Wednesday, January 21, 2015

WVTK Local & State News January 21, 2015

The official who led the heavily criticized launch of Vermont Health Connect is stepping down. Mark Larson is leaving his position as commissioner of the Department of Health Access in March. Governor Peter Shumlin says Larson worked hard for the last four years, and nobody cared more or tried harder than he did. The department manages the state health insurance exchange and administers its Medicaid program.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders today introduces a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. A press release says an amendment originating in Congress must be approved by a two-third majority in the House and the Senate in order to be submitted for consideration by the states. Ratification by three-fourths of the states is required to amend the Constitution.

The Addison County Economic Development Corporation has approved financing that will allow Middlebury-based start-up Stonecutter Spirits to begin production. Robin Scheu, executive director of ACEDC, confirmed the organization will use its revolving loan funds to lend $100,000 to the local gin and whiskey manufacturer. The financing is part of a $500,000 project with additional funding coming from Opportunities Credit Union and the National Bank of Middlebury. As a result of this investment, Stonecutter Spirits expects to create seven to 12 full time jobs as well as six part-time positions over the next three years. Stonecutter Spirits is a new Vermont spirits company specializing in barrel-aging techniques.

Governor Peter Shumlin and lawmakers on the Emergency Board found out revenues for this year and next are predicted to be lower than previously thought. State economists Jeff Carr and Tom Kavet says revenues for FY 2015 should be downgraded by $10 million. Revenues for FY 2016 should be downgraded by $18.6 million. Gov. Shumlin gave his budget address last Thursday, closing a $94 million gap. That gap will now add $18.6 million to its total. The economists did give some good news--they predicted the economy will be on an upswing thanks to low oil and gas prices.

The Vermont Health Department is warning travelers to the Caribbean, Central and South America and parts of Mexico of a new mosquito-borne disease. In 2013 the Chikungunya virus was found for the first time in the Americas. There have been three cases reported to the Health Department in Vermonters who traveled to the Caribbean. In the last year, there have been more than 2,000 cases reported by U.S. travelers returning from affected areas. Epidemiologist Erica Berl says there's no vaccine or treatment. She says the most effective way to avoid being infected is by using insect repellent.