Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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 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 Committee. Commerce’s job is to attract business while Labor’s job is to regulate business, he said.

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Vermont Congressional Delegation to Attend Trump Inauguration

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 2:43 PM

Vermont's congressional delegation and their spouses. - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Vermont's congressional delegation and their spouses.
Updated at 5:11 p.m.

Vermont’s congressional delegation will attend president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, despite a boycott movement gaining momentum among their colleagues.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as well as Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.), won't be joining the protest, spokespeople for all three confirmed.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Welch said he's heard from a number of Vermonters asking him to take part in the boycott.

"However, I believe the inaugural ceremony is about more than any individual. It is about the peaceful transition of power enshrined in our Constitution," he said. "I believe it is my job to participate in, and be a witness to, this touchstone of our democracy and powerful symbol to the world. So, while I respect the decision of some of my colleagues to stay home, I will attend, but not celebrate, Friday’s ceremony."

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‘Reactionary Fringe’ Pushes Back Against Mayor’s ‘Trash Talk’

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 1:22 PM

Genese Grill, center, with members of the Coalition for a Livable City - FILE: SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • File: Sasha Goldstein
  • Genese Grill, center, with members of the Coalition for a Livable City
Some Burlington Progressives and activists are incensed after Mayor Miro Weinberger denounced party-backed candidates last week as coming from a “reactionary fringe.” Weinberger made the remark at a Democratic caucus where he condemned opposition to city projects, including the downtown mall redevelopment.

Members of the Coalition for a Livable City, a group that has opposed the mall plan, may adopt the label and dub themselves the “reactionary fringe,” said John Franco. He’s a veteran of the mayoral administrations of Peter Clavelle and Bernie Sanders, and an attorney who is representing the coalition.

“Trash talk doesn’t usually end well,” Franco said. The remarks will come back to haunt the mayor, he predicted.

Independent city council candidate Genese Grill, who is also a member of the CLC, characterized Weinberger’s comments as inaccurate and misdirected.

“In calling everyone who was against his rezoning of the downtown core a ‘reactionary fringe,’ Mayor Weinberger has insulted almost half of the people in this city,” Grill wrote in an email to Seven Days. In response, Grill is inviting others to join her in protest at next week’s city council meeting.

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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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Scott Plans to Merge Labor and Commerce, Lottery and Liquor

Posted By on Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 8:27 AM

  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott plans to reorganize several state entities, moves that his staff maintains will allow the state to better focus its efforts.

Scott plans to announce the changes Tuesday, according to a memo Susanne Young, his secretary of administration, sent to staff members Friday.

According to the memo, Scott plans three moves. One would merge the Department of Labor into the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. The agency would be renamed the Agency of Commerce, Workforce and Community Development.

Scott also plans to combine the lottery and liquor departments into one, and to reorganize oversight of information technology projects throughout state government.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Vermont Lawmakers to Consider Election Challenge in House Race

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 3:23 PM

Verrmont Statehouse - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Verrmont Statehouse
A legislative committee will get to work next week deciding whether to authorize a recount in a Vermont House race.

The House Government Operations Committee officially got its assignment Friday to look at the Orange County race between Republican Bob Frenier of Chelsea and Progressive Susan Hatch Davis of the town of Washington.

In a report filed with the legislature this week, Assistant Attorney General Michael Duane advised that the House has broad authority to decide whether to order another recount or not.

The race has followed a winding path since election day in November, when it appeared Frenier won by eight votes. After Hatch Davis, the incumbent, petitioned for a recount by electronic tabulator, his lead shrunk to six. A judge declined Hatch Davis’ request for a hand recount and after examining several disputed ballots, declared Frenier the winner.

Frenier was sworn in January 4 when the legislature convened for the new session.

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Norwich University Band to Perform at Trump’s Inauguration

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 2:27 PM

The Norwich band - FILE
  • File
  • The Norwich band
Updated at 2:50 p.m.

The Norwich University Regimental Band and Drill Team will perform at president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, January 20, in Washington, D.C.

The university, home to the oldest collegiate band in the country, has been invited to perform at seven other inaugurations, most recently President Barack Obama’s in 2013.

“The Norwich University Regimental Band and Drill Team is proud to represent the university and the State of Vermont,” assistant commandant and director of bands Todd P. Edwards said in a statement announcing the news.

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Walters: Between a Rock and an Ethics Code

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 1:47 PM

Gov. Phil Scott lays out the sale of his construction company. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott lays out the sale of his construction company.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott held a news conference Friday morning aimed at explaining the sale of his ownership stake in DuBois Construction. He outlined the steps his administration will take to ensure transparency and avoid ethical conflicts. But in the process, he all but acknowledged that the terms of the sale are in violation of the state’s Executive Code of Ethics.

The relevant portion of the code prohibits any “full-time appointee” from being “financially interested, directly or indirectly, in any private entity or private interest that is subject to the supervision of his or her respective department or agency.”

DuBois Construction is a frequent bidder on state construction projects. As long as Scott is governor, DuBois is “subject to the supervision” of his administration and his chosen officials.

On December 30, Scott sold his share in DuBois Construction to business partner (and cousin) Don DuBois for $2.5 million. There was no down payment; instead, Scott himself is financing a 15-year loan at 3 percent interest. The initial payments, for an unspecified period, will be interest only.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

At Caucus, Burlington Dems Back Progressive Council Prez Knodell

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 11:21 PM

Joan Shannon - OLIVER PARINI
  • Oliver Parini
  • Joan Shannon
The Burlington Democratic caucus on Thursday included an alliance with a Progressive — and featured a fiery speech of support from the mayor — as party members picked their slate of four city council candidates ahead of Town Meeting Day.

Central District voters endorsed Progressive City Council President Jane Knodell, while voters in the city's North District backed independent Councilor Dave Hartnett for that seat. Party members also unanimously selected Councilor Joan Shannon to run for the South District seat and nominated newcomer Richard Deane to take a shot at winning the East District.

One decision came with its fair share of detractors. Applause waned and at least one person booed when Mayor Miro Weinberger asked party members to nominate the incumbent Knodell for the Central District seat after no Democrat volunteered to run for the post.

“In the face of a hijacking of her party, she has stood firm in the belief that expanding economic opportunity [leads to] expanding equity,” he told the crowd, which included 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter, Vermont Democratic Party executive director Conor Casey and state representatives.

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Walters: Big Trouble in a Little Caucus

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 2:58 PM

  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Joe Benning
Norm McAllister: the gift that keeps on giving.

Only a few days before the former Franklin County Republican senator pleaded no contest to lewd conduct, his prosecution contributed to a surprise change in Senate Republican leadership. Last Friday, the members of the Senate GOP caucus — all seven of them — voted unanimously for Sen. Dustin Degree (R-Franklin) to serve as minority leader, as VTDigger first reported. He’ll replace Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia).

In the end, the process was collegial; Benning himself nominated Degree, and is clearly at peace with the outcome. “I left the vote feeling like I had 20 pounds of weight taken off my shoulders,” he said. Before that day, however, there was plenty of backstage drama, and there’s disagreement on some key points.

Take the McAllister effect.

“The foundation, I think, was the McAllister situation,” says Benning. He tried to convince McAllister to resign from the Senate after his 2015 arrest. When McAllister refused, Benning pushed for his removal. That didn’t sit well with McAllister loyalists in the caucus.

“There were folks who weren’t happy with how Joe handled it,” Degree says. “But I don’t think it played a large role in the leadership decision; I really don’t.”

Well, if not McAllister, then why replace a respected leader?

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