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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Legislative Analysts: $58 Million Needed to Hold Down Vermont Property Taxes

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 7:28 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Updated 10:05 p.m.

The education-funding challenge standing between Vermont lawmakers and adjournment just grew — by roughly $18 million, according to a legislative fiscal officer.

Gov. Phil Scott has insisted that there be no property tax increase in 2019. Last week, he proposed using $40 million in one-time funds to offset a projected 5.5 cent increase in the statewide education property tax. But the legislature’s fiscal analysts are now pegging the figure at $58.2 million.

That stems partly from new information, according to Stephen Klein, the legislature's chief fiscal officer: The Agency of Education learned last week that special education costs came in about $6 million higher than expected, and general school spending is also up. That means the projected education property tax increase now stands at 6.8 cents.

In response, the administration revised its estimate to the "mid-$50 million" range late last week, according to Scott's communications director, Rebecca Kelley, who added, "We’ve been accounting for it as we finalize our recommended package for closing the gap."

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Vermont House GOP Mobilizes Behind Scott to Defeat Toxics Bill

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 5:50 PM

Reps. David Ainsworth (left) and Patrick Brennan - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Reps. David Ainsworth (left) and Patrick Brennan
Vermont House Republicans on Wednesday mustered the votes to sustain Gov. Phil Scott's veto of a bill that would have expanded state regulation of toxic chemicals in consumer products.

The bill would have expanded the power of the commissioner of the Department of Health to regulate products that pose a risk of exposing children to toxic chemicals. The commissioner, who is appointed by the governor, would have been able to require health labeling on products or even ban their sale.

The House's vote to override the veto failed to get approval from two thirds of the representatives present, as required by the state's constitution. Ninety-four representatives voted in favor of the bill and 53 voted against it.

One of those standing with the Republican governor was Rep. David Ainsworth (R-South Royalton), who had been out sick. He returned to the chamber to help the GOP's cause, casting his first votes of the session.

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Walters: Another Vermont House Committee Chair to Retire

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 5:33 PM

  • Vermont Legislature
  • Rep. Stephen Carr
Rep. Stephen Carr (D-Brandon) said Wednesday afternoon that he will not seek reelection this year. Carr has served this session as chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee.

"Six years," Carr said, when asked why he is leaving after three terms in office. "It's been long enough."

Carr intends to devote more time to his work as a small business consultant. "A friend of mine calls me a 'CFO in a box,'" he said. "A chief financial officer that a small business wouldn't have. I'm a commercial lender by background. I can come into a business and say 'Here's what I see' because it's the same thing their lender would see."

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Health Department Program Gives Fentanyl Testing Kits to Heroin Users

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 5:01 PM

  • Courtesy of the Vermont Department of Health
  • A testing kit
The Vermont Department of Health has quietly distributed fentanyl testing kits to heroin users during the past 15 months as part of a pilot program officials hope to expand statewide.

The kits, which allow users to determine if heroin is laced with the potent, often undetectable opiate, have been handed out to 130 people across the state, Health Department officials told Seven Days.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said that the project has been a success: 90 percent of users said in follow-up interviews that they changed their behavior — by discarding the batch of heroin, using less, making sure they had an overdose-reversing drug on hand, or using in the presence of someone else — if the kit detected fentanyl.

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Six Months After a Vermont Inmate's Death in Pennsylvania, Officials Still Don't Have Answers

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 3:09 PM

  • Dreamstime
More than six months after Vermont inmate Roger Brown died of metastatic cancer in a Pennsylvania prison, apparently without being treated for the spreading disease, Vermont corrections officials haven’t completed a review of his death.

Deputy Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette told the Vermont House Corrections and Institutions Committee in January that the investigation would be complete in short order.

“We are very near the conclusion of our — Vermont’s — administrative review, clinical review [of Brown’s death,]” Touchette told the committee on January 19.

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Walters: Head to Retire, Killacky to Run for Vermont House

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 11:17 AM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Helen Head
Vermont Rep. Helen Head (D-South Burlington) said Wednesday that she will not seek reelection this year. John Killacky, the outgoing executive director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, has filed as a Democratic candidate in her district.

Head has served in the legislature since 2003, and is chair of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee. She is the second House committee chair to announce retirement this year. Rep. David Sharpe (D-Bristol), of the House Education Committee, announced his departure on Town Meeting Day.

"It's been a wonderful experience here, and an incredible honor, but it's time to move on," Head remarked. She has no immediate plans, but hinted at a possible return to her non-legislative career as a nonprofit administrator.

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