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Friday, June 14, 2019

Walters: Holcombe Considering Run for Governor

Posted By on Fri, Jun 14, 2019 at 5:51 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rebecca Holcombe
Former Agency of Education secretary Rebecca Holcombe is seriously considering a run for Vermont governor as a Democrat in 2020.

"I'm in the exploratory phase," Holcombe said. "I love the state of Vermont. It has tremendous potential, but it needs a new direction." She added that she will make a final decision "within the next couple of weeks."

Democratic governor Peter Shumlin first named Holcombe education secretary in 2014. She continued to serve under Republican Gov. Phil Scott until March 2018, when she suddenly resigned, giving a mere one week's notice.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Walters: Scott Defends His Veto of Gun-Purchase Waiting Period Bill

Posted By on Wed, Jun 12, 2019 at 4:22 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott devoted a Wednesday morning press conference to explaining his decisions on two major pieces of legislation: the veto of S.169, which would have required a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, and the signing of H.57, which establishes abortion rights in state law. Both actions were announced in a written statement Monday evening.

Scott said he moved the presser from Thursday to Wednesday because he'd gotten so many requests for further comment.

On the waiting period bill, Scott offered a number of explanations, not all of them consistent. He began by recounting the gun measures he signed into law last year and his administration's efforts to improve the state mental health system.

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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Walters: Gobeille to Depart as Secretary of Human Services

Posted By on Thu, Jun 6, 2019 at 12:48 PM

Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille
Al Gobeille is stepping down from Gov. Phil Scott's cabinet after two and a half years as secretary of the Agency of Human Services. His departure, which will occur before the end of June, was announced at Scott's weekly press conference Thursday morning.

Scott praised Gobeille for two signal accomplishments: straightening out the troubled Vermont Health Connect, which was a mess inherited from the administration of governor Peter Shumlin, and holding the line on the Human Services budget.

Gobeille will return to Gobeille Hospitality, the Burlington restaurant business he operates with his wife, Kim. "I'll be making creemees and washing dishes," he joked.

Gobeille said the decision had been in the works "for the last few weeks." When asked why now, Gobeille said, "There is no good time to leave, but it's not good to leave during an election year or legislative session, or when the agency is developing a budget. That leaves June and July."

Scott mentioned that he expected "a return to public service" by Gobeille at some point in the future, which prompted a question about plans to run for elective office. "Not against him," Gobeille said, pointing to Scott.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Walters: VTGOP, Gov Welcome Scott Walker as Protesters Jeer

Posted By on Thu, May 30, 2019 at 11:49 PM

Scabby the Rat, an inflatable prop favored by union protesters, towered over the crowd outside the Hilton. - LEE KROHN
  • Lee Krohn
  • Scabby the Rat, an inflatable prop favored by union protesters, towered over the crowd outside the Hilton.
Gov. Phil Scott and former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker headlined a Thursday evening fundraiser for the Vermont Republican Party. About 160 people attended the dinner at the Hilton Burlington. (Twenty or so of them paid extra for a closed-door reception with the two governors.) Before the event, roughly 500 people held a protest across Battery Street from the hotel.

Scott has sought to distance himself politically from Walker, who pursued conservative, anti-union policies as governor. “I didn’t invite the speaker,” Scott said at a Thursday press conference in Waterbury. “But I felt an obligation to make sure that we welcome governor Walker to our state.

“Vermonters know me,” Scott added. “I’m a centrist and I’m open-minded and I’m willing to listen to other points of view, and that should be the message here.”

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Walters: Montpelier to Seek Payment for Sanders Rally Costs

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2019 at 3:25 PM

  • James Buck
Updated at 9:18 p.m.

The City of Montpelier will seek voluntary reimbursement from Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign for costs associated with his Statehouse rally on Saturday afternoon. It's Sanders' first major Vermont event since he launched his second bid for the White House and is expected to draw a yooooge crowd.

According to assistant city manager Sue Allen, the move is a first for the capital city, which has previously absorbed the costs of police, firefighters, traffic control and site cleanup for any event in town.

On Wednesday, the Montpelier City Council directed municipal staff to pull together cost figures after the rally and send a letter to the Sanders campaign requesting a donation to cover the cost.

"We love hosting events," Allen said. "They make Montpelier vibrant. But we do want to keep track of what all this vibrancy is costing us."

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Walters: Vermont Senate Approves No-Nukes Resolution

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2019 at 5:07 PM

Sen. Anthony Pollina, speaking in favor of S.R.5 - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Sen. Anthony Pollina, speaking in favor of S.R.5
After a brief debate Wednesday, the state Senate voted by a 22-7 tally for a nonbinding resolution "strongly opposing the basing of any nuclear weapon delivery system in Vermont." 

Those in favor included 20 Democratic and/or Progressive senators plus Sen. James McNeil (R-Rutland) and Richard Westman (R-Lamoille). The other four Republicans voted "no," plus Sens. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) and John Rodgers and Bobby Starr (both D-Essex/Orleans). Sen. Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) was absent from the floor during the roll call.

The resolution, S.R.5, got a thorough overhaul in the Senate Government Operations Committee before heading to the floor. The original wording repeatedly mentioned the F-35 fighter jet, which the Vermont Air National Guard is scheduled to begin flying from its base at the Burlington International Airport this fall. A group called Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont pushed for the resolution over fears that the F-35 is capable of carrying nuclear weaponry.

But the version approved by the Senate barely refers to the F-35 at all. Instead, it describes Vermont's history as "a national leader in opposing the spread of nuclear weapons" and recounts committee testimony describing instances where the military apparently based such weapons in Vermont.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Walters: Facing Deep Divides, Vermont Legislators Delay Adjournment

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 6:02 PM

Sen. Phil Baruth addresses the committee. Sen. Ruth Hardy is at left. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Sen. Phil Baruth addresses the committee. Sen. Ruth Hardy is at left.
House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a bill to test for the presence of lead in the water supplies of all Vermont schools and childcare facilities. The last-minute accord came Friday after an argumentative process that saw each side battling for every inch of ground.

Still, the two chambers remain divided over many key issues, including a proposed increase in the minimum wage, establishment of a paid family leave program and a long-term funding source for cleaning up Vermont's waterways.

With these and other issues still unresolved, legislative leaders gave up on earlier plans to adjourn this weekend. Instead, lawmakers will return next week for what they hope will be a brief, two- or three-day session that would conclude before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Legislators did manage to resolve some disputes before hitting the highway Friday.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Walters: Scott Speaks Softly, Keeps Stick Under Wraps

Posted By on Thu, May 16, 2019 at 2:58 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott
In what may have been his final press conference before the Vermont legislature adjourns for the year, Gov. Phil Scott held his cards close to his vest on Thursday morning. He refused to say whether or not he would veto any of the major bills that seem likely to land on his desk.

"I'm looking at the aggregate burden," Scott said of Democratic proposals to raise the minimum wage, create a paid family leave program and increase other taxes and fees. He would not identify how he would arrive at an acceptable "aggregate burden."

It's a prudent strategy at a time when lawmakers and Statehouse observers are wondering how Scott will handle the endgame. Will he continue the cooperative path he has followed to date this session, or will he revert to the Quick Draw McVeto of 2018? The uncertainty does force lawmakers to negotiate details among themselves, as they try to avoid veto showdowns whenever possible.

The governor's presentation tended strongly toward the former. "I wanted to set a standard of behavior, one that unites rather than divides," he said. "I have focused on areas of agreement and listened to all ideas. I asked the legislature to give my ideas a fair shot, and I thank the legislature for doing just that."

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Walters: Legislators Still Sparring Over School Lead Tests

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 8:12 PM

Reps. James Gregoire, Kate Webb and Kathleen James - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Reps. James Gregoire, Kate Webb and Kathleen James
In January, it seemed like the slam-dunkiest of legislative slam-dunks. After random tests found elevated lead levels in some schools' drinking water, Gov. Phil Scott proposed testing every tap and fountain in public schools across the state. Everyone understood that this was a critical situation that needed immediate action.

Fast forward five months later to Wednesday afternoon, and agreement on a lead-testing bill remained elusive. A House-Senate conference committee held three meetings and reached agreement on multiple key points — but its last meeting of the day adjourned abruptly with both sides trying to place the ball in the other's court.

The panel had agreed to include all licensed childcare facilities as well as schools. The actionable lead level was set at four parts per billion — a middle ground between the Senate's insistence on three parts per billion and the House's preferred five.

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Walters: Vermont House Leaders Say Cannabis Bill Is Smoked for the Year

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2019 at 11:00 PM

The wait will continue... - LUKE EASTMAN
  • Luke Eastman
  • The wait will continue...
A bill to legalize the sale of cannabis in Vermont appears to be dead for the year. Four state representatives told Seven Days Monday night that the bill, S.54, has run out of time to pass the House in the current session, which is scheduled to adjourn at the end of the week.

"This was never on our must-pass list for this year," said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), who confirmed the bill's demise. "I've always said that careful exploration of policy takes precedence."

Though the personal use and cultivation of marijuana has been legal in Vermont since last July, retail sales remain prohibited. In March, the Senate passed S.54, which would implement a tax-and-regulate system by April 2021. The bill was marooned in the House Government Operations Committee for weeks and only recently moved to the House Ways and Means Committee. 

"My own take: We got the bill about a week ago," said Rep. Scott Beck (R-St. Johnsbury), a member of Ways and Means and a supporter of S.54. "There are so many layers in the bill. I felt that it required a lot of time."

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