New England briefs

Vermont Senate votes to repeal school spending penalties

Vermont school boards are trying to follow the bouncing ball on education spending in Montpelier, and it's getting harder.

Lawmakers last year passed new penalties for districts deemed to be spending too much, but critics say the penalties have swept up low-spending districts as well.

On Tuesday, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill to remove the penalties and replace them with ones that had existed before.

The House Education Committee is working on several different options on what do about the penalties.

Meanwhile, school boards around the state have locked in or are about to lock in budgets to present to voters at Town Meeting.

And local districts are getting letters from the state Agency of Education revising the numbers on which they need to base their budgets.

Shumlin: Being slow to dump coal has cost Vermont $11.5M

Gov. Peter Shumlin is continuing his push for Vermont to drop its fossil fuel investments. He points to a report from the financial firm Clean Yield Asset Management that if the state had divested from coal in September of 2012, its pension funds would have an extra $11.5 million today.

Shumlin has said Vermont should drop coal and Exxon Mobil Corp. from its pension portfolio. He singles out the oil giant he accuses of hiding information about climate change for years, an allegation the company denies.

Shumlin wants the state to studying ridding its portfolio of other oil and gas companies as well. He says it's part of a campaign to combat climate change.

State Treasurer Beth Pearce is resisting the move.

Bomb threats reported at 2 schools, 1 evacuated

Police have reported two bomb threats to New Hampshire high schools, one scrawled on a boys' bathroom wall and the other in the form of an automated phone call.

In Farmington, Police Chief John Drury says Farmington High School was evacuated at about 11 a.m. Tuesday after the threat was found in the bathroom. He said the state police bomb squad found no explosive device. Drury said security cameras in the area will be reviewed to try to find a suspect.

In Portsmouth, the call came in to Portsmouth High School at about 12:10 p.m. Police Chief David Mara says students were kept inside classrooms while police investigated. No one's been charged.

In Massachusetts, police said similar automated phone calls were made to other high schools. Nothing hazardous was found.

Maple syrup meeting to look at beetles, climate change

Maple syrup producers are going to discuss getting rid of a destructive beetle, low-cost digital instruments and the impact of climate change on the sugar maple at their annual meeting Jan. 23.

Keynote speakers at the new Hampshire Maple Producers Association meeting include members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Hanna Instruments and the University of New Hampshire.

Producers also will discuss marketing and product branding of New Hampshire maple syrup and products. Industry vendors will demonstrate the latest technology.

The meeting will take place at the Radisson Manchester.

Don McLean's arrest shakes comfortable Camden, Maine

The picturesque Maine town of Camden is reeling from the arrest of "American Pie" singer Don McLean, a fixture in the community.

Police arrested McLean on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge on Monday. Authorities say he posted $10,000 bail and was released from Knox County Jail. Police and court officials aren't saying much about the arrest other than McLean will be in court to respond to it on Feb. 22.

Select Board Member Leonard Lookner says "the entire town was shocked" by McLean's arrest. McLean is well known in the town of about 5,000 for holding charity concerts to raise money for education. Lookner says McLean's wife Patrisha, a photographer, is known for opening her beloved rose garden to local residents.

A spokesman for McLean didn't immediately return a call.

LePage signs bill aimed at addressing heroin epidemic

The Maine Legislature completed job No. 1 in the fight against the state's heroin epidemic on Tuesday by adopting a proposal sought by the governor to hire more drug agents. Gov. Paul LePage responded immediately by signing the bill into law.

The $3.7 million package includes funding sought by the Republican governor for 10 additional agents for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. It also includes an expansion of drug treatment programs and a 10-bed detoxification center.

"To be clear, this bill is just the first step in a process that needs a much more comprehensive approach," LePage said.

The bill was amended to change the source of funding, which will come from the general fund and from the Medical Use of Marijuana Fund.

The bill includes $1.23 million for additional drug agents and $2.4 million for drug treatment, including a drug detoxification facility, likely in the Bangor area. But it contains no funding for treatment with methadone and buprenorphine, marketed as Suboxone.

"This bill is by no means a silver bullet but it certainly is a good starting point," said Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, assistant Republican leader in the House.

The governor previously threatened to veto the bill. He thanked lawmakers for addressing his concerns about the funding source and grant-making authority.

LePage had threatened to call up the national guard to deal with the drug epidemic until lawmakers promised to make it their first order of business upon returning to work.

"You either work with me and give me some agents, or I will call the Guard up," he told the Appropriations Committee in November.

The governor has been focused on increasing drug enforcement to stop drug dealers, but lawmakers wanted a comprehensive approach that also dealt with treatment.

The governor's focus on out-of-state traffickers was behind his statement about drug dealers with names like "D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty" who often impregnate a "young, white girl" while selling drugs in Maine. He later apologized, saying he meant to say "Maine women," not "white women."

– The Associated Press


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