Panel looks at Statehouse security
State officials and legislators have taken the first steps to increase Statehouse security.
The "capital complex security working group" held its first session Tuesday morning.
The working group is chaired by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and includes lawmakers, representatives from the Department of Buildings and General Services, Sergeant at Arms Francis Brooks and Capitol Police Chief Les Dimick.
The state has hired the national firm of Margolis Healy & Associates, which specializes in campus security, to assess the state’s security measures for the complex, which includes the state Supreme Court, the Statehouse and the Governor’s Office.
After the meeting, Margolis Healy representatives began interviews, toured the building and began researching the history and uses of the Statehouse, which will be considered in the security firm’s recommendations.
Mike Obuchowski, commissioner of Buildings and General Services, said state law prohibits the Statehouse doors from being locked when the Legislature is in session.
Weapons are prohibited in the Statehouse but no metal detectors or screening stations are used. The building is always open to visitors, and staff offer tours year round. That’s something legislators said they want to keep.
Last session, the Legislature authorized $250,000 -- including $65,000 for consultant services for Margolis Healy -- and approved money for wiring and updating the intercom and alarm system.
Dimick said he’s been pushing for more staff for years. Currently, he has three full-time staff and three more working part-time when the Legislature is in session.
For years, Scott said, "I resisted changes to security because I wanted to keep things transparent and keep the People’s House the People’s House. We need to be sure we don’t lose this in the process. But we need to be sure to keep the people who work here, and visitors, safe." Human interaction with bears is on the rise, wildlife officials say
There has been an uptick in the number of black bear sightings in the past few weeks, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department reports.
Mark Scott, director of wildlife, estimated that the department has received "a couple dozen" calls from all over the state. In all those instances, he said, bears have discovered a place to feed.
"People don’t quite understand the ramifications of leaving food out near their backyards," Scott said. Bird feeders, open trash containers, animal feed, a compost pile or garden can all be sufficiently attractive to entice a bear to come wandering up to houses, he said. And when a bear finds a spot to feed, it often returns again and again.
"Our phones have been ringing constantly the last couple of weeks with calls from people asking what to do about a bear that has been visiting their yard," said Col. David LeCours, Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s director of law enforcement, in a news release. "The first thing we tell them is to identify and remove whatever is attracting the bears."
Scott attributed the increase to several converging factors. "Ten years ago, we never had this many bear running around," he said.
There are more black bears these days, he said. More people are also reporting their bear encounters.
If a bear is seen near a home, stay near the house, bang some pots and pans to scare it away, Scott advised. Bears are inherently shy and prefer to avoid human contact.