- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The deaths of two babies in cases of alleged child abuse - and the state’s handling of those cases - was voted the top story of 2014 in Vermont by reporters and editors at Associated Press member newspapers and broadcasters.

But this year’s list needs an asterisk. Ballots were due Dec. 15, two days before Gov. Peter Shumlin announced he was indefinitely putting on hold the central goal of his governorship: moving Vermont to a universal, publicly funded health care system, sometimes known as single-payer.

If reactions from groups ranging across the political spectrum were the measure, that likely would have been the year’s top story. But with single-payer aside, here are the AP member journalists’ picks for the top 10 of the first 11½ months of 2014:

1. Both 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, and 15-year-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski, had been known to the Department of Children and Families before Dezirae was killed in February and Peighton in April. Too much emphasis on reuniting children with their families and heavy social worker caseloads were found to be contributing factors. A special legislative committee took testimony from more than 600 witnesses, and legislation is expected to address issues raised by the cases in the upcoming session.

2. Gov. Peter Shumlin squeaked to an apparent re-election over Republican political newcomer Scott Milne, but since neither got an outright majority, Milne is taking the election to the Legislature. Voters upset about rising taxes and uneasiness over the health care plan were seen as underlying Shumlin’s weakness in a low-turnout election.

3. Vermont state and business leaders breathed a sigh of relief Oct. 20 after learning that GlobalFoundries was taking over IBM’s microchip plant, which has operated for decades in Essex Junction. IBM’s Vermont workforce had been shrinking for years, with some fearing the company might close its Vermont facilities outright.

4. Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State speech in January to the problem of opiate addiction in Vermont. Lawmakers responded by expanding the availability of drug treatment, while officials shifted emphasis from law enforcement to treatment for nonviolent drug offenders.

5. Allen Prue was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in the 2012 killing of St. Johnsbury teacher Melissa Jenkins, but in a statement at his sentencing blamed his wife, Patricia, for the killing. She faces trial in 2015.

6. State revenues sagged through the year, with a downgrade in the forecast offered by the two economists who advise Shumlin and the Legislature prompting the governor to call in late July for $31 million in budget cuts. The bad news continued, prompting a request for another $17 million in belt-tightening in November.

7. Vermont Health Connect, the state health insurance exchange that saw considerable problems beginning with its launch in October of 2013, continued on its shakedown cruise through much of this year, finally being taken offline in September after the federal government pointed to potential security problems. It was relaunched late in the year for the 2015 enrollment period.

8. Vermont passed a law that could make it the first state to require foods containing genetically modified ingredients to carry labels indicating that, and the food industry group Grocery Manufacturers of America quickly sued in a bid to overturn it.

9. Christina Schumacher was freed after a judge ordered her released from the psychiatric unit at a Burlington hospital, where she had been involuntarily detained for five weeks after her husband, 49-year-old Ludwig Schumacher, strangled their 14-year-old son, Gunnar, and then hanged himself Dec. 18. She gave angry testimony at a legislative hearing about her involuntary hospitalization.

10. Residents in Vernon and surrounding Windham County contemplated life after Yankee as Vermont’s lone nuclear plant prepared to shut down at year end. Plant owner Entergy Corp. told federal regulators it wouldn’t have sufficient funds to dismantle the plant and haul off its radioactive components until at least the 2040s.

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