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Vermont top story of 2018: Gov. Scott signs gun restrictions

December 24, 2018
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FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 file photo U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, smiles as he poses for a photograph with Vermont Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist, right, outside City Hall in Saint Albans, Vt. Hallquist's campaign as the nation's first major party transgender gubernatorial candidate, and Sanders' re-election to a third term in the Senate were among Vermont's top stories in 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
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FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 file photo U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, smiles as he poses for a photograph with Vermont Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist, right, outside City Hall in Saint Albans, Vt. Hallquist's campaign as the nation's first major party transgender gubernatorial candidate, and Sanders' re-election to a third term in the Senate were among Vermont's top stories in 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — In April, while standing on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse and being booed by some who called him a traitor to his rural upbringing, Gov. Phil Scott signed the state’s first significant gun restrictions.

Scott’s sudden change of heart after what was described as a near-miss school shooting — and his push for the legislation was overwhelmingly voted the top Vermont story of 2018 by journalists at news organizations in the state that belong to The Associated Press news cooperative.

The legislation raised the age to buy firearms, banned high-capacity magazines and made it easier to take guns from people who pose a threat to others.

“This is not the time to do what’s easy; it’s time to do what’s right,” Scott said during the speech that was part of a remarkable turnaround for the largely rural state, which traditionally has refused to impose restrictions on gun ownership.

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2. RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA

On July 1, Vermont became the latest state in the country to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Under the new law, adults over age 21 are now allowed to possess up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana, two mature marijuana plants and four immature plants. The law did not set up a system to tax or regulate the production of marijuana. With no provisions in the law for pot shops, users must grow it themselves or buy it from illicit dealers. But the 2019 Legislature is expected to consider marijuana sale mechanisms.

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3. (Tie) CHRISTINE HALLQUIST; KIAH MORRIS RESIGNATION

In August, Democratic voters chose Christine Hallquist, a transgender former utility executive, as the party’s standard-bearer in the November race against Scott. Hallquist was the first major-party transgender gubernatorial candidate in the country. She lost the November race, but her candidacy was seen as momentous for the transgender community.

Former Democratic state Rep. Kiah Morris won the August primary to run for re-election to the Bennington seat she had held since her 2014 election. But Morris, Vermont’s first black female legislator, withdrew from the race and resigned her seat early after racist threats forced her to leave office in fear and frustration.

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5. ST. JOSEPH’S ORPHANAGE

In August, BuzzFeed News published a story about St. Joseph’s orphanage, run for over a century by Vermont’s Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. The story detailed accusations of abuse at the orphanage, which closed in 1974, that included allegations of a boy being thrown to his death from a window, a girl forced to slap herself 50 times and children being locked in an attic. The story prompted state and local law enforcement officials to seek the truth, even if the statute of limitations would prevent criminal prosecution. The current leaders of the diocese have promised to cooperate with investigators.

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6. TERRY KING KILLING

In August, federal prosecutors reached an agreement with Donald Fell that had him plead guilty to charges he abducted Rutland supermarket worker Terry King in 2000 and killed her in New York. He was found guilty in 2005 and sentenced to death, but his conviction was overturned in 2014 due to juror misconduct. A retrial was nearing in September when the deal was reached that sentenced Fell to life without parole rather than face a second death-penalty trial.

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7. (Tie) BORDER CROSSINGS; SCHOOL THREAT

While national attention is focused on the Mexican border, officials in Vermont noticed an uptick in illegal crossings from Canada that one Border Patrol agent called “Southern border-style,” in which illegal crossers would walk through the woods between Quebec and Vermont to get into the United States.

In February, former Fair Haven Union High School student Jack Sawyer, 18, was arrested after threatening “mass casualties” at the school he once attended. What officials considered a close call led Scott to urge lawmakers to pass what became Vermont’s first significant gun restrictions.

Sawyer was initially charged with offenses that, if convicted, could have sent him to prison for life, but the most serious charges were dropped after the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that any preparations he made didn’t constitute an attempted crime because he never carried them out. Defense attorneys later petitioned to have the proceedings transferred to family court.

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9. (Tie) VISA CASE; BERNIE SANDERS; ASH BORER

Miami businessman Ariel Quiros, the owner of the Jay Peak ski area, who was accused along with a partner of misusing more than $200 million from hundreds of foreign investors through the EB-5 special visa program to buy a ski resort and other properties in northeastern Vermont, reached an $81 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission and agreed to give up ownership of the resorts.

Vermont’s independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders won re-election to a third term in the Senate while he ponders a 2020 run for the presidency.

The emerald ash borer, an invasive pest that eventually kills ash trees, was discovered in Vermont. The first infestation was found in the town of Orange in February. Since then it has been discovered in a number of other Vermont communities.

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