Friday, March 29, 2013

Is This the Year for Legalizing Hemp Production in Vermont?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 at 1:21 PM

In 2008, Vermont lawmakers threw their support behind the industrial production of hemp, a variety of cannabis that can be refined into food, fuel and fiber. The only problem? The so-called hemp bill made abundantly clear that Vermont would hold off on licensing or permitting any hemp farming until federal laws no longer prohibited the practice.

Five years later, federal law hasn’t changed, but that isn’t stopping some Vermont legislators and lobbyists from reviving the hemp bill. S. 157, which passed on a voice vote in the Senate yesterday and now heads to the House, strips out some of the language and restrictions that proponents say too closely conflated hemp with its controversial cousin marijuana. More significantly, though, the updated bill would allow the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets to begin issuing permits to raise hemp without any change in federal law.

Even with a state permit in hand, farmers would run the risk of federal prosecution for growing hemp. Their property could be seized, and they could lose federal aid under the Farm Bill. But Robb Kidd, an organizer with Rural Vermont who is pushing hard for hemp production in the state, says that hasn’t dissuaded a few farmers from telling him they’d be lined up on day one for their permits.

“There are folks out there who will take the risk,” says Kidd.

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The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Who won and lost the week in Vermont news and politics? Behold, a special Good Friday edition of The Scoreboard, for the week ending March 29:


Wind — First it was a moratorium. Then it bolstered local control. Now it's just a study. Sure, anti-wind legislation passed the Senate this week, but only after its teeth were knocked out. Now look for the House to further defang it.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith — In their escalating tax fight, both men win. By railing against the House's broad-based tax hikes, Shumlin looks like a fiscal conservative outside the Statehouse. Inside the building, Smith gets credit for standing up to Shumlin and opposing the governor's own proposed tax hike on working Vermonters. Runner-up losers: Shumlin, Smith and the Democratic Party, because other than people who read this blog, most Vermonters just hear a bunch of Dems arguing over how much to raise their taxes.

VPR's Kirk Carapezza — For shamelessly goading Shumlin into providing a little more color at Wednesday's weekly presser. Color he got.

Pot jokes — They didn't quite hot-box the Statehouse, but House Judiciary Committee members got to sample — or at least eyeball — a couple baggies of kind bud Thursday as the po-po educated them on what an ounce of pot looks like. As if they didn't already know!

Queen City partisanship — It's still looking like Democrats v. Everybody Else in the looming April Fool's Burlington City Council presidency showdown, as 7D's Kevin Kelley reported this week. But as Kelley asks, who would want the job?!

AP's Dave Gram — Oops! Turns out an administration official may have uttered that much-disputed $2 million figure after all, as the Burlington Free Press' Terri Hallenbeck discovered early this week.

Heady Topper & Switchback — After four rounds of voting, the Waterbury and Burlington brews are facing off in the finals of (SHAMELESS PLUG!) Seven Days' 2013 Vermont Brew Bracket, sponsored by Three Penny Taproom (think they'll give me a free Edward next time I'm in there for dropping their name?). Drink — I mean, vote — early and often.

Losers and ties after the jump...

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Peace & Justice Center Hires Security for Race Forum After Troubling Phone Message (AUDIO)

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 6:15 PM

The Peace & Justice Center is hiring a police officer to stand guard at a forum on "white privilege" in the Essex Junction library next week, after receiving a concerning phone message from someone who promised to alert "a certain neo-Nazi organization" about the event.

Kyle Silliman-Smith, the PJC's program manager, said she received the voicemail last Friday from an unidentified woman taking issue with an event called "Making Whiteness Visible." In the message, the caller questions why the workshop "singles out white people as having something wrong with them."

"I need to let you know that I plan to forward your event to somebody in the neo — in the, uh — in a certain neo-Nazi organization. I think they need to know about what you're doing," the caller says. "So you put that yellow star on yourself and not on me. Good luck with your workshop. I hope only friendly people show up. Bye-bye."

Full audio: 

The PJC event at Essex Junction's Brownell Library on April 7 combines the screening of Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible, with a talk about "white privilege." The event is being co-presented by a number of racial justice groups, including Conversation on Race Now and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

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Higher Taxes in Vermont Make Shumlin Suicidal — But Not in New Jersey

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 4:57 PM


How much does Gov. Peter Shumlin hate on the Vermont House's tax bill?

So much so that he'd rather kill himself than sign it. 

No, seriously. That's how he put it Wednesday when asked at his weekly press conference by Vermont Public Radio's Kirk Carapezza, "Exactly how much do you not like it?"

"Exactly very much," Shumlin responded.

"Can you give us an analogy?" Carapezza pressed, surely looking for that perfect soundbite for this evening's local All Things Considered newscast.

"Sure," Shumlin said, pausing for a moment. "If you told me that I had to jump from a window, I would go for the highest building that I could possibly find to jump to make sure that I wasn't here to see that tax package become law."

As we noted in this week's Fair Game, Shumlin's, um, strong distaste for the House's proposed $23 million tax increase stems from his longstanding desire to avoid raising so-called "broad-based" taxes. 

Shumlin elaborated on that distaste during Wednesday's Statehouse press conference, saying, "I do not believe we should raise income taxes on hardworking Vermonters, sales taxes on hardworking Vermonters and meals taxes on hardworking Vermonters. And the irony is, we don't need to! This is entirely unnecessary in my judgment."

He also pushed back on the notion that the House's tax plan is more progressive than his own, though theirs includes an income tax increase on high-income Vermonters, while his mostly hits low-income taxpayers.

"As I've mentioned before, Vermont already has a very progressive income tax," he said. "You know, we ask right now a very small portion of taxpayers — I'd be happy to show you the chart — to pay... a huge chunk of Vermont's income tax."

But if you keep gouging the rich, he argued, you'll end up with fewer and fewer wealthy people to tax.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

The Week Ahead: March 25-31, 2013

Posted By on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 10:08 AM


Here's what's up in Vermont news and politics this week. Got a newsworthy event for next week's calendar? Email by Friday to submit.

Monday, March 25

  • It's legislative breakfast day! At 7:30, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott gives a mid-session update to the Randolph Chamber of Commerce at Gifford Medical Center (then rides something called the "Maxi Taxi.") And at 8:15, Gov. Peter Shumlin is in St. Johnsbury to address the Northeast Kingdom Chamber.
  • Live at 11, Reps. Terry Macaig (D-Williston) and Jean O'Sullivan (D-Burlington) are on Channel 17. Watch.
  • At noon, University of Vermont prez Tom Sullivan will be on "Vermont Edition" to talk about his first year in office — and what he's doing to keep UVM "affordable" for Vermonters. Listen live.

Rest of the week after the break...

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Environmentalists Rally to Landowners' Defense in Vermont Gas Pipeline Fight

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 10:57 AM

In the fight against Vermont Gas' proposed Addison County natural gas expansion, it's largely been landowners piping up with concerns about the project, which would run a natural gas transmission line south through Vergennes and Middlebury — and potentially on to Ticonderoga, N.Y. Until now.

A rally last night at Champlain Valley Union High School illustrated that property owners aren't the only ones balking at the pipeline extension. A growing grassroots coalition of environmentalists and workers' rights advocates, singing solidarity songs and brandishing banners, gathered in front of the high school to make their objections known prior to the start of a Public Service Board public hearing on the project.

Chief among their concerns is the environmental impact of extending a pipeline that carries fossil fuel deeper into Vermont. In particular, the protestors are unhappy that the pipeline would carry a portion of gas obtained in Canada using hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking" — Vermont Gas concedes that this is the case. Vermont lawmakers last year passed a law making the Green Mountain State the first in the country to ban fracking. It's a technique oil and gas companies love, because it opens up vast reserves of shale gas previously too costly or difficult to extract. Environmentalists have long raised the alarm, however, pointing to problems with groundwater contamination, waste water disposal and even earthquakes in places where fracking is underway.

"I am concerned about the hypocrisy of Vermont to on the one hand ban fracking and on the other use gas from somebody else's devastated landscape," said Rebecca Foster, a Charlotte resident who turned out for the rally and PSB hearing.

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The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Who won and lost the week in Vermont news and politics? 

Here's the Scoreboard for the week of Friday, March 22:


Big Wind — The Senate's decision to put off until next week a vote on whether to subject renewable energy projects to Act 250 regulation suggests that anti-wind folks don't have the votes to pass S.30.

Vermont's 2002 congressional delegation — Ten years ago this week, the U.S. invaded Iraq with the permission of 77 members of the Senate and 297 members of the House. The only congressional delegation to unanimously oppose the use of force in Iraq in October 2002? Vermont's. Ten years later, Sen. Patrick Leahy, former senator Jim Jeffords and then-congressman Bernie Sanders are looking pretty wise.

Your car — House passes transportation bill, ensuring that roads will be paved and bridges fixed. Runner-up loser: Your wallet, 'cuz guess who's paying for it at the pump!

Burlington Free Press and Gov. Peter Shumlin — The gov signed legislation Wednesday allowing judges to force public employees who steal from their employers to forfeit some or all of their pensions. The new law stems from Freeps' public-records maestro Mike Donoghue's big scoop last year uncovering ex-state trooper Jim Deeghan's rampant time-sheet-padding.

The dead — Because cadavers have rights too, obvz.

Publicity stunts — Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger's week at Burlington High School prompted important coverage of pressing educational issues. Or at least of Weinberger himself.

Rufus — The Seven Days office dog gets overdue press coverage as NECN's Jack Thurston discovers what slackers we are here at 7D HQ.

Losers after the break...

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tax Bracketology Hits the Statehouse

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 3:55 PM


March madness has hit Montpelier.

As she sat in committee yesterday, Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) was eyeing her NCAA tournament bracket alongside a list of potential revenue sources legislators are considering to plug the state's budget gap.

Then it dawned on her: It's as tough right now to figure out what the legislature will wind up taxing as it is to predict who'll make the Final Four.

"It's madness! Really, I was just thinking it's madness," Scheuermann says. "It's like we're playing darts. We'll try this and then we'll try this."

And so, another bracket was born.

This morning Scheuermann slipped copies of her "Vermont March Madness Tax Bracketology" in every mailbox in the Statehouse. Throughout the day, legislators have been spotted filling them out.

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Media Note: Times Argus Sells Headquarters to Barre Mayor

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 3:23 PM

Nine months after putting its headquarters up for sale, the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus has found a buyer — and you'll never guess who it is.

Actually, you will: Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon. 

As the T-A itself reported Thursday, Lauzon's real estate company, Metro, has signed a purchase and sale agreement for the 23,000-square-foot building with Times Argus owner R. John Mitchell.

In addition to serving as mayor, Lauzon is one of the largest landowners in Barre. He declined to tell Seven Days Thursday how much he paid for the North Main Street property, but said it was less than the $895,000 listing price.

Is it a little awkward for a key political player in the T-A's hometown to cut a six-figure check to its publisher?

"No, not at all," Lauzon says. "Listen, I don't expect special treatment from anyone and I don't need special treatment from anyone."

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Media Note: Shumlin Whacks Associated Press Report at Press Conference

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 8:19 PM


Upset by an Associated Press account of alleged cost overruns in the relocation of a state agency, Gov. Peter Shumlin ripped into the story Wednesday during his weekly press conference.

"Let me just say every once in a while there is something that is printed that isn't true," Shumlin said. "And that story is not true."

AP Statehouse reporter Dave Gram wrote Monday that members of a House committee were told last year that the Agency of Natural Resources' move to the National Life building in Montpelier would cost roughly $2 million. Recent estimates peg the cost of relocation and renovation at closer to $8.7 million — $3.5 million of which would be covered by National Life.

But according to Shumlin, that original estimate was never uttered by his administration.

"We never said that it would cost $2 million," Shumlin said at the press conference, which was attended by Gram. "I don't know where that number came from. I don't deny it might've been said to the committee, but all I can tell you is it wasn't said by us."

Clearly prepared for the push-back, Shumlin then summoned Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding (pictured above at right with Shumlin) to the podium to deliver a blow-by-blow account of the state's cost estimates. Spaulding said the administration's earliest expectations last spring ranged from $6 to $10 million. A written estimate provided to the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions in July pegged it at $7.5 million, he said.

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