May 6, 2004 – News at a glance

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Good afternoon, I’m Steve Delaney. The Eye on the Sky forecast follows in five minutes.

Affordable housing
At this hour, the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition is holding a Montpelier news conference to say that more than 740 Vermont families could lose their federal housing assistance next year. They say the Vermont State Housing authority stands to lose almost $2 million in federal housing assistance if cuts built into the next budget are enacted.

That, says affordable housing advocate Erhard Mahnke, would be a giant step backward in the effort to solve Vermont’s housing shortage.

Governor’s new conference
Governor Jim Douglas holds his news conference in less than an hour, at one o’clock. Within the past hour, he outlined what he’d be talking about:

(Douglas) “I want to make sure the Legislature moves toward a swift and orderly adjournment. I met earlier this week with both the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee chairs to offer whatever assistance I can render to help them wrap up the session – particularly their work on the budget – as quickly as possible. The differences between the House and Senate budgets are not that great. The bottom line is fairly close. There are a few policy issues to work out, but I really believe the business of the General Assembly can be wrapped up by next week.”

Governor Douglas was also expected to launch Vermont’s observance of National Tourism Week, which begins on Saturday. It’s a $4 billion industry in Vermont:

(Douglas) “Tourism is an important part of our economy and more than that – it’s an important part of our culture, our heritage – to show the rest of the world, literally, the working landscape, the natural beauty of our state. We’re so proud of our pristine state and the cleanliness, the countrysides that are so attractive here. We want to make sure that all Americans and visitors from other countries can experience it. Thank all of those who work in the tourism industry and encourage Vermonters to share the word about the natural beauty of our state.”

Lead paint abatement
About an hour ago, Health Commissioner Paul Jarris and Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle unveiled a new program to eliminate lead paint contamination in the city of Burlington. It’s a $1.5 million federal grant that will fund a pilot program. The hope is that other communities can use what Burlington learns in the effort to eradicate lead paint poisoning in children by the end of the decade.

Graham Dewyea is Burlington’s lead program coordinator, and he explained it to me:

(Dewyea) “The problem is certainly a national problem and it’s affecting Vermont in many ways, given that the housing stock in Burlington is some of the oldest in the country. We’re very pleased to welcome this grant into the community and start work.”
(Delaney) “Tell me about this program. It is a pilot to figure out how Burlington and other cities can reduce and eliminate exposure to lead paint?”
(Dewyea) “Right. What’s unique about our program is that we have hired a full-time registered nurse to screen all children under age 6 for lead poisoning. The most common cause of these lead paint hazards is what we find in homes – lead paint dust we find in homes, for example, peeling paint, chipping paint. Lead paint tends to be pretty sweet. And in our older homes, it’s not uncommon of course for children to be coming in contact with paint and if they find a paint ship they can put in their mouth. And that’s the primary method by which children are exposed.”
(Delaney) “Are you suggesting that lead paint tastes good?”
(Dewyea) “It’s actually tastes very sweet. I’ve not actually tasted it myself, but that’s what attracts kids to lead paint.”
(Delaney) “Is there a relationship between the age of the housing and the prevalence of lead paint problems?”
(Dewyea) “Yes. All the homes built prior to 1978 are in question; lead paint was banned in 1978. Burlington – most of its housing stock was built in the ’30s and ’40s and so it’s a very serious issue. It’s a very quiet issue. Lead paint poisoning is the Number 1 environmental health threat to children and we’re working very hard to get this program on the ground to address this issue.”

Burlington lead program coordinator Graham Dewyea says three-quarters of the problems are in rental housing, and that the city is working with landlords to reduce that number.

Marlboro opts out of NCLB
The Marlboro elementary school is joining a number of other Vermont school districts that are opting out of the federal No Child Left Behind education reform law. Marlboro School board Chairman Dan MacArthur says the school won’t make annual progress reports required by the law, nor will it provide information about specific students or administer tests that are not approved by the school principal.

MacArthur says officials feel they can offer a better education without the law. The act is designed to use standardized tests to measure student progress. Refusing to comply could cost the district federal education money. Four other Vermont districts have already refused to abide by the law.

Elsewhere, the Vermont Green Party has become the first political party in the state to call for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, and has hinted that it may back third party candidate Ralph Nader for president in the November election.

The Eye on the Sky forecast is next, and Steve Maleski has it today. For VPR News, I’m Steve Delaney.

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