Tuesday, October 4, 2016

AG Fines House Republican PAC for Taking Lobbyist Donations

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 at 11:58 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Don Turner
A political action committee associated with Vermont House Republicans paid a $2,000 fine last month for accepting illegal campaign contributions and failing to register properly.

In a settlement reached September 20 with Attorney General Bill Sorrell, the Vermont House Republicans PAC also agreed to return the improper donations — $1,000 to tobacco giant Altria Client Services and $2,000 to drug maker Pfizer. 

According to Sorrell's office, the committee ran afoul of a 2015 law barring legislative leadership PACs from accepting donations from companies that lobby state government until the legislature adjourns for the biennium. Prior to the law's passage, individual lawmakers were prohibited from taking such contributions during the legislative session, but they often skirted the rules by raising the money through party PACs

Seven Days first reported in March that VHRP appeared to have violated the new law by taking donations from Altria and Pfizer before the legislature's adjournment. Both companies employ Montpelier lobbyists.

Citing Seven Days' report, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group filed a complaint with the AG's office later that month calling for "an appropriate investigation" into the situation and a clarification of the law.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Shumlin Using State Plane to Commute from Putney

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 8:59 PM

State aeronautics administrator Guy Rouelle with Vermont's Cessna 182 - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • State aeronautics administrator Guy Rouelle with Vermont's Cessna 182
Since moving to southern Vermont last month, Gov. Peter Shumlin has been catching more rides in a state-owned airplane.

Shumlin rode the Cessna 182 to or from public events three times in September, according to spokeswoman Sue Allen. He was scheduled to take a fourth trip last Friday, as WCAX-TV first reported, but it was canceled due to inclement weather. 

The governor, who moved in August from East Montpelier back to his hometown of Putney, used the plane just four times in the year prior to his relocation.

At an unrelated press conference Wednesday, Shumlin defended his frequent flier status. He said that taking the plane from Hartness State Airport in nearby Springfield saves his Vermont State Police detail from having to make the 220-mile roundtrip from Montpelier to Putney to pick him up and drop him off. But he conceded that the plane has its limitations.

"It can only fly when it's blue sky," the governor said. "It can't fly at night."

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley to Retire

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 7:00 PM

John Dooley with his wife Sandy Dooley. - SEVEN DAYS ARCHIVE
  • Seven Days archive
  • John Dooley with his wife Sandy Dooley.
Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, the court's longest tenured member and a staunch liberal voice, is retiring, WCAX-TV reported Thursday.

Dooley, a 72-year-old New Hampshire native who attended Boston College Law School, was appointed to the bench in 1987 by former governor Madeleine Kunin. He had previously served as her secretary of administration.

Dooley, a South Burlington resident, told the news station he'll step down when his term ends in March.

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Top Shumlin Administration Official to Join Montpelier Lobbying Firm

Posted By and on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 11:31 AM

Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR/FILE
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur/File
  • Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson
Updated at 2:42 p.m.

With just months remaining in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration, his top cabinet official is preparing to take a spin through Montpelier’s revolving door. Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson plans to leave state government next Friday for a gig with the Vermont lobbying firm MMR.

According to MMR president Andrew MacLean, the Australian-born public servant will launch a new practice focused on helping business and government meet new climate regulations.

“Justin brings with him more than 20 years of state, local and federal government experience in the US, Australia and abroad, and will be a great asset to our dynamic firm,” MacLean said in a statement.

Trey Martin
  • Trey Martin
Replacing Johnson through the remainder of Shumlin’s tenure, which ends in January, will be Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Trey Martin. He has some experience following Johnson, having succeeded him nearly two years ago in the No. 2 position at ANR.

Johnson’s move to a powerful Montpelier lobbying firm is sure to raise eyebrows, but both MacLean and Shumlin spokeswoman Sue Allen insisted Thursday that it was perfectly legal.

The Executive Code of Ethics, which Shumlin signed in July 2011, bars former appointees such as Johnson from lobbying “any public body or … the state legislature” on matters in which the state has “a direct and substantial interest” and “in which the appointee had participated personally and substantively while in state employ.”

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Vermont Lawmaker Looks to Expand Medical Marijuana Access

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2016 at 8:01 PM

Sen. Dick Sears - FILE
  • File
  • Sen. Dick Sears
A legislative panel charged with weighing legalizing marijuana in Vermont will focus first on whether the state’s medical marijuana program is reaching all the people it should.

“People in my area are having difficulty getting cannabis,” Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), chair of the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee, said Monday at the first of its six meetings focused on marijuana. “I’m looking to expand the availability of medical marijuana.”

The committee was tasked with continuing to research legalization of marijuana after lawmakers came to a stalemate on the issue earlier this year.

But Sears said the committee’s September 23 meeting will focus on how the state can expand access to medical marijuana. State law limits the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to four. Patients are required to register with the state and provide a doctor’s verification that they have been diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sorrell: Sanders’ Email Solicitation for Pearson Was Legal

Posted By on Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 5:41 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Chris Pearson
Updated at 7:48 p.m. September 6, 2016, with a statement from Brady Toensing.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said Tuesday that an email Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaign sent to support Rep. Chris Pearson’s (P-Burlington) state Senate race did not violate state campaign finance laws.

In the May email to his supporters, Sanders urged recipients to contribute to eight like-minded state legislative candidates around the country, including Pearson, who worked for Sanders in the late 1990s.

Pearson is running as a Progressive/Democrat for one of Chittenden County’s six seats in the state Senate.

“Chris is a good friend of working people and of mine,” Sanders said in the email.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Did Shumlin Swing Senate Race After Leaving Washington County?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 5:50 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Health Commissioner Harry Chen Thursday in Burlington - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin and Health Commissioner Harry Chen Thursday in Burlington
Four days before Vermont's primary election, Gov. Peter Shumlin sold his East Montpelier abode and returned to his hometown of Putney. But even though he'd moved to Windham County by Election Day, he may have altered the outcome of a state Senate race in Washington County.

In that contest, former Statehouse sergeant-at-arms Francis Brooks led Montpelier attorney Ashley Hill in the Democratic primary by just one vote after a recount earlier this week: 3,709 to 3,708. Vermont Superior Court Judge Timothy Tomasi is set to rule on the status of four contested ballots at a Friday hearing. Whoever prevails will win one of three Democratic slots on the general-election ballot for three Senate seats.

At an unrelated press conference Thursday in Burlington, an unusually chatty Shumlin revealed who he had voted for in several primary races. He said he'd cast ballots for gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter, who prevailed in her bid for the Democratic nomination, and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Shap Smith, who did not. Asked about the hotly contested Senate race, Shumlin had to think for a second.

"I gotta go back and dig into my memory on that," he said. "I had three votes. And I know they were — I wanna say the one I knew the least was Ashley Hill. So I think I voted for the other three."

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Rep. Chip Conquest to Run for Vermont House Speaker

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2016 at 2:12 PM

Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury), center, plans to run for House speaker. - TERRI HALLENBECK/FILE
  • Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury), center, plans to run for House speaker.
Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury) announced this week he will run for House speaker if he wins reelection to his House seat in November.

Conquest, a 54-year-old farmer and carpenter who has never served in House leadership, said lawmakers could do a better job of listening to and including disparate points of view.

"We haven't done enough to build public support for big policy changes," he said, citing Act 46, the state's new school district consolidation law as one example. "Some of the resistance to Act 46 is a result of that."

Conquest, who has served eight years in the House, is likely to be one of several candidates competing for the powerful position overseeing the 150-member chamber. Current House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown), who has held the job for eight years, is running for lieutenant governor.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Shumlin Fills Vacancies in His Administration From Within

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2016 at 4:25 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin at the Statehouse in March - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin at the Statehouse in March

A veteran of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration will take over as state secretary of commerce and community development, the governor’s office announced Wednesday.

Current Deputy Secretary Lucy Leriche replaces outgoing Secretary Pat Moulton, who leaves her post to serve as interim president of Vermont Technical College.

Leriche previously spent about seven years in the state legislature representing Hardwick, including a stint as Democratic House majority leader.

Shumlin also announced that Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein will oversee the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center. The appointment comes two weeks after Gene Fullam resigned from the post. Fullam served just one year that saw scandal as the feds charged Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger with longtime fraud related to EB-5 projects in the Northeast Kingdom.

Scott Coriell, Sue Allen and Liz Miller. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Scott Coriell, Sue Allen and Liz Miller.
The changes come as Shumlin’s deputy chief of staff and spokesman, Scott Coriell, embarks on a two-month unpaid leave to travel. Coriell returns October 1. In the interim, Sue Allen, also a deputy chief of staff, will take over press duties, Coriell said.

Shumlin’s tenure as governor is in its final months. He’ll retire and be replaced by one of five candidates vying for the position. The primary election is Tuesday.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

With Focus on Guns, Minter Seeks to Separate Herself From the Pack

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 12:48 PM

Two years ago, Ann Braden wouldn't have predicted that a major candidate for governor of Vermont would run a television advertisement calling for gun control.

"But it often takes time for the state capital to catch up to public opinion," says Braden, who founded Gun Sense Vermont after the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Now, with less than three weeks remaining before Vermont's gubernatorial primary, one candidate is staking her candidacy on the controversial issue. In a television advertisement released Wednesday, Democrat Sue Minter ties firearms to domestic violence and pledges to take on "the gun lobby."

"We need to keep guns away from domestic abusers and require background checks on all gun sales," she says. 

It may not be the riskiest strategy in a Democratic primary. The Castleton Polling Institute found last February that 97 percent of Democrats support universal background checks. Even independents and Republicans overwhelmingly support the concept, the poll concluded.

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