Monday, January 23, 2017

Middlesex Officials Want State Psychiatric Facility Gone by 2018

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 7:12 PM

Workers at the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence in June 2013. - AP PHOTO/TOBY TALBOT
  • AP Photo/Toby Talbot
  • Workers at the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence in June 2013.
A "temporary" psychiatric facility in Middlesex has outstayed its welcome, according to town officials, who declined the state's request to stay until 2020.

Selectboard chair Peter Hood said the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence hasn’t caused problems for the town, but the board is tired of the state "diddling around."

“We just said, ‘The door is open. Come back when you have a plan.' They haven’t been back yet,” Hood said in an interview last week.

The facility opened in June 2013 as a stopgap for psychiatric patients displaced from the Vermont State Hospital after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The state signed an initial agreement with the Middlesex selectboard to close the seven-bed locked facility no later than January 2016.

The state has always intended to replace the facility with a permanent 14-bed facility in a different location, but there are still no concrete plans.

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New Vermont Panel to Take On Campaign Finance Rules

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 6:45 PM

Nearly every election season in Vermont, somebody — a candidate, a political party or a contributor — crosses the legal line on campaign finance regulations. Scores of candidates never file required reports detailing how much they’ve raised and spent.

A new panel — the Committee on Campaign Finance Education, Compliance and Reform — is designed to bring more people into compliance and recommend ways to improve the law, according to Secretary of State Jim Condos and newly sworn-in Attorney General T.J. Donovan.

Simply making it clear to candidates and contributors what the rules are is part of the goal, Condos said. "Print off a copy of the candidates for 2016 election, go down the list and see who filed campaign finance reports," he said. "How do we get more people to do compliance?"

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Walters: VT GOPers Seek to Amend US Constitution

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 7:59 AM

The Convention of States website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The Convention of States website
It was little noticed at the time, but last September a nationwide gathering of conservatives took a symbolic step toward remaking the U.S. Constitution. Three Vermont lawmakers participated: Rep. Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven), Rep. Lynn Batchelor (R-Derby Line) and Rep. Vicki Strong (R-Irasburg).

“It was a learning experience for everyone,” Batchelor says. “We had a wonderful, wonderful, eye-opening experience.”

The event was called the Convention of States, and it was meant to be a model of what’s called an Article V Convention. There are two ways to amend the Constitution: the first begins with Congress adopting an amendment. But under the Constitution’s Article V, the states may also initiate a convention. This has never happened in American history and legal scholars disagree over some key aspects of the process.

The COS took place in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was organized by a group called Citizens for Self-Governance — which, according to the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy, has ties to the Tea Party movement, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Vermonters Swarm Into Montpelier for Women’s March

Posted By on Sat, Jan 21, 2017 at 6:50 PM

One of many young girls at the Statehouse Saturday - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • One of many young girls at the Statehouse Saturday
Protesters bathed the Statehouse lawn in a sea of pink Saturday as Vermonters turned out for the Women’s March on Montpelier. So many attendees swarmed into the city that authorities temporarily closed Interstate 89 exits, saying the city’s roads couldn’t handle the traffic. The city police later estimated the crowd at 15,000 to 20,000.

Event organizers said the protest to voice opposition to Donald Trump’s inauguration was the largest march in state history.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Walters: Slouching Toward Transparency

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 11:05 PM

Vermont Statehouse - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Vermont Statehouse
The two branches of the state legislature each made the tiniest of moves toward financial transparency on Thursday. The Senate’s was almost devoid of meaning, while the House took a brief sidestep on the long and winding road to full disclosure.

First, the House. In a session expected to be brief and painless, lawmakers heard first readings of a number of bills and then took up House Resolution 6, which would make minor changes to existing financial disclosure procedure. Currently, state representatives’ disclosure forms are only available in person at the House Clerk’s office; H.R. 6 calls for the forms to be posted online. It had unanimously passed the House Rules Committee, and was expected to sail through.

But lawmakers are very particular about disclosure rules applying to themselves, and a flurry of questions ensued.

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Montpeculiar: ‘Economic Opportunity’ Knocks — Twice

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 4:56 PM

  • Screenshot
When Gov. Phil Scott proposed this week that the Agency of Commerce be transformed into a new Agency of Economic Opportunity, it had a familiar ring to it.

Turns out, despite all the words available in the English language, these very ones are already employed in Vermont state government.
The Office of Economic Opportunity is part of the Department for Children and Families.

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Anticipated State Revenues Are Down in Economic Report

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 2:32 PM

Gov. Phil Scott and the legislative money committee chairs listen to economists Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr on Thursday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Gov. Phil Scott and the legislative money committee chairs listen to economists Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr on Thursday.
Economists told the state’s Emergency Board on Thursday that Vermont is likely to see less money coming in over the next two years than previously thought.

For fiscal year 2017, which lasts through June, the state can expect to see $24.6 million less in general fund revenues than had been anticipated. For the 2018 budget, Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders were told to expect $7.7 million less than previously thought. And in 2019, expectations were curtailed by $10.4 million.

To handle the blow in the current 2017 budget, Scott’s financial team doesn’t seem to be sweating the details. Finance Commissioner Andy Pallito said he is proposing to tap into various reserve funds and areas where spending was less than expected.

The 2018 figures are being built into Scott’s much-anticipated first state budget, which he will release next Tuesday. “We were forecasting this,” he said. But he bemoaned, “We’re starting with less revenue than last year.”

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Judicial Board Agrees to Give Scott More Justice Candidates

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 9:16 PM

The Judicial Nominating Board discusses its powers during a meeting at the Statehouse on Tuesday. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • The Judicial Nominating Board discusses its powers during a meeting at the Statehouse on Tuesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, yet another legal conundrum arose in the state’s Supreme Court saga.

The unusually convoluted process to appoint a new justice to the Vermont Supreme Court is provoking some existential angst on the Judicial Nominating Board, an 11-member body tasked with submitting candidates to the governor.

In response to an eleventh-hour legal challenge, the Vermont Supreme Court stopped Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin from choosing Justice John Dooley’s replacement on his final day in office. That left the decision to incoming Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who inherited the same list of six candidates the JNB offered to Shumlin.

Last week, Scott asked the board to give him more names. According to his lawyer, Jaye Pershing Johnson, the governor has not even looked at the names on the original list. But he’s concerned that the legal challenge dissuaded potential candidates from applying the first time around, she added.

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Lawmakers Leery of Scott’s Proposed Labor, Commerce Merger

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 5:41 PM

Commerce Secretary Michael Schirling (left) and Gov. Phil Scott talk Tuesday about the proposed agency reorganization. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Commerce Secretary Michael Schirling (left) and Gov. Phil Scott talk Tuesday about the proposed agency reorganization.
Bringing oversight of the state’s information technology programs
under one agency? That proposal from Gov. Phil Scott makes sense, legislative leaders said Tuesday. His idea of merging the state Liquor Control Department and Lottery Commission? That, too, probably has merit.

But merging the Labor Department with the Agency of Commerce and dubbing it the Agency of Economic Opportunity? That’s not going over as well.

“This will better align putting workers with employers,” Scott said Tuesday in explaining the proposed change, which he seeks to make through executive order that he formally filed Sunday.

Of Scott’s three reorganizational proposals, the Labor/Commerce one stands out as the most problematic, said Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden).

“The two organizations have two different missions,” said Rep. Bill Botzow (D-Pownal), chair of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee. Commerce’s job is to attract business while Labor’s job is to regulate business, he said.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Vermont Treasurer: Annual $25M in Fees Needed for Water Cleanup

Posted By on Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 7:12 PM

Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain - FILE
  • File
  • Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain
Vermont should generate $25 million each year to help clean up state waterways by creating stormwater utilities that charge property owners for contributing to the pollution, state Treasurer Beth Pearce recommended in a report filed Sunday.

A per-parcel fee would help raise just over half the cash needed to get the state in compliance with agreements it has in place with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up various waterways, Pearce concluded in the much-anticipated 91-page report.

Pearce said that she envisions officials establishing regional stormwater utilities statewide. While Lake Champlain phosphorus cleanup gets much of the attention, virtually all of the state is under orders from the EPA to reduce the phosphorus load, she said.

Establishing stormwater utilities to collect funding through user fees would take two years, Pearce said in the report. Homeowners, developers, farmers and store owners would all contribute based on how much pollution they generate.

“I think it should be tied to the usage as much as possible,” Pearce said Monday.

Lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott’s administration would need to set standards for who gets charged how much by the stormwater utilities, she said.

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