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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

At Statehouse Rally, Vermont Students Join Call for Gun Control

Posted By on Tue, Feb 20, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Students from Vermont Commons school at the statehouse - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Students from Vermont Commons school at the statehouse
A group of young Vermonters and gun control activists gathered at the Vermont Statehouse Tuesday morning to call on lawmakers to pass several proposed gun-control bills.

The demonstration came in reaction to a school shooting in Florida last week and an incident in Fair Haven in which authorities stopped a would-be school shooter before any violence took place.

“Fix this before my kid is texting me from under a desk,” read a sign held by a demonstrator standing in a light rain on the Statehouse steps.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Vermont Senate Approves $15 Minimum Wage

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 2:44 PM

Sen. Michael Sirotkin, right, lead sponsor of the Senate's minimum wage bill - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Sen. Michael Sirotkin, right, lead sponsor of the Senate's minimum wage bill
The Senate gave final approval Friday to a bill that would raise Vermont’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. Supporters of the proposal called the vote a victory for working Vermonters and said the bill would have long-term benefits for the state’s economy.

If the House passes the proposal and Gov. Phil Scott signs it into law, employers would be required to increase hourly pay every year through 2024. The first increase would come January 1, 2019, when the minimum wage would rise from $10.50 to $11.50 an hour.

The legislation passed the Senate by voice vote Friday. It first cleared the body on a 20-10 procedural vote Thursday, indicating that supporters could override a gubernatorial veto — at least in the Senate.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden), said it would help reduce income inequality in Vermont.

“Despite whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, independent, I think everybody acknowledges and everybody agrees that we have great problems with income inequality in this state and in this country and in every corner of this state,” Sirotkin said.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

After Florida Shooting, Vermont Governor Says No New Gun Laws

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 5:45 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Phil Scott
The day after a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 students at a Florida high school, Gov. Phil Scott defended Vermont's permissive gun laws and rejected calls for new restrictions.

"We’re fortunate we’re one of the safest states in the country, and I believe our gun laws are balanced," the first-term Republican said Thursday afternoon. "They balance public safety with our rights."

Rather than limiting access to firearms, Scott said the state should focus on providing more training and drills in schools so that staff and students can prepare for active-shooter situations.

"We should do more [training], and certainly we should be vigilant at this point in time," Scott said, citing concerns about "copycat" shootings in the wake of the Florida massacre.

Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden), an outspoken gun control proponent, saw it differently. He said the latest incident should "increase the shame" on the Vermont Senate, which he criticized for failing to address gun violence.

"We are doing jack shit about a problem that’s every bit as pressing nationwide as the opioid epidemic," Baruth said Thursday. "And the reason I say that is not to denigrate what’s happening with the opioid epidemic — people are dying — but the mass-shooting epidemic that we’re experiencing is decaying American life at its foundation."

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vermont Attorney General to Post All Public Records Requests Online

Posted By on Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 5:59 PM

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan
Updated at 7:07 p.m.

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan posted hundreds of his office’s documents online in a transparency campaign launched this week. The goal, Donovan said Tuesday, is to publish every public records request received by the office, along with its responses.

“If we’re going to release it to somebody, let’s release it to everybody,” he said.

The system is already online, showing some requests from 2018. Donovan's office said Tuesday that all of the records from 2017 are posted.*

“On average last year, we did one [records request] every three days,” Donovan said. “We produced over 10,000 pages of records.”

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Vermont Agency Denies Environmentalists Access to Runoff Rules Draft

Posted By on Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 2:46 PM

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has refused environmental groups' request for a key document related to the state's ongoing water quality efforts, even after officials shared the same document with Seven Days.

ANR's top attorney launched a review of the denial after a reporter pointed out the agency’s uneven application of state law.

The document in question — a 108-page draft of Vermont’s stormwater management rules, developed last fall — is full of dry, technical jargon. But to environmental advocates, it promises answers. The finalized rules were due by the end of 2017, but the agency missed its deadline.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Vermont Senate Democrats Strategize Behind Closed Doors

Posted By on Wed, Feb 7, 2018 at 12:02 PM

Senate Democrats met in the basement of a state office building. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Senate Democrats met in the basement of a state office building.
Eighteen Vermont Senate Democrats exited the Statehouse around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, crossed the street and entered a locked side door leading to the basement of a state office building.

The group had already held its caucus earlier that afternoon inside the Statehouse — as it does every Tuesday — to discuss bills and hash out strategy in full public view.

Two Seven Days reporters caught wind of this second, unannounced and off-site caucus, and followed lawmakers to the basement. The Dems reluctantly granted the reporters entrance to a locked, windowless conference room.

This is not the first time lawmakers have tried to escape public scrutiny by meeting in secret.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Walters: Scott Officials Unveil Tax Plan Meant to Counter Losses From Trump Cuts

Posted By on Fri, Feb 2, 2018 at 4:28 PM

Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom and Administration Secretary Susanne Young - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom and Administration Secretary Susanne Young
Gov. Phil Scott's top financial officials released the broad outline of a tax-reform plan designed to counter the Vermont tax implications of the federal tax cuts adopted in December.

"If we do nothing, the effect is a $30 million tax increase," Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom said during a Friday press briefing at the governor's office. "This plan is intended to insulate Vermonters from an inadvertent tax increase."

The administration presented charts showing that the biggest state tax hikes would fall on middle and upper-middle income households — those with taxable incomes between $50,000 and $300,000 a year. Those in very low and very high tax brackets would, on average, see slight reductions in state income tax.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Stat Spat: Is Vermont Really Losing Six Workers Each Day?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 10:05 PM

Gov. Phil Scott delivering his second budget address - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott delivering his second budget address
Gov. Phil Scott frequently asserts that Vermont loses an average of six workers each day, and he's made reversing the trend a top priority. But some lawmakers say that number is wrong, and that it will change how they approach Scott's policy proposals.

“It’s just not true,” Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) told reporters Thursday. He handed out a memo from the legislature’s economist, Tom Kavet, that showed the labor force actually grew by an average of 2.3 workers per day from January 2016 to December 2017.

Citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kavet wrote, “While the state labor force had declined for a number of years as a result of the recent severe recession, it has exhibited slight growth since early 2016.” And, Kavet noted, the labor force is “likely to continue to grow slightly, despite expected declines in prime working age population cohorts.”

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

$20 Million Mistake: Scott Made False Claim in Budget Speech

Posted By on Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 12:47 PM

Gov. Phil Scott delivering his second budget address - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott delivering his second budget address
During his January 23 budget address, Gov. Phil Scott claimed he was devoting $20 million "more than required" to shore up Vermont's retirement funds for state employees and teachers.

The proposal earned him praise from liberals and conservatives; a Rutland Herald editorial hailed it as an example of Scott’s fiscal discipline.

The only catch? It’s not true.

Each year, the state's independent actuary determines how much money is required for the state to fulfill its pension obligations, but the governor can decide whether to follow that guidance. Scott’s budget this year sets aside precisely the required amount.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Scott Met With Private Prison Lobbyists Prior to Pitching Plan

Posted By and on Fri, Jan 26, 2018 at 1:55 PM

  • File: Alicia Freese
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Months before Gov. Phil Scott's administration proposed partnering with a private prison corporation to build a 925-bed facility in northwestern Vermont, the governor and two cabinet officials met with industry lobbyists who could benefit from the plan.

Records obtained by Seven Days show that Scott met with representatives of CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, during a February 2017 trip to Washington, D.C. According to Scott spokesperson Rebecca Kelley, the 15-minute meeting included CoreCivic's Ohio-based lobbyist, Dan Kaman, and the company's Vermont lobbyist, Andrew MacLean.

"I don't recall that there was any ask," the governor said. "They just wanted to say hello and wanted to have a chance to meet and congratulate me on the election."

Several months later, in July 2017, MacLean emailed the Vermont Department of Corrections to request a meeting with Commissioner Lisa Menard, according to separate records obtained by Seven Days. He wrote that CoreCivic had been "discussing different methods for financing the construction of human services infrastructure in Vermont." MacLean, who works for the Montpelier firm MMR, wrote that he had already spoken about the issue with Menard's boss, Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille.

"As a result of that recent conversation with [Secretary] Gobeille, it was suggested that a meeting might be an efficient way for us to present ideas and thoughts about the best ways [for] the state to develop buildings and facilities to meet its needs," MacLean wrote.

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