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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Opinion
Walters: The Leahy-Gorsuch Two-Step

Posted By on Tue, Mar 21, 2017 at 10:49 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy questions Judge Neil Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. - RON SACHS / CNP VIA AP
  • Ron Sachs / CNP via AP
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy questions Judge Neil Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
U.S. Supreme Court nomination hearings are a tightly choreographed dance. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee deliver lengthy orations with questions dangling precariously at the end, and nominees try their best not to say anything that might reveal the slightest hint of an opinion.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has performed this dance more than probably any other human being who’s ever walked the earth, as the Senate’s longest currently serving member and the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday, he took a new partner for a spin: Appellate Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee. It was the second day of Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings but the first time the nominee was questioned under oath.

As in a dance, each partner plays a well-rehearsed role and is fully aware of the other’s moves. The one big difference: Astaire tries to step on his partner’s toes and provoke a reaction, while Rogers’ face maintains a resolute smile.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Leahy sometimes provoked a visible clench from the witness and a response best described as obsequious condescension. Gorsuch isn’t quite a skilled enough Rogers to completely hide his political differences with Leahy and his impatience with the senator’s tactics.

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Liberal Legislators Call for New Taxes to Counter State Budget Cuts

Posted By on Tue, Mar 21, 2017 at 9:54 PM

Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) advocates for a paid family leave bill Tuesday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) advocates for a paid family leave bill Tuesday.
Some of the Vermont legislature’s most liberal members have a message for their colleagues: Don’t bow to Gov. Phil Scott’s vow to veto tax increases.

The appeal came as the House Appropriations Committee prepares to finish its budget bill by the end of the week. As the panel pared a $73 million budget gap down to $6.4 million, complaints about budget cuts began to mount this week.

The committee is building a budget based on $5 million in new revenue that would be generated by cracking down on tax-law compliance, but has otherwise avoided raising taxes or fees.

That’s not sitting well with some members of the legislature.

“We have said, ‘Don’t take the liberal wing for granted,’” Rep. Paul Poirier (I-Barre) said Tuesday, flanked by other members of the Legislative Working Vermonters’ Caucus during a Statehouse press conference. “The workers caucus is not interested in cutting the human services budget.”

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Key Senators Pledge to Increase Wages for Mental Health Workers

Posted By on Tue, Mar 21, 2017 at 8:52 PM

Sen. Tim Ashe, Sen. Claire Ayer and Sen. Jane Kitchel - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Tim Ashe, Sen. Claire Ayer and Sen. Jane Kitchel
Senate leaders said Tuesday that they’re committed to increasing mental health workers’ wages this year.

“We will vote to increase compensation for these positions this year,” Sen. President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) told reporters at a briefing in his Statehouse office.

It’s a surprising pledge, coming when the legislature is struggling to fill a budget gap while meeting the governor’s request that it not raise taxes or fees.

Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison), who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, told the assembled reporters that uncompetitive pay is the “single biggest issue” contributing to a strained mental health system, which has left patients languishing in emergency rooms. She noted that there are currently about 400 vacancies across the designated agencies that provide community-based care for people who are mentally ill.

Last week, Ayer’s committee passed a bill that, among other things, would allocate $30 million to increase designated agency employees’ pay to at least $15 an hour, and to pay professional staff at least 85 percent of the market rate.

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After Arrests, Attorney Says ICE is Targeting Migrant Justice

Posted By on Tue, Mar 21, 2017 at 3:24 PM

Activists rally to release Migrant Justice activists Saturday. - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • Activists rally to release Migrant Justice activists Saturday.
The detention of three immigrant advocates last week points to a systematic targeting of Migrant Justice workers, according to their immigration attorney.

Matt Cameron, a Boston-based immigration attorney, has agreed to represent Cesar Alex Carrillo, Enrique Balcazar and Zully Palacios pro bono. He called the arrests a "clear, simple case of retaliation" and painted a picture of a vindictive, overreaching Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in Vermont.

"There's nowhere else where they would surveil people like [them]," Cameron said in a phone interview with Seven Days on Tuesday.

He called the Vermont office "over-resourced" and contended that the three most recent arrests, coupled with the arrests of Victor Diaz and Miguel Alcudia last year, point to a broader trend. "Why are we wasting resources on thoroughly decent people like Zully and Enrique who are doing really important work for their communities?" he said.

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