Some Vermont workers upset at smoking ban at leased offices

Some state of Vermont employees are upset over a plan to end smoking at a Montpelier office complex that is leased from the National Life Group insurance company.

Currently the employees are able to smoke in designated areas outside in the parking garage at the complex, where hundreds of state and National Life employees work, but after July 1, no smoking will be allowed on the campus. Smokers will have to smoke outside about a 100 yards away in a public right of way along the road leading to the office building.

Doug Gibson of the Vermont State Employees Association says the union has filed a grievance with the state over the upcoming smoking ban, arguing that any change in employee working conditions must be negotiated with the union.

"Our grievance reminds that state employees' terms and conditions of employment, including work rules, are governed by the employees' bargained contract; not dictated by an entity leasing property to the state," Gibson said in an emailed comment Thursday.

The goal of the enforcing the smoking ban is to encourage people to quit smoking and be healthier, said National Life spokesman Ross Sneyd.

"As a life insurer, our cause is to protect people's health," said Sneyd.

Vermont's deputy human resources commissioner Tom Cheney said the state would work with employees affected by the upcoming ban.

"The state is a tenant to National Life and we follow the worksite rules set out by our landlord," Cheney said.


To help people work at the complex quit, National Life sponsored a smoking cessation workshop Thursday. Additional programs will be offered going forward, he said.

"Our job is to support state employees through this transition time," said Maura O'Brien, the program coordinator for the state's Live Well Vermont.

Meanwhile, many of the state employees who were using the smoking areas Thursday were upset at the upcoming change.

"I guess the only option we have is to live with it, but we're not happy about it," said Roxane Boliver, a 26-year state employee, who was taking a smoking break Thursday in a designated smoking area on the top floor of a parking garage.

Northern New England universities make Peace Corps list

Three Vermont colleges and universities and one each from New Hampshire and Maine are among the schools that are sending the most graduates on to the Peace Corps.

In figures released Thursday, the Peace Corps says the University of Vermont ranked sixth in the nation among medium sized schools while Middlebury College ranked sixth in its category and Saint Michael's College in Colchester ranked 11th, up from 20th last year.

Vermont is the top ranked state in the per capita production of Peace Corps volunteers.

Maine's Bowdoin College ranked 14th in its size category while the University of New Hampshire ranked 13th.

The Peace Corps sends Americans to dozens of countries across the world to work in international development projects.

Developer withdraws plan near interstate exit in Vermont

A developer is withdrawing a proposal for major development at the Randolph exit of Vermont's Interstate 89.

Developer Jesse Sammis is asking an environmental commission to end a partial review of the plan that called for a mixed-use development on 172 acres at Exit 4.

The commission had been weighing the impact of development on farmland and its compliance with local plans.

Environmental groups say they opposed the scale of the potential development and its impact on prime agricultural land. Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation says the development would have destroyed a valuable view in the area.

Sammis says he still plans to develop the land.

Feds want circus operator fined for deadly tent collapse

Federal safety officials have proposed more than $33,000 in fines against a Florida-based circus operator for a tent collapse that killed two people and injured dozens in New Hampshire.

Robert Young, 41, and his 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, died Aug. 3 when a storm with winds up to 75 mph blew through the Lancaster Fairgrounds, toppling the tent just minutes after about 100 people had settled in to watch the first of two planned shows. Young and his daughter were from Concord, Vermont. Fifty other people were injured, including two circus employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Thursday that Sarasota-based Walker International Events failed to properly erect the tent and ignored severe weather and high-wind warnings from the National Weather Service. Inspectors determined that the company failed to use required tent stakes, properly anchor the stakes or replace damaged stakes.

The agency also found hazards that put circus employees at risk of electric shock, burns and cuts, such as the use of inappropriate electrical equipment in wet areas and a lack of fire extinguishers in areas where employees worked with open flames.

"No enforcement action will bring the victims home to their families and community, but we want to send a message to this and other employers to follow proper procedures at all times and take effective and appropriate action to prevent an incident such as this from every happening again," said Rosemarie Ohar Cole, OSHA's New Hampshire director.

The company has 15 business days from the time it received the citations Feb. 4 to respond and to challenge the proposal. A phone number for the company was out of service Thursday, but an OSHA spokesman said company officials will be meeting with OSHA on Feb. 24 to discuss a settlement.

After the collapse, Lancaster fire officials said Walker International did not have a place-of-assembly permit required by state law for the performance but had received the permit for shows in 2010 and 2011.

USDA giving $4.6 million to conserve western Maine mountains

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $4.6 million in support of conservation efforts in the vast western mountains of Maine.

Members of Maine's congressional delegation who announced the funding say the money will assist private landowners in improving fish and wildlife habitats between the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Moosehead Lake.

The Trust for Public Land will lead the project along with several partnering organizations.

Sens. Angus King, an independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican, say the project will increase financial and technical assistance for private forest owners. They say it will also provide incentives for managing forests for habitat diversity.

Man who admitted to burglary sues officers who arrested him

A man who admitted to breaking into a New Hampshire car dealership is suing the police officers who arrested him, claiming they used excessive force.

Shane St. Onge filed a lawsuit against Weare police officer Ken Cox, his former partner Kimberly McSweeney and the town, alleging the cops shocked him repeatedly with a stun gun even though he cooperated. The case went to trial Wednesday in Concord.

Onge pleaded guilty and served time for breaking into Route 77 Motors in March 2012.

The town's attorney says Cox, who deployed the weapon, did so twice because St. Onge refused to show his hands, making it hard to determine if he had a weapon.

St. Onge's attorney says the deployment of the device went far beyond protocol.

New Hampshire considers expanding cider definition

New Hampshire's definition of hard cider would be expanded beyond apples, and such beverages could be served in more places under a batch of bills before the state Senate.

The Senate is voting Thursday on a bill to include fermented pear juice in the definition of cider. It's also taking up a bill that would allow alcohol to be sold and consumed in skybox seating at college sports events.

The third bill would allow the sampling of beer, wine or cider at farmers' markets.

– The Associated Press