Friday, February 24, 2017

Vermont Senate Approves Bill to Limit ‘Duty to Warn’

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 3:17 PM

Sen. Jeanette White and Sen. Brian Collamore - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Jeanette White and Sen. Brian Collamore
The Vermont Senate swiftly passed a bill Friday that limits health professionals’ obligation to warn people about potentially dangerous patients.

Mental health providers panicked after a Vermont Supreme Court ruling last May, which, in their interpretation, drastically expanded their “duty to warn” when releasing patients from their care.

Before the so-called Kuligoski case, providers had to warn people when there was an imminent threat to an identifiable victim. The court ruling expanded the obligation to also apply to “foreseeable victims or to those whose membership in a particular class ... places them within a zone of danger.”

The Senate voted to restore the previous standard — essentially voiding the court’s ruling. According to Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), who presented the bill, an “identifiable victim” doesn’t have to be a particular person. She noted that it could extend “to a situation where a patient says, ‘I hate barbers. I’ve got a gun. And I’m going to go kill a barber.’”

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Scott, No Fan of Trump, Heads to White House for NGA Meeting

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 12:08 PM

Gov. Phil Scott at a February 9 press conference on immigration - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Gov. Phil Scott at a February 9 press conference on immigration
This could be ... awkward.

Gov. Phil Scott is headed to visit President Donald Trump, a day after the state’s Senate unanimously voted for a bill that would insulate Vermont from enforcing controversial immigration edicts touted by the commander in chief.

Scott, who has said he didn’t vote for his fellow Republican, enthusiastically joined legislative leaders in backing the Vermont immigration bill, which his staff helped write.

“This is about what I see as federal overreach in terms of our Constitution,” Scott said of the bill. “I feel this puts us on a pathway to giving some relief to Vermonters and to calm down the rhetoric and anxiety.”

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

As BHS Students Watch, Vermont Senate Passes Immigration Bill

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 5:05 PM

Burlington High School International Club students watch from the Senate gallery Thursday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Burlington High School International Club students watch from the Senate gallery Thursday.
About a dozen students from the Burlington High School International Club watched Thursday afternoon as the Vermont Senate unanimously passed a bill meant to reassure them, and other immigrants, that they are welcome.

“I think we’re doing something really special here today,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden). “It really does send a different kind of message ... Whether you look different or pray differently or whatever it is, you’re welcome in this place that respects differences.”

The Senate voted 30-0 in favor of the bill, which was written in response to President Donald Trump’s recent immigration orders.

Lawmakers said the legislation seeks to do two things: prevent the federal government from deputizing local police to enforce immigration law, and bar the state from providing residents’ personal information to be used for a religious registry.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'Three-Ring Circus:' Vermont House Election Recount Halted

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 2:21 PM

House Republican leader Don Turner speaks as an election recount is halted Wednesday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • House Republican leader Don Turner speaks as an election recount is halted Wednesday.
A long-awaited recount of an Orange County House race ended Wednesday before a single ballot had been recounted.

Leaders of all three political parties agreed the recount could not take place because a bag of ballots had been opened in Chelsea in late December. Though the Secretary of State’s Office had been consulted about the opening process, and there was no allegation that ballots were missing, the parties agreed to halt the recount.

“I don’t see how we can move forward,” said Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman (P-Middletown Springs), the House Progressive caucus leader. “The whole point of the recount was to ensure a process we could all have faith in.”

He, along with Republican and Democratic House leaders, declared Rep. Bob Frenier’s (R-Chelsea) election no longer in question.

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Walters: Vermont Senate Panel Orders Up a Fistful of Studies

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 12:02 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Claire Ayer
A Vermont Senate panel is addressing widespread problems in the state's mental health care system in traditional fashion: by calling for a total of nine separate studies, analyses, and explorations.

On Thursday morning, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took a first look at a draft bill aiming to identify solutions for the system's intractable problems. The bill has yet to be formally introduced, but is poised for quick approval. Committee chair Claire Ayer (D-Addison) expects to move the bill out of committee by the end of next week.

"The rationale behind the bill is to take a look at a system that should work, that was designed to work, but that isn't working," Ayer explained.

The bill's scope takes in the entire system, but focuses on a few known trouble spots: chronic underfunding and understaffing at community-based agencies, a rising tide of geriatric and forensic psychiatric patients, and improving the coordination between different parts of the system.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New Vermont House Bill Would Legalize, Tax Marijuana Sales

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 9:13 PM

  • luke eastman
As one Vermont House committee works on a bill that would legalize possession and growing of small amounts of marijuana, other House members still hope to go further — legalizing and taxing the sale of the drug.

Rep. Sam Young (D-Glover) is the lead sponsor of a bill due to be introduced Wednesday. On Tuesday, he collected cosponsors and said he expected to have about 15 lawmakers sign on.

"If we're going to legalize marijuana, I think we should also tax and regulate it," said Young, who is vice chair of the Committee on Ways & Means.

Young said he's received no assurances from legislative leaders that his bill would pass. Taxing and regulating marijuana is an approach the Senate passed last year, but that failed to gain traction in the House.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Montpeculiar: Vermont House Votes to Keep Happy Hour Illegal

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 6:00 PM

  • File: Julia Clancy
  • Beer!
In a room just down the hall from the Vermont House chamber on Thursday afternoon, caterers prepared a reception where lawmakers would be treated to beer, wine and snacks.

But inside the chamber itself, members busied themselves saying no to happy hour for the rest of Vermont. By a tally of 69-49, legislators voted down an amendment that would have changed state law and allowed bars to offer short-term drink specials.

Rep. Oliver Olsen (I-Londonderry), who represents several ski towns, sought to do away with the Puritan statute. Vermont is one of 11 states, including notoriously dry Utah, that don't allow happy hour, Olsen said.

He called his amendment "an economic development issue," noting that Vermont is increasingly a culinary destination. His proposal would have allowed bars to offer discounts for two hours or less at a time on beer or wine, but not hard liquor.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Walters: Lawmakers Befuddled by Mental Health System

Posted By on Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 8:57 AM

Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee
A routine budget hearing before a Senate committee Thursday was sidelined by one seemingly intractable problem: what to do about the state’s troubled, creaky, under-resourced mental health care system. All those assembled were in agreement on one point: none of them have any idea how to fix the damn thing.

Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille provided testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee on his agency’s fiscal year 2018 budget and got all the way to the seventh chart in his prepared presentation before the hearing stalled.

The chart showed trends in state funding for “Designated Agencies and Specialized Service Agencies,” which are nonprofit organizations that provide mental health, substance abuse and disability-related services under contract with the state of Vermont. They are generally referred to as “designated agencies.”

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Walters: Black Lives Matter Seeks Visibility

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2017 at 6:27 PM

From left, Sha'an Mouliert, Rep. Kiah Morris (D-Bennington), Ebony Nyoni, Senowa Mize-Fox, Mark Hudson - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • From left, Sha'an Mouliert, Rep. Kiah Morris (D-Bennington), Ebony Nyoni, Senowa Mize-Fox, Mark Hudson
It was hard not to notice the contrast.

The Statehouse's iconic Cedar Creek Room, redolent with the heritage of official Vermont, its walls dotted with portraits of dead white men, was filled Thursday morning with Vermonters of color — advocating for legislation but also wishing simply to be recognized.

"We are invisible," said Sha'an Mouliert of St. Johnsbury. "One of our missions is to ensure that our elected representatives can no longer not see us, can no longer not represent us. We are part of your constituency."

Or, in a phrase oft-repeated during a press conference, "I am Vermont too," a statement that people of color are Vermonters every bit as much as the flintiest son of Ethan Allen. "I Am Vermont Too" is the title of a related photo exhibit in the Statehouse cafeteria, featuring Vermonters of color holding handwritten messages revealing some of the small indignities they suffer in daily life, like strangers touching their curly hair or marveling at their ability to speak English.

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Scott Administration Opposes Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2017 at 6:13 PM

Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson, right,  taking his oath of office in January - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson, right, taking his oath of office in January
Updated at 12:45 p.m., February 10, 2017, with a statement from Rebecca Kelley.

Gov. Phil Scott’s administration came out Thursday firmly against a marijuana legalization bill that has sparked interest in the House.

“We oppose this bill,” Vermont State Police Major Glenn Hall told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning.

“We,” as it turns out, extends beyond the state police to the governor and his administration.

“We speak with one voice,” said Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson. “That’s what the governor stands for also.”

Hall's comments represent a shift from Scott's own. The newly elected Republican governor has not embraced legalization, but he hasn’t explicitly come out against it either.

Last week, Scott said, "I didn't say, 'Never.' I said, 'Not now,'" adding that he'd prefer legislators focus on economic issues. He also said that highway safety and protecting youths remain concerns.

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