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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Walters: Vermont Ethics Panel Seeks More Authority

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2019 at 6:15 PM

Larry Novins and Madeleine Motta - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Larry Novins and Madeleine Motta
The Vermont State Ethics Commission, which has just entered its second year of existence, is seeking a broader mandate and more resources, as well as a change in the law inspired by its highest-profile action of 2018.

Commission chair Madeleine Motta and executive director Larry Novins presented the panel's first annual report to the Senate Government Operations Committee Thursday afternoon and laid out their case for expanded authority.

The mostly powerless ethics commission was created by the legislature in 2017. It was given no investigative authority and a single, part-time executive director. The panel's primary function is to receive ethics complaints and refer them to the appropriate enforcement agency, such as the Attorney General's Office or the Department of Human Resources.

At Thursday's hearing, Motta and Novins argued for the power to investigate allegations of conflicts-of-interest. "We should have the authority to reach out to all parties," Novins said. "It's difficult to weigh a complaint without hearing from all those involved, and the subject of a complaint should have the opportunity to respond."

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Legislators Call for Delaying Forced School District Mergers

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2019 at 4:39 PM

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe)
A tripartisan group of more than two dozen lawmakers plans to advance legislation that would delay school district mergers that are required by Act 46.

The 2015 law created property tax incentives for communities that opted to merge school districts, and also set a deadline after which districts could be forced to consolidate. Last year, after the deadline passed and the Vermont Board of Education ordered mergers, more than 30 school boards sued to stop the process.

The coalition of House and Senate lawmakers, led by Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) and Rep. Mike Mrowicki (D-Putney) said the state should delay the forced mergers until those legal cases are decided.

“We need more time,” Mrowicki said.

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Vermont Democrats Counter Scott With Mandatory Paid Leave Plan

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2019 at 12:55 PM

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson
A day after Republican Gov. Phil Scott pitched a plan for a voluntary paid family leave program, the Democratic leaders of the Vermont legislature threw their support behind an alternative proposal that would provide the benefit to all Vermonters and fund it with a payroll tax.

At a Statehouse press conference Thursday, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) characterized their plan as a better way to protect those helping a sick or injured relative, becoming new parents or recovering from an illness themselves.

“When that happens, a maybe secure financial situation becomes insecure lightning fast,” Ashe said.

The Democratic proposal, which is expected to be introduced soon in the Vermont House, would provide 12 weeks of leave with full pay, according to Ashley Moore, the state director of the Main Street Alliance and co-chair of the Vermont Family and Medical Leave Insurance Coalition. It would be funded by a 0.93-percent payroll tax, split evenly between employers and employees.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Lawsuit: Nectar's Negligence Caused 'Wild West'-Style Shooting

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 7:16 PM

  • File photo: Matthew Thorsen
  • Nectar's
Actions by employees of Nectar's led to the shooting of an innocent bystander outside the popular Burlington nightclub last February, attorneys for the victim claim in a civil lawsuit filed against the club Wednesday.

They contend that Nectar's employees acted in a "profoundly irresponsible" and "outrageous" manner when they returned a handgun they'd seized during a dispute between bar patrons and told Rashad Nashid to "take it outside."

He did, and, according to police, he and another man got into a fight, then drew guns. Nashid allegedly shot bystander Chelsi Parker, 27, who police said was nearly killed.

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Scott Proposes a Paid Family Leave Partnership With New Hampshire

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 3:19 PM

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, right, with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, right, with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu
A proposal by Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu would provide paid family leave for employees of both states through an insurance system that would also be open to private businesses and individuals who opt to join.

The Republican governors presented their plan Wednesday at the Schilling Beer Company in Littleton, N.H.

The proposal would allow covered employees to take up to six weeks of paid family leave while receiving 60 percent of their usual salaries. Businesses enrolling their entire staff would get a discount on premiums, Scott said, but the insurance would be available on an employee-by-employee basis as well. Workers at businesses that don’t opt in to the program could sign up individually, Scott said.

Last year, Scott vetoed a bill to create a family leave program because it was not optional, and it would have been funded by a payroll tax on Vermont businesses.

“I said last year ... that I share the goal of providing this type of benefit,” Scott said in a taproom overlooking the icy Ammonoosuc River. “I just thought we should be doing it on a volunteer basis, but I didn’t have a plan together at that point. Now we have a plan, and we have details as well.”

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Montpeculiar: Rep. Dylan Giambatista Spiffs Up Vermont's State Song

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Rep. Dylan Giambatista - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Dylan Giambatista
Politics has long been a cornerstone of punk rock, from the Sex Pistols to Anti-Flag, the Clash to Minor Threat, Propagandhi to NOFX. Since practically the dawn of the genre, punk bands driven by idealism and power chords have raged against the machine. Rare, however, is to see a punk rocker rage within the machine. Enter Vermont State Rep. Dylan Giambatista (D-Essex).

Prior to becoming a politician, Giambatista was best known as an original member of the Vermont punk band Rough Francis. He was the group's lead guitarist from its 2008 formation until 2013. He was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 2016.

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Welch Named to House Intel Committee, Will Take Part in Trump-Russia Probe

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 2:17 PM

Rep. Peter Welch - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Rep. Peter Welch
Updated at 5:15 p.m.

Vermont's sole delegate to the U.S. House is poised to play a significant role in a revived congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday named Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The panel oversees the nation's 17 intelligence entities, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is widely expected to reopen a shuttered probe of alleged ties between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government.

Welch said Wednesday that he had asked Pelosi for the appointment because he was “extremely concerned about the breakdown of this committee from its traditional, vital function.” He criticized its last chair, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), for politicizing the panel and using it to defend the president against what Welch sees as legitimate inquiries.

“In the past two years, what we’ve seen is that the committee has lost its way,” Welch said. “It really became, under Mr. Nunes, basically a political arm of the Trump administration.”

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Turning Point Center Celebrates Its New Digs in Burlington

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 4:16 PM

Gary De Carolis and Mayor Miro Weinberger - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Gary De Carolis and Mayor Miro Weinberger
The Turning Point Center of Chittenden County unveiled its permanent new space Tuesday with plenty of fanfare during a celebratory open house.

The nonprofit organization provides support for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It's in the process of purchasing the building, at the intersection of King Street and South Winooski Avenue, from the Champlain Housing Trust for $850,000, according to the center's executive director, Gary De Carolis.

It's about 60 percent larger than the former location above Phoenix Books on Bank Street, De Carolis said. The center has already completed $350,000 worth of renovations, building an art studio, spaces for yoga and meetings, offices, and a kitchen. Turning Point's 14 staff and roughly 30 volunteers moved into the space last month.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Madelyn Linsenmeir to Cops in Booking Video: 'I'm Very Ill Right Now'

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2019 at 7:46 PM

Madelyn Linsenmeir, center, on September 29, 2018 - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Madelyn Linsenmeir, center, on September 29, 2018
Video of the booking room at the Springfield, Mass., police department on September 29 captured a distressed Madelyn Linsenmeir asking for water and medical care as officers methodically went through the booking routine and ignored her requests.

Several days later, on October 7, the Vermont woman died at a Massachusetts hospital. She'd battled drug addiction for years.

A poignant obituary for Linsenmeir, written by her sister Kate O'Neill, went viral. O'Neill wrote that the family hoped her sister's story would help others let go of the stigma related to addiction. (After it ran, Seven Days hired O'Neill for a special reporting project on the ongoing opiate crisis.)

Linsenmeir's family members are also looking for answers about their loved one's final days. The family, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, sued the Springfield PD in November, seeking video and other information related to her arrest.

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White Nationalist Crashes Press Conference on Racial Harassment of Kiah Morris

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2019 at 3:52 PM

  • Derek Brouwer
  • Kiah Morris
Updated 8:14 p.m.

A self-proclaimed white nationalist accused of harassing former state representative Kiah Morris strode into the Congregation Beth El synagogue in Bennington during a press conference held Monday to announce the findings of a state probe into alleged racist acts against the ex-lawmaker.

Morris, a Bennington Democrat who is African American, cited years of racial harassment when she resigned from her position last fall before the end of her term.

The press conference went off the rails when Bennington resident Max Misch entered the room as Morris answered a television reporter's question about the AG's probe. Misch had been subject to a yearlong protective order in 2016 prohibiting him from contacting Morris over a series of racist tweets, messages and online comments he aimed at her.

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