Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Haslam, Workers' Center Leader, Shifts Focus to Elections

Posted By on Tue, Jul 28, 2015 at 6:56 AM

James Haslam - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • James Haslam
For the past 15 years, James Haslam has built the Vermont Workers' Center into a sometimes-controversial, but usually hard-to-ignore force for economic justice. Now, he's shifting his focus to politics.

Haslam announced Monday that he's stepping down as the center’s executive director in order to lead a new Vermont-based advocacy group called “Rights and Democracy.” It's slated to launch on Labor Day.

In his new gig, the 41-year-old Haslam hopes to elect state leaders who support causes the Workers' Center has long championed, such as livable wages, health care reform, affordable housing and environmentalism. 

Suffice it to say, Haslam is dissatisfied with what politicians in Montpelier have accomplished on those fronts.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Regulators Want 'More Compact' Development Proposal in Randolph

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2015 at 2:03 PM

Proposed plan for the Green Mountain Center
  • Proposed plan for the Green Mountain Center
Updated at 5:20 p.m. with statement from Exit 4 Open Space.
State regulators have dealt a blow to a Connecticut developer's plans for a massive commercial and residential project off Interstate 89 in Randolph.

In a ruling last week, the District 3 Environmental Commission asked Jesse "Sam" Sammis to scale back a project in order to protect several open fields where he proposed to build apartments and other structures.

Sammis wants to transform 178 acres of open land around Exit 4 into a development of 274 homes, a 180-room hotel and conference center, more than 500,000 square feet of office and light industrial space, a 10,000-square-foot fitness center and an interstate rest stop with an attached retail outlet. 

"At present, the commission is not persuaded that the project as designed is compact enough to satisfy [land-use regulations]," commission chair Tim Taylor wrote. "We invite the applicant to present a new plan showing a more compact design."

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Bernie Bits: In Louisiana, Sanders Talks Race, Guns

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2015 at 9:12 AM

After a brief stop in Iowa Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took his presidential campaign to the bright red state of Louisiana over the weekend, making stops in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and suburban Kenner. 

A week after Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted his appearance at a Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, Sanders addressed racial injustice directly Saturday night at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's national convention in Baton Rouge. 

“To my mind it makes eminently more sense to invest in jobs and education, rather than jails and incarceration,” Sanders told the civil rights group, according to the Washington Post. “That is an issue that we have in common, do we not?”

More from the Post:

Sanders came to Baton Rouge armed with a bevy of statistics about black Americans and a handful of policy pronouncements. He called for the “demilitarization” of police forces, widespread use of body cameras, an end to privately run prisons and an effort to address the “over-incarceration” of nonviolent offenders.

His speech was interrupted frequently by applause — albeit more tepid than he typically elicits at campaign rallies.

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Sanders Touts $15-per-Hour Wage — But Doesn't Pay It

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2015 at 9:01 AM

Sen. Bernie Sanders, right, campaigns for president in New Hampshire in May with campaign field director Phil Fiermonte, center. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, right, campaigns for president in New Hampshire in May with campaign field director Phil Fiermonte, center.
When Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled legislation Wednesday to increase the minimum wage, he said: “We have got to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and we are introducing legislation today to do just that.”

The Vermont independent, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, followed up his statement with an email to campaign supporters. In it, he quoted Elizabeth from Ohio as saying, “I could afford to go back to work if minimum wage was $15. It costs my family less for me to stay home than to pay childcare and transportation costs to work for $9.50/hr.”

Those listening to Sanders and reading his email might readily have concluded that Sanders wants American workers to be getting at least $15 an hour now. 

Not so. In fact, Sanders himself is paying some of his campaign workers less than $15 an hour. Full- and part-time interns on his campaign are making $10.10 an hour, Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said. Some other staff members also appear to be making less than $15 an hour.

The champion of workers’ rights might be paying better than your average creemee stand, but his campaign staff's starting pay is not a whole lot more than the $10 an hour Walmart pledged to pay its workers starting next year.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

In Fundraising Letter, Scott Pledges to 'Step Up and Lead'

Posted By on Sun, Jul 26, 2015 at 4:02 PM

A fundraising appeal from Lt. Gov. Phil Scott
  • A fundraising appeal from Lt. Gov. Phil Scott
Updated at 6:55 p.m.

In the two months since Gov. Peter Shumlin said he would not seek reelection, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott has been cagey about his electoral intentions.

"I am considering it," he said last month of a potential gubernatorial run. "It doesn't mean that I'm going to do it. It just means I'm considering it."

That consideration appears to have grown more serious. In a fundraising letter that arrived in mailboxes around the state Saturday, Scott signaled that he has his eye on higher office.

"Vermont families are still struggling, which means we have more work to do, and I am preparing to step up and lead," he writes.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Contaminated Dirt Will Stay Stockpiled in Leddy Park — for Now

Posted By on Fri, Jul 24, 2015 at 4:41 PM

The dirt pile at Burlington's Leddy Park - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • The dirt pile at Burlington's Leddy Park
A massive pile of dirt that has been sitting at Burlington's Leddy Park since last fall will stay there a while longer. 

There's still no firm date to remove the mountain of contaminated soil that the city plopped down in Leddy's parking lot after it was excavated from the city's waterfront for the first phase of the Burlington Bike Path reconstruction.

The city has a goal, though, for disposal: All 2,500 cubic yards of dirt should be gone by winter, says Burlington Parks and Recreation director Jesse Bridges. “It's not marooned," he insists.

Residents who live near the New North End park next to Lake Champlain want the dirt gone.

 "People are pretty upset with the pile," explains Dave Hartnett, the independent city councilor representing Burlington's North District.

This week, Hartnett and fellow councilor Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) met with Bridges to press for a removal date. So far Bridges hasn't committed to one. He says more tests must be conducted on the dirt, and then he needs permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how to safely dispose of the soils.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

U.S. House Passes Bill to Block State GMO Labeling Laws

Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 5:56 PM

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) speaks Thursday on the House floor against a bill that would block states from enacting GMO labeling laws. - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) speaks Thursday on the House floor against a bill that would block states from enacting GMO labeling laws.
The U.S. House voted by a fairly hefty margin Thursday to block states from doing what Vermont seeks to do: require labeling of genetically modified foods.

Does the bill have the legs to make it through the Senate, and would the president sign it into law? That is unclear, but Thursday's vote generated posturing on both sides of the polarized debate.

The House vote was 275-150 for the bill, which is backed by GMO seed manufacturer Monsanto. Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) voted against it.

“If Monsanto is so proud of its product, then why on Earth is it waging an all-out war to hide it from families who simply want to know what’s in their food? The message to consumers in this bill is very clear: It’s none of your business,” Welch said on the House floor Thursday.

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Hospitals in Vermont Anticipate Modest Budget Increases Next Year

Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 5:30 PM

The University of Vermont Medical Center - FILE: COURTESY PHOTO
  • File: courtesy photo
  • The University of Vermont Medical Center
Vermont's 14 hospitals collectively anticipate 3.6 percent growth in their budgets for next year — an increase that some said indicates health reforms are working.

The increase is within the limit set by the Green Mountain Care Board. The change in patient-revenue figures that hospitals anticipate range from minus 2.7 percent for Gifford Medical Center in Randolph to a 5.9 percent increase from Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans.

University of Vermont Medical Center proposes a $39 million increase in patient revenues, a growth that precisely hits the 3.6 percent limit.

The Green Mountain Care Board, which approves budgets, got its first look at hospital budget data Thursday.  

"This is the beginning of a many-step process," chair Al Gobeille told the small crowd attending the briefing. Looking at the individual growth rates, he said, "I wouldn't judge anyone over as bad or under as good."

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Sanders Campaign to Blitz Living Rooms Next Week

Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 2:40 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaigns in May in New Hampshire. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaigns in May in New Hampshire.
Tony Basiliere will have a dozen people — mostly friends but some strangers — over to his South Burlington home next Wednesday evening. Basiliere says he’s not much of an entertainer and has no plans to set out hors d’oeuvres, though he might serve coffee.

What he’s really dishing up is Bernie Sanders. Basiliere is among hundreds of people who are hosting events around the country Wednesday night to spread the word about the Democratic presidential candidate.

This is taking the Tupperware party technique to politics. Back in 2004, when Howard Dean was running for president, his campaign supporters held meet-ups around the country. Now, the Sanders campaign is encouraging supporters to organize events Wednesday at homes, coffee shops and union halls from Maine to California.

Sanders hopes the events will provide those interested in his campaign ideas for how they can help, said spokesman Michael Briggs. “He’s looking for the grassroots movement that he keeps talking about,” Briggs said.

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Vermont Democratic Party Leader Heads to Sanders Campaign

Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 2:25 PM

  • Courtesy photo
  • Julia Barnes
Julia Barnes, who announced last month she’s leaving her position as executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, has landed a job as New Hampshire state director of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.

Barnes had planned to go to graduate school until the job with Sanders came through. She will work alongside Sanders’ New Hampshire political director, Kurt Ehrenberg, in Concord, N.H., according to Sanders’ office.

In Vermont, Conor Casey will replace Barnes as executive director of the state party. He spent nearly eight years as legislative coordinator with the Vermont State Employees' Association.

Barnes has presidential-campaign experience in New Hampshire, which will hold the nation’s first presidential primary next February, following  the Iowa caucuses.

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