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Friday, April 28, 2017

Vermont House to Vote Next Week on Marijuana Legalization

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 6:36 PM

  • luke eastman
With just a week to go in the legislative session, a much-anticipated marijuana legalization bill is headed to the House floor after a 5-4 committee vote Friday afternoon.

The House Human Services Committee passed H.170, which would legalize possession and growing at home of small amounts of marijuana — but would not allow for sales or commercial growing.

“The body and Vermonters want to vote on this,” said Rep. Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington). The full House vote will take place early next week, she said.

While anything is possible, the vote likely comes too late for legalization legislation to make it through both the Vermont House and Senate this year. Legislators are working toward adjourning for the year next Saturday.

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Walters: Vermont Senate Scorns Scott on Teacher Health Care

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 5:14 PM

Sen. Dustin Degree - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Dustin Degree
One of the Vermont legislature's frequent set pieces was performed once again on Friday: A member of the minority proposed an inconvenient amendment, then the majority quickly derailed it and tossed it in the dustbin. Stop me if you've heard this before, but in its place the Senate approved — wait for it — a committee to study the idea.

Yeah, that's the stuff.

Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree (R-Franklin) played the role of the Determined But Doomed Underdog. Senate Democrats and Progressives were the Mustache-Twirling Majority.

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FBI Continues to Investigate Jane Sanders’ Burlington College Land Deal

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 4:19 PM

Jane O'Meara Sanders in Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign office - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Jane O'Meara Sanders in Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign office
Updated at 6:14 p.m.

A federal investigation into a Burlington College land deal orchestrated by Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, appears to be ongoing, according to two former college officials.

Sara Adsit-McCuin, who served on the defunct college's board for roughly three years, said Friday that she was contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation "a couple of weeks ago." During an in-person interview, two FBI agents focused their questions on Burlington College's 2010 purchase of a 32-acre campus overlooking Lake Champlain. At the time of the deal, O'Meara Sanders was serving as the college's president.

"I didn't give them any information that they didn't already have," Adsit-McCuin told Seven Days.

Carol Moore, a former president of the college, told Seven Days that she, too, had been contacted “three or four weeks ago” by an FBI agent. He confirmed to her that “this is an ongoing investigation,” Moore said.

The existence of the investigation was first reported Thursday by, citing email correspondence between the Vermont Agency of Education, Burlington College and federal officials. Those emails confirm that the investigation was active at least through February. The FBI's recent contact with Adsit-McCuin and Moore suggests that it continues.

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House Republicans Pull Their Support for Budget Plan

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 2:31 PM

Rep. Peter Fagan (R-Rutland) addressing reporters Friday - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Rep. Peter Fagan (R-Rutland) addressing reporters Friday
Four weeks after heaping uncharacteristic praise on the House budget, Republican lawmakers rescinded their support Friday.

If Gov. Phil Scott rejects the budget, House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) told reporters, “We stand ready to support and sustain a veto.” More than 30 of his caucus members lined up behind him in the Statehouse's Cedar Creek Room.

All but one  had voted for the budget when it passed the House, so why the turnabout? Republicans are now insisting that Democrats include Scott’s 11th-hour proposal to negotiate a statewide teacher health insurance plan in the budget bill.

Democrats have said they don’t have time to vet the plan, unveiled last Thursday, and they dispute the claim that this is a now-or-never opportunity.

Scott claims the state could reap up to $26 million by taking over negotiations this year. Several members of his administration watched the press event from the back of the room. Spokesperson Rebecca Kelley refused to say whether Scott would actually veto a budget that doesn’t include his health insurance proposal.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Senate Confirms Lunge for the Green Mountain Care Board

Posted By on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 at 5:44 PM

Robin Lunge smiles in the state Senate chamber Thursday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Robin Lunge smiles in the state Senate chamber Thursday.
Without a word of debate Thursday, the Senate unanimously confirmed the controversial appointment of Green Mountain Care Board member Robin Lunge.

"This is a good coming together of the majority and minority of the Senate," said Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden).

Lunge was appointed to a six-year term on the board that regulates health care in Vermont in November by then-governor Peter Shumlin. She had served since 2011 as his health care reform director.

But Shumlin's staff apparently never sent the appointment paperwork to the Senate, which by law is charged with confirming the nomination.

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South Burlington Death Threat Suspect Released Pending Trial

Posted By on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 at 3:47 PM

Josiah Leach, center, leaves court with attorney Elizabeth Quinn, left, and his mother, Joy McKenzie - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Josiah Leach, center, leaves court with attorney Elizabeth Quinn, left, and his mother, Joy McKenzie
A South Burlington High School student accused of threatening to kill students and staff was released from prison Thursday and ordered to live with his mother as he awaits trial.

Josiah Leach, 18, will be confined to the South Burlington home at all times except for medical appointments, meetings with his lawyer or for legal proceedings, and if granted permission to leave by his probation officer, U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss ruled.

Leach, who faces a five-year maximum sentence on a charge of threatening by means of interstate commerce, must wear a GPS-monitored ankle bracelet and cannot have contact with any students, visit district schools, or use a computer.

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A Divided South Burlington Tries to Unite With Two Separate Events

Posted By and on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 at 12:00 AM

People at Wednesday's vigil in South Burlington - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • People at Wednesday's vigil in South Burlington
Community members convened at two separate gatherings a few miles apart in South Burlington Wednesday evening in an attempt to unite after a week fraught with fear and uncertainty.

But the competing events represented the two sides in the often contentious — and racially tinged — debate over the high school’s Rebel nickname. And the gatherings came just days after a South Burlington High School senior’s arrest for allegedly threatening to kill his classmates and teachers, supposedly as retribution for the decision to drop the Rebel name.

One of the groups gathered for a vigil outside city hall with a message of peace and unity, while another showed up at the police station to thank officers for their work as the death threats last week terrified the town.

Organizer Vicki Garrison told the 60-person strong crowd at city hall that the vigil was “an opportunity to start healing, to start a new beginning — together. This gathering represents unity, harmony and peace and I just thank you so much for coming.”

Holding signs that read “unity is in our hands” and “strength in unity,” the crowd listened as speakers urged the school board to stand by its February decision to drop the Rebels name, which some say has racist connotations. The group at times prayed together and sang “We Shall Overcome” in the round.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Walters: ‘Plenty of Time’ for Scott’s New Plan

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 9:49 PM

Governor-elect Phil Scott at Barre’s Thunder Road SpeedBowl - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Governor-elect Phil Scott at Barre’s Thunder Road SpeedBowl
Gov. Phil Scott is continuing to promote his proposal for statewide negotiation of teacher health insurance plans, even as he looks ahead to his first return to the racetrack since taking office. At a Wednesday press conference, Scott brushed aside legislative complaints that his plan arrived far too late in the session for full consideration.

“I think there’s plenty of time,” he said. “I’ve been around this building for 16 years. We’ve done more dramatic things at the end of the session than this.”

The first-term governor also believes there’s plenty of time for a return to auto racing. The season begins this weekend at Barre’s Thunder Road SpeedBowl with a car show and open practice on Saturday and the first race of the year Sunday afternoon.

“I’m hoping to go to at least practice, go to the car show and maybe practice on Saturday,” he said. As for racing on Sunday, “It depends on how well I do on Saturday ... If I race, I want to be competitive.”

One could question Scott’s priorities, with the legislature planning to adjourn just a week later, on May 6. But, after all, “there’s plenty of time.”

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Two Democrats Join Contest for Open Burlington City Council Seat

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 9:12 PM

  • Courtesy of Lorraine Carter-Lovejoy
  • Lorraine Carter-Lovejoy
Two more New North End residents have stepped up to run for Burlington's open city council seat. Chris Trombly and Lorraine Carter-Lovejoy will vie for the Democratic nomination to fill the Ward 7 seat that will be vacated in June by Tom Ayres.

Trombly and Carter-Lovejoy join Ali Dieng and Republican Vince Dober as candidates in the special election scheduled for June 27.

A Democratic caucus is scheduled for May 4. Dieng, an independent, has said he'll try to win the Dem's endorsement.

Trombly declared his candidacy Wednesday in a press release. The 37-year-old serves on the steering committee of the Wards 4 and 7 Neighborhood Planning Assembly and works as vice president of loan operations at People's United Bank.

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Vermont Senate Backs Budget 30-0, Setting Stage for Adjournment

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 6:37 PM

Senate Appropriations Committee chair Jane Kitchel explains the budget proposal to fellow senators Wednesday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Senate Appropriations Committee chair Jane Kitchel explains the budget proposal to fellow senators Wednesday.
With a 30-0 vote, the Vermont Senate unanimously stood behind its $5.8 billion budget proposal Wednesday, setting the stage for possible legislative adjournment by the end of next week.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” said Senate Appropriations Committee chair Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) of her first-ever unanimously passed budget bill.

The Senate’s budget includes a few key differences from the version the House passed last month, meaning the two chambers will have to hash it out. Those negotiations are expected to start Friday, clearing the way for the session to adjourn a bit early.

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