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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Opinion
Walters: Panel Ices Wind Rules Until October

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 5:50 PM

Public Service Board utilities analyst Tom Knauer (left), PSB member Margaret Cheney and PSB staff attorney John Cotter testify before LCAR on Thursday. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Public Service Board utilities analyst Tom Knauer (left), PSB member Margaret Cheney and PSB staff attorney John Cotter testify before LCAR on Thursday.
A committee of the Vermont legislature has postponed action on proposed noise rules for wind turbines until late October.

The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules heard three hours of testimony Thursday morning. As the noon hour approached, members discussed postponing a vote until its next meeting on July 6. But two members — Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) and Rep. Linda Myers (R-Essex Junction) —will be taking long vacations this summer, and they requested postponement until the full committee can meet again. That's not until October 12.

This was the second delay in the process. LCAR heard testimony at its previous meeting on June 8, but decided another hearing was needed to give the matter its due.

The current rules are temporary and were set to expire on July 1; they will now remain in effect until at least October 26 unless the committee reaches a decision before then.

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A Vergennes Father Is Being Forced to Return to Mexico

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 1:22 PM

Juan (left) and Kirsten (center) De La Cruz with their children - COURTESY: KIRSTEN DE LA CRUZ
  • Courtesy: Kirsten De La Cruz
  • Juan (left) and Kirsten (center) De La Cruz with their children
Juan De La Cruz runs his own farm in Vergennes, is involved in his community, works a full-time job and is raising a family with his wife, Kirsten.

But the undocumented immigrant, who has no criminal record, had previously been deported in 2005 after crossing into the United States from Mexico. Because of new enforcement orders from President Donald Trump's administration, Juan must leave the country again, on July 6.

Though many people were deported during president Barack Obama’s terms, the removals targeted criminals, Juan’s attorney, Matthew Kolken, told Seven Days. That’s all changed under Trump, said Kolken, who is based in Buffalo, N.Y.

“When individuals are found inside the United States after having been previously removed — even if they’ve been here many, many years and have established substantial ties to the country — rather than giving them an opportunity to request relief from removal, they are just reinstating the previous deportation order … and basically destroying a family in the process,” Kolken said.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Stalls in the House, Fails Again

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 9:52 PM

LUKE EASTMAN
  • luke eastman
Vermont lawmakers once again came close — but once again failed — to pass legislation to legalize marijuana Wednesday during a one-day special veto session.

The legal weed bill passed the Senate easily, as it has the past two years. But the bill hit a wall in the House, where an effort to suspend rules to bring the bill to the floor fell far short.

"It is our best chance to pass legalization of small amounts of marijuana," Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) told fellow senators before their vote early Wednesday evening.

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Vermont Legislature Passes Budget Compromise, Avoiding Government Shutdown

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 8:57 PM

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson on Wednesday - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson on Wednesday
Though it was anything but easy, the Vermont legislature broke its stalemate with Gov. Phil Scott and passed a budget Wednesday evening that the governor has agreed to sign.

The Republican governor and the Democrat-led legislature came to an accord a mere nine days before the current budget expires, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. The bill they passed includes a compromise on what seemed like an intractable disagreement over how to save money on teachers’ health insurance plans.

Lawmakers adjourned shortly afterward, concluding a special veto session that started Wednesday morning.

They had returned to the Statehouse because Scott vetoed previous budget and property tax bills. The governor did so to protest lawmakers' rejection of his proposal to create a statewide teachers' health insurance contract. All districts are renegotiating their health care contracts this year, moving to less expensive plans to avoid a penalty created by the Affordable Care Act. Scott argued that with his administration doing the negotiating for a single consolidated contract, the state could recapture as much as $26 million.

The compromise deal — which closely resembles an alternative proposal offered by Senate Democrats back in May — requires that school districts find $13 million in savings and creates a commission to study a statewide teachers' health care contract. The state will use those savings to reduce property taxes.

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Opinion
Walters: WDEV Radio For Sale

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 5:12 PM

FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
Ken Squier, owner of the Radio Vermont Group, has confirmed that his company is for sale. It's a milestone for a fixture of Vermont broadcasting, held in the same family for 86 years.

The heart of the company is "the friendly pioneer," Waterbury's WDEV-AM, founded by Ken's father, Lloyd Squier, in 1931. In recent years, the group has grown to a total of four transmitters plus four lower-powered "translators" that boost a station's signal in weak spots.

The company operates two streams of programming; WDEV-AM and FM broadcast local news, talk, sports, music and weather; and "The One" is a music station that plays hit songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s.  (The music stations were devoted to classical music until Vermont Public Radio built out a statewide classical network.)

In an age of mega-corporate broadcasters and national syndication, WDEV is a throwback, still producing the bulk of its programming on site with a strong focus on serving its community. Squier says he's looking for a buyer that shares his values and commitment.

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Leahy, Scott Tap Prosecutor Christina Nolan for U.S. Attorney

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 2:59 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Gov. Phil Scott have recommended that Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan become Vermont's next U.S. Attorney.

Nolan, a graduate of the University of Vermont and Boston College Law School, would become the first woman to hold the top federal prosecutor's job in Vermont if she is nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

In a joint statement, Leahy and Scott called Nolan a "fair and tough" prosecutor.

"Christina is uniquely familiar with the many challenges brought by our state’s opioid crisis through her focus on heroin prosecutions and other drug-related crime," they wrote. "She recognizes that addiction is a pressing threat to the health of our state, and she will make dismantling trafficking organizations a top priority, as well as working side-by-side with partners in the prevention and treatment communities.”

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Opinion
Walters: 'Backroom Deal' Settles Budget Standoff

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 2:39 PM

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson on Wednesday as Gov. Phil Scott looks on and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (center) consults with colleagues - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson on Wednesday as Gov. Phil Scott looks on and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (center) consults with colleagues
How last-minute was the deal over the Vermont state budget and teacher health care benefits?

Try this: When Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders held a press conference Wednesday morning to announce the agreement, they could not provide a written summary. Final details of the teacher health care bill were still being worked out. Nothing was on paper.

This is a deal that emerged from closed-door bargaining over the last several weeks, involving a handful of lawmakers and Scott administration officials — none of whom was willing to disclose any particulars along the way.

There has been no public testimony, no hearings, no chance for interested parties to have their say. Lawmakers are given little opportunity to read or ponder the bill.

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Vermont Senate Passes Marijuana Bill but Full Passage Uncertain

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 2:03 PM

Sen. Dick Sears speaks about the marijuana bill on the Senate floor - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Sen. Dick Sears speaks about the marijuana bill on the Senate floor
Updated at 6:12 p.m.

The Vermont Senate passed a bill that would legalize adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana just after 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"It is our best chance to pass legalization of small amounts of marijuana," Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) told colleagues.

He assured fellow senators that Gov. Phil Scott has agreed to sign the bill if it reaches him. Whether that will happen remains unclear.

The legislation, H. 511, would legalize possession of up to an ounce for adults 21 or older. Scott vetoed a similar bill earlier this month, but the latest iteration contains several changes his staff sought. Wednesday's vote came during a special session focused on the state budget bill, which Scott also vetoed.

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Vermont School Districts Must Save $13 Million Under Legislature’s Compromise

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 12:02 PM

Gov. Phil Scott announces an agreement at the Statehouse Wednesday. - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott announces an agreement at the Statehouse Wednesday.
Updated, 1:15 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic leaders in the Vermont legislature have struck a deal that forces all school districts to collectively save $13 million during the next two fiscal years. They shared details of their plan for the first time at a press conference Wednesday morning, and the full legislature is expected to pass the proposal later on Wednesday.

The compromise plan closely resembles legislation that the Senate passed in an earlier attempt to appease the governor. Scott dismissed it at the time, advocating instead for a statewide teachers’ health insurance contract to capture savings.

But the specter of a government shutdown on July 1 — which arose because Scott vetoed the budget when lawmakers failed to adopt his proposal — made the idea more appealing.

The governor had previously insisted that savings come specifically from school employees’ health insurance plans. He’s now agreed to a plan that recommends that approach, but also allows school boards to make cuts elsewhere in their budgets. The state will use the $13 million to lower property taxes.

“In negotiations, everyone has to give something and that’s what we gave,” said Scott, when asked why he’d relented. He also acknowledged that he’d weakened his bargaining position by publicly declaring he wouldn’t let the dispute end in a government shutdown.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Governor and Legislators Announce Teachers' Health Insurance Deal

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 7:51 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: ALICIA FREESE
  • File: Alicia Freese
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Vermont's legislative leaders have reached an "agreement in principle" with Gov. Phil Scott about how to save money through teacher health insurance negotiations. After many hours of closed-door talks, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) and Scott said Tuesday night that they'd struck a deal.

What exactly it is remains unclear.

Lawmakers will return to the Statehouse Wednesday morning to vote a second time on the budget and property tax bills that Scott vetoed June 6. After previously praising the budget proposal, Scott withdrew his support late in the session when lawmakers rejected his plan to save money by negotiating a statewide teachers' health insurance contract. Ashe and Johnson tried to craft counterproposals that would save money without the statewide contract but failed to get Scott's support during last-minute discussions at the end of the session.

Scott administration officials and key lawmakers took a break from negotiations after the legislature adjourned May 19, resuming conversations Thursday. The two sides met repeatedly during the past week, but it wasn't until hours before the entire legislature was slated to return that they reached a deal.

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