Vermont News in Brief


Health Connect finally allows online payment

MONTPELIER (AP) -- A weekend upgrade means those who have purchased insurance through Vermont Health Connect can now pay their bills online.

The online payment function in the state’s online health marketplace had not worked since the system was launched last fall. But a few people enrolling for coverage over the weekend were able to use it before it was fully installed, and workers helping people enroll were getting more training on Monday, according to Vermont Public Radio.

"Any Vermonter who is enrolling by March 15th for April 1st coverage will be able to pay online in the normal part of the process, and anybody who has been enrolled will be able to go online and pay their bill that way as well," said Lawrence Miller of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, which has been working with the Department of Health Access to get the website back on track.

Miller said the upgrade also addressed a large number of issues affecting call center workers and made other small improvements to make the system more stable and functional.

After problems arose with the marketplace, policy holders were allowed to extend their existing coverage through the end of March. Those customers will need to sign up for a plan through Vermont Health Connect by March 15 and pay by the end of the month to avoid lapses in coverage.

Small businesses were allowed to bypass the marketplace this year and buy plans directly from insurers. Miller said he expects the small business functions to be ready for 2015 enrollment.

"We are going to be working on bringing small businesses up. But we want to be clear that those folks should continue to direct enroll, he said. "As we have with this system update, we’re not going to bring it out until it’s been fully tested, fully validated, and is truly ready for prime time."

DMV launches new version of online tutorial

MONTPELIER (AP) -- Vermont officials say they’re launching a new version of an online tutorial to help new drivers prepare for their learner’s permit exam.

Officials say the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles was the first to launch an interactive, online tutorial for drivers in 2010, but that the version did not work on mobile devices.

State DMV Commissioner Robert Ide says the growth of technology necessitated a version updated to work on a variety of devices."

DMV officials say the tutorial utilizes animation to teach the rules of the road and will now be available on mobile devices such as the iPod Touch, iPad, Android or Surface tablets in addition to computers.

Residents will have until April 1 to complete tutorials they started on the old version before it shuts down.

Police search for man who tried to abduct girl

FAIR HAVEN (AP) -- Vermont police are looking for a man who tried to abduct a girl in Fair Haven.

Police say two girls were standing at an intersection Sunday afternoon when a blue pickup truck stopped in front of them. The girls said a man got out and grabbed one of them by her clothing. The girl was able to break free, and both girls ran to a neighbor’s home.

The suspect is described as being in his 60s, with a medium build, scruffy face, gray hair and glasses. He was wearing a plaid shirt.

Anyone who witnessed the incident or has further information is asked to call Fair Haven police.

US Park Service says Vt. park made $1.7m impact

WOODSTOCK (AP) -- The U.S. National Park Service says Vermont’s lone National Park had $1.7 million in economic impact in the state, creating 25 jobs.

A report by the Park Service released Monday found there were 32,403 visitors to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock.

Park officials say it is the only national park that tells the story of conservation history and the evolving nature of land stewardship in the United States.

The park describes itself as a living symbol of three generations of conservationist thought and practice.

A national study found that national park tourism returns $10 to the economy for every $1 invested in the park service.

Vt. considers changing rule on land posting

MONTPELIER (AP) -- The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife will hold a public hearing about a plan to change the rules landowners must follow when posting their land against hunting, fishing or trapping.

Last summer a new law took effect that makes it possible for landowners to add the option "by permission only" when deciding who can use their land. Landowners would still have to register their decision with their towns.

Currently, landowners can erect such signs, but they cannot be enforced by game wardens.

A public hearing is set for March 19 in Montpelier.

Wildlife Director Mark Scott says that previously the only option for landowners was to keep outdoor users off their property. The new rules allow landowners to be selective about who uses their land.

Obama planning visit to Boston for DNC events

BOSTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama planned a trip to Boston on Wednesday to help raise money for the Democratic Party.

Obama is set to attend a round-table discussion fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee with about 25 supporters in Cambridge.

Obama is then scheduled to headline a DNC dinner in Boston at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter with about 70 backers. The event is also intended to raise money for the party.

Obama’s visit follows a stop at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain to renew his push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

During his stop in Connecticut, Obama will appear with Democratic Govs. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, Peter Shumlin of Vermont and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is also planning to attend.

Obama then travels to Logan Airport.

Patrick told reporters Monday that he’s looking forward to joining with Obama "to affirm my support and the support of other New England governors to raise the minimum wage."

"It’s something the president has shown real leadership on, something I think you all know I feel very strongly about," Patrick said.

A higher minimum wage and an overhaul of immigration laws are two of Obama’s top priorities. Massachusetts is also debating an increase in the state minimum wage.

The Massachusetts Senate has approved a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour by January 2016. The House has yet to vote on the measure.

A labor-backed group is also working to put a question on the November ballot that would raise the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $10.50 an hour over two years.

Both the bill and the ballot question would automatically link future wage increases to the state’s rate of inflation.

The minimum wage in Massachusetts hasn’t increased in five years.


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