the town’s interest in Calais Elementary School in the wake of a looming state-ordered merger will be considered by local voters during a special school district meeting tonight.
The meeting, which is set for 6 p.m. at the pre-K-6 school, will provide voters a chance to weigh in on the documents — an option, an easement deed and a “school property use agreement.”
Crafted with the help of attorney James Barlow, the documents have yet to be executed by members of the Select Board and School Board. That will likely change if they are approved by voters tonight.
Unlike the elementary school budget, which was approved by voters on Town Meeting Day last month, or the more recently adopted spending plan for U-32 Middle and High School, the decision will be made on the floor of a moderated meeting — not by Australian ballot.
That will provide town and school officials an opportunity to explain the thinking behind the documents, which some have suggested are unnecessary and others have equated to a “prenuptial agreement” that would provide an added level of protection heading into a forced merger.
That merger would create a single pre-K-12 school district including currently autonomous elementary schools in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester, as well as jointly owned, but separately run, U-32. Lawmakers have, as of yet, been unable to reconcile competing proposals that could provide for a one-year delay in the July 1 implementation of the merger, and the prospects of a judicial reprieve suffered a setback when a judge dismissed key constitutional claims raised on behalf of 33 school districts.
Calais is on that list, as are three of its sister-districts — Berlin, Middlesex and Worcester — in the Washington Central Supervisory Union.
The documents that will be presented to voters for their consideration tonight presume the merger occurs and the assets of the local district — like those of all of its supervisory union partners — are transferred to the merged district.
Concerned their school might one day be closed, officials have drafted an “exclusive irrevocable option” that, if executed, would give the town the right to reacquire the Calais Elementary School property for $1 in the event it is no longer used for the “on-site education of children.”
That type of transaction is already contemplated in default articles of agreement that would be imposed on the merged district.
Meanwhile, officials are asking voters to approve two other documents — an easement and an agreement — that would preserve the town’s right to use the school building in the future.
The easement deed would guarantee continued use of the school as an emergency shelter and local polling place and town meeting space as needed. It would also provide the town with the permanent right to use the school’s fields, playgrounds and gymnasium for recreational programs and activities it sponsors.
The accompanying agreement provides some more specific detail about insurance requirements, the need to provide adequate supervision, and comply with current and future laws, ordinances and regulations, including school district policies.
On Monday, Rep. Peter Welch. D-Vt., plans to introduce legislation next week that aims to create a “level playing field” between independent pharmacies and bigger, national organizations.
Welch is planning to introduce two pieces of legislation, both involving the pharmacy benefit managers (PBM), who administrate government, private and company health plan benefits.
One bill would prevent PBMs from retroactively changing the price of a particular drug, sometimes months after it’s sold, requiring the pharmacy to pay the drug company more money.
The other bill would prohibit PBMs from excluding small, independent pharmacies like the Rutland Pharmacy from joining preferred pharmacy networks that fill prescriptions for Medicare patients.
Welch spoke at the Rutland Pharmacy on Monday along with Jeff Hochberg, director of the Rutland Pharmacy, Kevin Mullin, who was once a Rutland County state senator and now serves as the chairman for the Green Mountain Care Board, and Michael Fisher, chief health care advocate for Vermont Legal Aid.
Welch said the bills are bipartisan and he’s co-sponsoring them with Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va.
“Community pharmacies are essential to the well-being of Vermonters. They’re essential to the well-being of Americans. Our health care system is getting incredibly complicated and in many cases, a little too impersonal,” he said.
Welch said a local pharmacy can have a personal relationship with the patient.
Local pharmacies are being excluded from some pharmacy networks, which could jeopardize their finances and close them down in the long term.
“Morgan Griffith and I are introducing legislation that would allow our community pharmacies to participate in this program. They’d compete but they’d have the option to participate in it in order to continue to give this service to their patients,” he said.
Welch said the second bill would stop what he called “really an astonishing practice.” Welch said he was shocked when pharmacists showed him the records of drug manufacturers reducing a drug price months after the drug has been sold at the price set by the company.
“That’s not possible. Morgan Griffith and I are saying that’s not just impossible, that’s wrong and if our legislation passes, it’s going to be illegal,” Welch said.
Welch said that while members of Congress sometimes had “fractious” relationships, there are areas where people can work together. He said the high cost of prescription drugs was something that could be a problem in areas where voters are conservative or liberal.
“Morgan Griffith is a very conservative Republican but the people of his district and the pharmacists of his district face literally the same challenges that we see here. That’s what unites us and gives me some confidence, we’re going to get this legislation passed,” he said.
Hochberg said Vermonters had pride in a deep sense of community.
“Pharmacists do more than just dispense pills. They provide guidance and information on medication therapy, disease management, other health solutions. They administer vaccinations and help patients navigate the complexities of our health insurance system,” he said.
With changes in the health care system, Hochberg said it was important to preserve access to local pharmacies, and to preserve patients’ choice of pharmacist.
Fisher said Vermont Legal Aid runs a helpline.
“The key thing we do is connect (callers) to trusted providers. … At this pharmacy, and pharmacies like it across the state, Vermonters are turning to trusted providers to get the help they need,” he said.
While Welch said he hoped other members of Congress would support the legislation, he admitted he was “totally worried” about “Big Pharma” pushing back.
“We all pay lip service to small business and most people who live in small communities, they actually mean it because there is a personal interaction. But we are fighting powerful forces whose goal is bottom-line profit, high executive pay, and incidentally, if that person on the phone gets your name right, that’s great, but service is the last thing on their minds,” he said.
WILLIAMSTOWN — An extended family is homeless after a Sunday night fire gutted their Hebert Road farmhouse and an excavator was used to level what little was left.
The home was owned by Edward and Ruby Fullard, and occupied by the Fullards, two of their middle-aged children and three grandchildren.
Williamstown Fire Chief William Graham said the Fullards and at least two of their teenage grandchildren were home at the time and escaped the building after one of them noticed “black smoke” coming from a bedroom. No one was injured, he said.
According to Graham, the fire was called in shortly before 9:30 p.m. and the two-and-a-half-story wood-framed farmhouse was “half-involved” when firefighters arrived on the scene.
Graham said flames already burned through a section of roof at the time and within 30 minutes had spread throughout the entire structure.
“It did a lot of damage very quickly,” he said of the fire.
Graham said saving the structure was never a realistic option given how quickly the fire spread.
“It consumed the whole house,” he said of a fire that occupied nearly 50 firefighters from nine area departments through the night and into the early morning hours.
Though Graham said it wouldn’t have changed the ultimate outcome, he acknowledged efforts to extinguish the blaze were hampered by a decision to avoid using fire hydrants and instead rely on tankers to shuttle water to the scene.
“That was a struggle for the first couple of hours,” he said.
When Graham made that decision he said it was clear the house was beyond saving and there was no sense in stressing the temporary patch to a water main that burst on nearby Construction Hill Road over the weekend and was scheduled to be repaired on Monday.
The fire department posted news of the water main break on its Facebook page Saturday evening, noting there would be low pressure through the weekend and the fire department would only use hydrants “if necessary” pending Monday’s scheduled repair.
Had Sunday night’s fire spread less quickly, Graham said he might have made a different decision. While using the hydrants would have made it easier to fight the fire, he noted, they would not have saved the Fullards’ home.
“There was no saving it,” he said.
Graham said Williamstown firefighters were joined on the scene by volunteers from Northfield, Barre Town, Berlin, Brookfield, East Randolph, Chelsea, Roxbury and Washington. Those departments, he said, all sent tankers that were used to haul water to fight the fire. That battle, he said, didn’t end until after the excavator arrived early Monday morning to deal with the still-smoldering shell of the old farmhouse.
“We had to rip the whole house down to fully extinguish it,” he said.
Graham said state fire investigators were called to the scene, and, given the extent of the damage, were uncertain whether they would be able to pinpoint the cause and origin of the fire.
“At this time it’s still under investigation,” he said.
A disaster action team from the American Red Cross responded to the scene and provided the family with initial assistance and will follow up to see how it can help with the recovery process.
“It may be a flickering moment, but we can hope that a more generous and brotherly spirit has been kindled by the courage and heroism of the Paris Fire Brigade.”
Baseball teams from Harwood and Montpelier are looking forward to hitting the diamond after weather has hampered attempts at outdoor action. B1
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The Green Mountain Horn Club welcomes founder Alan Parshley in a special lunchtime concert. Free; bring a bag lunch. Coffee and tea are provided. 12-12:45 p.m. Christ Church Episcopal, 64 State Street, Montpelier, 802-223-3631.