MONTPELIER — The gun debate raged on at the State House Tuesday.
One side said proposed legislation for a 24-hour waiting period for handgun sales would help reduce suicides in the state while the other said it won’t accomplish anything except for infringing on people’s rights.
The Vermont House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing at the State House on S.169, a bill that’s been passed out of the Senate that would impose the waiting period if passed into law. There were more opponents of the bill than supporters in attendance judging by those who wore hunter orange shirts as a symbol of their support of the Second Amendment.
Many of those who supported the bill wanted the committee to extend the waiting period to 72 hours. A House bill had been introduced to do just that and the Senate’s version originally called for a 48-hour waiting period. It also called for the waiting period to apply to all gun sales, but the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to limit the waiting period to handguns only. Supporters said they wanted the waiting period to again cover all gun sales.
Rob Black is the father of Andrew Black, 23, of Essex, who shot and killed himself in December after buying a handgun from a licensed seller a few hours prior. Rob Black and his wife Alyssa made national headlines after they talked about their son’s death in his obituary and asked for a waiting period on gun purchases.
“I can’t tell you how many, but I can tell you this law will save lives,” Rob Black said.
Opponent Ed Wilson said the Legislature is made up of people “who just don’t like guns.” Wilson said those at the State House want to do anything possible to make it more difficult to own, buy and use guns.
He said legislators are willing to break their oaths to protect the Vermont Constitution in order to so.
“Tonight there will be people here who profess to be hunters and gun owners who will tell us they see nothing wrong with this law on their ability to shoot a deer. I’d like to remind them the Second Amendment was about shooting tyrants, not deer,” he said.
Supporter Thomas Ely is the bishop of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Ely said he’s also a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of over 80 Episcopal bishops working to stop gun violence in the United States.
“I know that not everyone who purchases a gun intends to do violence to themselves, or others, but sadly some do. Strengthening the provisions of S.169 to include a 72-hour waiting period on all gun purchases might slightly inconvenience some and yet could well save the life of someone you or I know and love. Once a gun, any kind of gun, has been used to end one’s life, inflict injury or take the life of another, there is no waiting time left to offer — only regret and mourning time,” he said.
Opponent Bob Readie quoted former Gov. John Weeks in his inaugural address: “Our God-given rights, as enshrined in the U.S. and Vermont Constitution, are not open for negotiation. They cannot be legislated away nor can they be regulated away.”
He said any person, organization or government attempt to do so will be met with the strongest resistance.
“Suicide is a horrible thing. My rights are my rights,” Readie said.
SALISBURY — An elderly couple in Salisbury was attacked and bitten by an Eastern coyote at their farm Monday morning.
Priscilla and George Gilman were treated at Porter Medical Center in Middlebury for bites from the coyote. Priscilla Gilman was bitten on the right forearm and left leg, and George Gilman was bitten on the right leg.
The couple was treated Monday, and later received the first of four rabies shots at the Middlebury hospital. Vermont Game Warden Dale Whitlock said it was very likely the coyote, estimated at about 40 pounds, was rabid.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter said Tuesday the state Department of Health has not yet determined whether the attacking coyote was rabid.
Priscilla Gilman, 76, said in a phone interview the coyote “just came out of nowhere” as the couple left their barn and headed back to their house, which they have owned for 50 years.
“It attacked and kept going at both of us,” she said. “My husband kicked him in the head, and the coyote would back up and lunge at us again. He went for my husband’s throat and bit me in my arm and leg. I was just trying to get away and keep him from killing us. My husband kicked it and said, ‘Head for the house.’ We took off, and my husband was behind me.”
George Gilman, 79, grabbed his shotgun and headed back outside to deal with the coyote.
“We have a horse and a barn cat we take care of,” Priscilla Gilman said, “and my husband wanted to make sure that coyote was dead so he wouldn’t bite somebody else.”
George Gilman spotted the coyote and yelled out to get its attention. The coyote charged again: “The coyote put his mouth right over the barrel of the gun and then he let go and my husband just shot him, right there,” his wife said.
It was Whitlock’s day off, but he rushed to the scene when he learned of the attack. He took possession of the coyote and sent it to the Health Department for testing.
The coyote had the “faint odor of a skunk to it,” Whitlock said, adding that could mean it was bitten by a rabid skunk. Skunks and raccoons are the most common carriers of rabies in Vermont.
Coyotes are shy, nocturnal canines with a reputation for avoiding humans at all costs. Rabid animals often act strangely and aggressive.
Mark Scott, director of wildlife for Fish & Wildlife, said this would be the first report of a rabid coyote ever documented in Vermont should the test confirm rabies.
Whitlock, a 23-year warden, had never heard of a wild coyote attack in Vermont and called this “extremely unusual behavior.”
Priscilla Gilman said it wasn’t bravery that served the couple on Monday: “We were just trying to save our lives,” she said. “The adrenaline just kicked in.”
The Gilmans often see coyotes around their farm, but never in the daytime, and the animals always run away when they spot humans, she said.
Coyotes can be hunted year-round in Vermont, even in the hours of darkness by hunters without the use of artificial light. That makes the attack even more unusual, Porter said.
“I should add,” he said, “that coyotes are amazing animals and fulfill an important role in our ecosystem.”
Later Tuesday, Scott went deep into Fish & Wildlife files and noted three past instances where coyotes attacked Vermonters, all of whom were hunting at the time.
A bow hunter in Proctor was attacked on Oct. 5, 1991. The coyote held onto the victim’s leg and tore his clothing, then followed the hunter as he walked to his truck. Several coyotes were reported in the incident. There were no reported injuries.
A few days later, a bow hunter in Baltimore encountered several coyotes while walking through the woods. The hunter suffered puncture wounds to his arm, then ran to safety and later received rabies treatment.
In Chester, a spring turkey hunter was attacked by a coyote early in the morning on May 23, 2004. The hunter had five puncture wounds in his facial area and received six stitches to his forehead and the bridge of his nose. He described the coyote as a 35- to 40-pound healthy animal. There is no report of whether the victim received rabies shots.
None of the coyotes in the three attacks were isolated or shot, so the state couldn’t determine whether they were rabid.
A fourth account didn’t involve an attack, but Scott said it was nevertheless “significant.” A photographer in West Dover was chased by a coyote on July 22, 2008, and there were several more accounts of an aggressive coyote, including one involving a jogger, in the same area.
Whitlock, a game warden based in East Middlebury, was extremely impressed with how well the Gilmans reacted to what was clearly a traumatic event.
“They are the salt of the earth,” Whitlock said. “So non-dramatic. They are just awesome people.”
Priscilla Gilman said that she will not let the attack deter her from her farm life or activities.
“We’re not going to stay in the house and be scared. We walk a lot. I do a lot of hiking. I just hope we never run into something like this again,” she said.
Porter said while there’s no need for alarm, people should take precautions around wild animals.
“Avoid approaching wildlife of all kinds, particularly if the animal seems ill or is acting strangely,” he said. “These incidents do happen on occasion in other states but are very rare in Vermont.”
While some think it’s a bad idea, others in the addiction recovery community support a proposal to decriminalize buprenorphine.
Buprenorphine — also known by the brand-name Suboxone — is an opioid used in treating opioid addiction. A bill before the Legislature would decriminalize its possession, currently a misdemeanor.
The Rutland City Board of Aldermen thinks it’s an obviously bad idea and has unanimously endorsed a letter, written by Rep. William Notte, D-Rutland, opposing the bill. Notte said he took his cue from the Rutland City Police Department, which told him the drug can be abused, and decriminalizing it would increase the addiction problem in Rutland.
Notte said he felt comfortable relying on the police department’s perspective because Rutland’s police have been won over to stressing the importance of drug treatment. Chief Brian Kilcullen reiterated that stance Tuesday.
“We’re not looking to incarcerate more people,” he said. “It’s anecdotal, but we’re told there are individuals who have never used any opioid other than buprenorphine recreationally. ... (Decriminalization) just seems contrary to the type of program we’re a big part of and the community’s a big part of.”
The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, did not reply to media inquiries Tuesday, but members of the addiction medicine community contacted Tuesday offered a different take from the one espoused by city government.
In a written statement provided by email through the hospital communications office, Rutland Regional Medical Center psychiatric services medical director Julie Poulin said there was little evidence on what effect decriminalizing buprenorphine would have.
“But what we do know is that we have far too many people dying of opioid overdose in our community,” she wrote. “In practical application of current policy, taking away someone’s street buprenorphine for possession of small amounts, and then releasing the person back to the community, substantially increases the likelihood that the person will use street opiates and increases their risk of overdose/death.”
However, Poulin stressed the need to get addicts into treatment, and that the West Ridge Center has no waiting list. She echoed comments from the Board of Aldermen that self-medication is different from treatment.
“It is also important that the medical community takes the opportunity to inform the public about evidence-based addiction treatment: It is not something people can do at home; it has to be given by trained, credentialed health care providers who understand the medical risks and can offer the appropriate treatment program including psycho-social therapy,” she wrote. “People have to remember that there is always a risk of overdose when illicit opiates are abused or misused and that this risk is also present in illicit non-medically monitored buprenorphine use. It is also important to remember that people can become addicted to buprenorphine with all its subsequent dangers to the individual and the community.”
Robert Purvis, executive director of Turning Point Center of Central Vermont in Barre, said he would support the decriminalization bill as a harm mitigation measure. Purvis noted that much of the state already offered “treatment on demand,” in which providers will give any patient who asks one dose of buprenorphine to take in the medical office along with a two-day supply to get them through until they can begin a treatment program.
“Suboxone is not a drug that is easy to abuse, though some do, and if they’re taking Suboxone, they’re not taking heroin,” he said. “People on Suboxone don’t die, and there’s another day to get them into recovery. ... The opioid crisis has created a risk of harm and death we haven’t had with other drugs. Alcohol — it takes years to ruin your liver.”
Purvis said Vermont saw 105 overdose deaths in 2017, and none of those were people on medication-assisted treatment. Also, he said while it has become less common as Vermont has made treatment more easily available, addicts will acquire buprenorphine on their own and use it to avoid heroin.
“It’s called the street program,” Purvis said. “It works for some.”
At least, Purvis said, it’s safer than heroin.
“A person can die so quickly on heroin, especially with fentanyl, we’d like people to move over to Suboxone, at least for right now,” he said. “Opioid addiction is so powerful, most people are not able to resist the cravings without help.”
Kilcullen argued that the existence of “treatment on demand” negated the benefit of the “street program.”
“I think the fact that there’s almost immediate access to medication-assisted treatment now obviates the need to resort to the black market,” he said. “It’s prescribed to be used under medical direction.”
Purvis said he thought concerns about addicts abusing buprenorphine were legitimate but overblown. He compared them to needle exchanges, which, despite dire predictions, have been found to help get more people into treatment.
“My own experience working with people who have addiction, I would say the risk isn’t as bad as they think,” he said.
Purvis said 85 percent of the people who request buprenorphine under Washington County’s treatment on demand program show up for treatment, which he said indicates the drug is not being widely abused.
“They are using it to get by until they can get into treatment,” he said. “In the shelter of our middle-class world, it is sometimes difficult to imagine that world. It’s a desperate world. Suboxone is not an agent of creating that desperation. It’s reducing it. People do get well. They do get better, but they rarely get better the first time. It’s a process. ... We want to maximize people’s opportunities to get out of that hell and into a better life.”
That includes, he said, the “street program.”
“I’ve seen it,” he said. “I’ve seen people use the street program to hold it together.”
LUDLOW — Pike Industries and the Vt. Agency of Transportation said Monday, in front of a roomful of unhappy locals, that neither are happy with the Route 103 paving job, and plan to have it fixed by early July.
Last year, Pike Industries began resurfacing a 38-mile stretch of Route 103 between Rockingham and Clarendon. The project wasn’t completed before cold weather set in, and efforts to prepare the road for winter didn’t satisfy locals, who’d been frustrated with other aspects of the project all summer.
On Monday at Ludlow Town Hall, about 50 people gathered to hear an explanation from Pike Industries employees and leaders within the Agency of Transportation. The meeting was organized by State Rep. Logan Nicoll, D-Ludlow, and moderated by resident Martin Nitka.
From Pike were Tyson Chouinard, contract administrator, and Marketing Vice President Jay Perkins.
From AOT were Chief Engineer Wayne Symonds and Construction Engineer Jeremy Reed.
Chouinard said starting April 15, surface preparation will begin and last about a month. It should all be wrapped up by approximately July 1.
Perkins reiterated some past explanations for the project’s delay, namely the weather, was wetter than expected.
“We didn’t have five days of paving in a row since the third week of July,” he said.
He said Pike tried to “button up” the project for winter, but by then it was too cold for the line paint to stick.
Several residents claimed the Pike paver was gone for several weeks, though estimates as to how many were varied.
“Today, I can tell you, it probably shouldn’t have left the job for six weeks,” Perkins said. “We also didn’t realize we were going to have 21 days of rain from September to October, but a typical fall would’ve allowed us plenty of time to do what we needed to do, and we didn’t get a typical fall. ... Would we have made a different decision if we had known how the fall was going to be? Absolutely.”
People wanted to know if there would be penalties imposed on Pike for the delay.
“This contract does not call for penalties,” Symonds said. “Penalties are sort of perceived as a punishment. There are, though, liquidated damage provisions within the contract that allow (AOT) to recover costs associated with the extra duration of the contract. Right now, I can’t tell you how much that might be. We need to see how Pike progresses and then take a look at what weather days might have been excluded from their ability to work next summer.”
Perkins said Pike has paid such damages in the past.
“Not every project we do gets done on time,” he said. “We know going in as a contractor that if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do within the allotted time, then you pay damages. We’re not afraid of damages. We try to get it done early and not pay any, because it feels better when you’re done before the completion date and not after.”
He said Pike expects to pay some level of damages by the time this job is complete.
Symonds said the project bid by Pike, accepted in December 2017, was for $8 million. He and Reed estimated about three-fourths of that has been paid to Pike.
Virginia Gunderson, of Shrewsbury, said she’s lived there since 1984 and regularly travels a section of Route 103.
“I’ve lived here for 34 years and quite honestly I blame both the state and the paving company for the disaster that happened this summer. I travel Route 103 all the time. I couldn’t believe it when you started digging it up in August. I kept wondering, gee, maybe I should go the back way in Shrewsbury because I’m sure they’re going to be working. They tore it up. They’re not going to leave it this way, and I never had to make those detours because nobody was ever working. I walk every day, and I hear the excuses about the weather, and I’m not buying it,” she said. “My feeling is the state decided to do too many projects this summer. No matter where you went, there were signs everywhere.”
Gunderson said she would prefer the state do smaller sections and get them done rather than leave large areas incomplete.
She said the lack of road markings is of particular concern when it comes to visitors who don’t know the lay of the road as well as locals.
“What happened out on 103 is not in any way acceptable to us, either,” Symonds said.
He denied that the state had ordered more paving work than could be handled. For the past six years, Symonds said, the state has bid out $100 million in paving projects.
Symonds said that AOT has learned some lessons on this project, among them that using new paving techniques designed to extend the life of the work added to the time it took.
At the start of the meeting, Perkins went over in detail a few of the newer paving techniques that required special equipment.
“Maybe we should have cut this project in half and tried to do it over two years,” Symonds said. “I don’t disagree with you that we hold some responsibility for that, but I also do think when we try innovative techniques and approaches we can learn from them, and I like to think we don’t make the same mistake twice.”
Symonds said with regard to how much this will all cost taxpayers that Pike is getting paid a fixed price.
“We have spent some additional money on this project to try and make it as safe as we can, and to not lose the durability we were hoping to get,” he said. “To your point about shared responsibility, I think that’s what we’re going to be talking about. There was some extra quantity for the leveling that was done out there, and we haven’t settled exactly on how much that’s going to be and how that’s going to be paid for, but it’s something that we are taking seriously, and we’ll be looking at that to try and bring this project in as close to budget as we can.”
“There’s a saying in the business world: ‘Pioneers get slaughtered, and settlers get fat.’”
Greg James, publisher of Seattle-area industry magazine Marijuana Venture, on the loosening of restrictions on marketing legalized recreational pot. — A7
Back to the ’80s
Nick Grandchamp wants to share his collection of classic arcade games. He’s preparing a pop-up exhibition of games such as Asteroids, Pac Man, Ms. Pac Man and Mortal Kombat II, where the old StopLite Bar used to be on West Street, and gaming will be free. A3
Presented by Dr. Dalite Sancic. $5 or Osher membership, 1:30-3 p.m. Godnick Center, 1 Deer St., Rutland, email@example.com, 492-2300.