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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Cannabis
Vermont Panel to Propose 26 Percent Tax on Retail Weed

Posted By on Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 12:54 PM

Cash crop? - DREAMSTIME
  • Dreamstime
  • Cash crop?
Gov. Phil Scott’s task force studying pot policy released draft recommendations this week for how the state should structure a taxed-and-regulated retail cannabis market.

The 88-page report, created by the taxation and regulation subcommittee of the Governor's Marijuana Advisory Commission, recommends a 20 percent excise tax on all retail cannabis sales, in addition to the state’s 6 percent sales tax. Towns could also choose to levy a 1 percent local option tax. The panel recommends that the tax revenue be distributed to cities and towns statewide; it would also pay for the administrative costs of regulating the new market.

Consumers in Massachusetts, which has legalized retail sales, pay 17 to 20 percent in taxes.

Deputy Tax Commissioner Craig Bolio noted that the recommendations are only in draft form and may change before the governor’s commission issues its final recommendations in December.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Defeated House Democrat Secures Recount in Grand Isle County

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2018 at 8:28 PM

Ben Joseph - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Ben Joseph
Rep. Ben Joseph (D-North Hero) has successfully petitioned for a recount after finishing fourth in a race for two seats representing Grand Isle County and a slice of Milton in the Vermont House.

Official results from last week's election showed Joseph's fellow incumbent Democrat, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), placing first with 2,100 votes and Republican challenger Leland Morgan coming in second with 1,984.

Morgan's nephew, Michael Morgan, finished third, with 1,952 votes, while Joseph claimed 1,926.

A candidate is eligible to request a recount if the margin between winner and loser is less than 5 percent of the total votes cast, "divided by the number of persons to be elected," according to Vermont statute.

Judge Robert Mello scheduled the recount for 9 a.m. on November 28 at the Grand Isle County Courthouse in North Hero, according to Joseph.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Scott Slams Vermont Ethics Panel

Posted By on Fri, Oct 5, 2018 at 4:42 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott has some harsh words for the Vermont State Ethics Commission, which recently issued an opinion critical of his ties to a construction firm that bids on state contracts. He also called for unspecified changes to the commission.

"I was disappointed," Scott said at a Friday press conference. "I'd offered to come before them, offered any information they might need." But he got no response to his offer.

In fact, the ethics commission has no authority to investigate or take testimony. It can only refer ethics complaints to other agencies or issue advisory opinions in response to inquiries. In this case, it issued an advisory opinion.

Scott said that the panel's process is "fraught with danger," apparently meaning that other parties would try to use it for political advantage. Which is what he believes happened in this case. "It seems suspect to me that a powerful political organization makes a complaint during October of an election year," he said.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Watchdog Flags Ethical Issues With Scott's 2016 Business Sale

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 5:43 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Updated on October 4, 2018.

Gov. Phil Scott appears to be in violation of the state's ethics code because of the way he structured the sale of his stake in DuBois Construction, the Vermont State Ethics Commission said in an advisory opinion released this week.

During his 2016 campaign for governor, Scott acknowledged that it could create ethical problems for a sitting governor to own a stake in a company that regularly wins state contracts. When Scott won the election, he sold his stake for $2.5 million. But Scott himself financed the sale, which means that he retains a large financial stake in DuBois. He receives monthly loan payments from the firm that totaled $75,000 in 2017.

Paul Burns, the executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said Scott’s attempt to solve one ethical problem created another.

"The governor acted in this situation as the bank himself, which means that he will have an ongoing financial interest in this business for at least 15 years” as DuBois pays off its debt, Burns said.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Rep. Kiah Morris Resigns, Citing Husband's Health and 'Continued Harassment'

Posted By on Tue, Sep 25, 2018 at 8:38 PM

From left: Sha'an Mouliert, Rep. Kiah Morris, Ebony Nyoni, Senowa Mize-Fox, Mark Hudson - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • From left: Sha'an Mouliert, Rep. Kiah Morris, Ebony Nyoni, Senowa Mize-Fox, Mark Hudson
Rep. Kiah Morris (D-Bennington) resigned her seat in the Vermont House on Tuesday, citing her husband’s health and what she called “continued harassment.”

One of only a handful of lawmakers of color in the Vermont legislature, Morris announced in late August that she was withdrawing from her reelection race but still planned to finish out her term. She told Vermont Public Radio at the time that she and her family had experienced racial harassment, threats and a home invasion, all of which contributed to her decision to step down.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan has said his office is investigating the allegations.

In a statement posted on Facebook Tuesday evening, Morris said she'd decided to resign immediately. “My husband is beginning the long physical journey of recovery following extensive open-heart surgery. We face continued harassment and seek legal remedies to the harm endured.”

Morris continued, “I step away now to focus on caring for and supporting my family during this time of transition and ensure our health, safety and well-being are prioritized. I want to thank the many individuals and organizations who continue to stand in solidarity with us, speak out, organize, donate and more as we press on the journey ahead. TEAM KIAH is all of us. Thank you.”

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Vermont Lawmakers Question Untreated Inmates and Unspent Money

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2018 at 5:54 PM

FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
Vermont legislators are questioning why so few inmates receive hepatitis C treatment, and they're demanding to know what happened to $2.2 million of state money that was designated for prison health care.

The state’s chief health care advocate, Michael Fisher, told the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee on Thursday that the Department of Corrections had only treated one inmate for hepatitis C in 2017.

Antiviral drugs can cure hepatitis C, an infectious disease that can lead to liver cancer and other potentially fatal complications. The virus, transmitted by blood, is more common among prisoners than the general population.

Fisher also directed lawmakers' attention to a significant amount of unspent money. In 2017, the Department of Corrections paid about $4.8 million to its private health care contractor, Centurion, for pharmaceutical drugs and off-site medical expenses, according to information Fisher provided the committee. Centurion only spent about $2.6 million, however.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Ethics Panel to Draft Tougher Opinion on Sale of Scott's Business

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 1:27 PM

Then-candidate Phil Scott (left) with Don DuBois - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Then-candidate Phil Scott (left) with Don DuBois
Members of the Vermont State Ethics Commission are not satisfied with a draft opinion about Gov. Phil Scott's sale of his share in a construction business and are seeking a stronger rewrite.

When Scott became governor, he sold his half-interest in DuBois Construction to the company for $2.5 million. The deal was designed to avoid potential conflicts of interest, since DuBois frequently bids on state contracts. But the sale was financed by Scott himself, which means that he retains a large financial stake in DuBois. He receives monthly loan payments from the firm that totaled $75,000 in the year 2017.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group claimed that the DuBois deal clearly violates the Ethics Commission's code of ethics and sought an advisory opinion from the commission. VPIRG chose not to file an ethics complaint against Scott because complaints are handled behind closed doors and the process is exempt from public disclosure. The advisory opinion process is entirely open.

At its meeting on September 5, the commission voted unanimously to have executive director Brian Leven prepare a draft opinion for the full body to consider. On September 12, Leven issued his draft, which he made available to the media.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Cannabis
Commission Discusses a Taxed-and-Regulated Cannabis Market for Vermont

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 7:16 PM

LUKE EASTMAN
  • Luke Eastman
Officials in states that have legalized recreational cannabis think Vermont misstepped by not implementing a taxed-and-regulated market, Health Commissioner Mark Levine told a panel tasked with studying the issue.

He spoke Monday during a Statehouse meeting of the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission, which Gov. Phil Scott created by executive order in 2017 shortly after he vetoed a cannabis legalization measure. In January, Scott signed into law a bill that allows Vermonters to grow up to six plants at home and possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It did not legalize the sale or distribution of cannabis.

The commission has continued its work, which one of its cochairs, Tom Little, said was to determine what a taxed-and-regulated system in the state should look like if the legislature chooses to create one. Its final report, due in December, will not include a recommendation as to whether Vermont should — or should not — create such a market, according to Little.

The eight other states that have legalized cannabis allow, or will allow, licensed stores to sell the drug. And Levine, as chair of the commission’s education and prevention subcommittee, said he’d heard from officials in Colorado and Washington state who thought Vermont’s half-measure was a mistake.

“They’re kind of saying, the home-grow route did not allow the degree of surveillance, the degree of monitoring, the degree of regulating that a different environment would have provided,” Levine said. “So their hopes were that we would learn from them and actually graduate from that to another structure.”

He added: "Their recommendation was: Go to tax and regulate."

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Ethics Panel Ponders Sale of Scott's Business

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 5:15 PM

Paul Burns - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Paul Burns
Updated at 7:50 a.m., September 6, 2018.

The Vermont State Ethics Commission voted Wednesday to consider the propriety of Gov. Phil Scott's financial ties to a construction firm that does business with the state.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group formally requested an advisory opinion on the matter in an August 31 letter. At a Wednesday meeting, the five commissioners asked the panel's executive director, Brian Leven, to write a draft opinion for their consideration.

When Scott became governor, he sold his half-interest in DuBois Construction to the company for $2.5 million. There was no down payment, and so far Scott has been receiving interest-only payments. (In 2017, those payments totaled $75,000.) Technically, Scott had divested himself of his ownership interest. But the bulk of his net worth remains tied up in the loan, which gives him a strong financial interest in DuBois' success.

Last week, Scott disclosed a recent ownership change at the company. According to VTDigger.org, Scott's former partner, Don DuBois, has sold his half-interest to company president Jeff Newton and vice president Wayne Lamberton. The deal increases the firm's debt load, but Scott expressed confidence that its finances remain sound.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Longtime Broadcaster, State Rep. Jim Condon Dies After Cancer Battle

Posted By on Fri, Aug 24, 2018 at 7:18 PM

Jim Condon - VERMONT GENERAL ASSEMBLY
  • Vermont General Assembly
  • Jim Condon
Jim Condon, a longtime state representative from Colchester and local radio personality known for his "golden pipes," died Thursday of esophageal cancer.

He was 60.

"Smart, witty, thoughtful — just a guy you want to be around," his wife, Ginny McGehee, said on Friday. "I lost the smart half of me, I have to say."

Born in Connecticut, Condon moved to Vermont in the early 1980s when he took a job as news director of several radio stations. He met McGehee at WJOY in 1984; the couple married in 1993. They have a son, Tom, who is a journalism student at Syracuse University.

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