Feliciano announces GOP bid for auditor

Dan Feliciano

MONTPELIER — Former gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano plans to run for state auditor as a Republican. Feliciano said Tuesday he is in the process of gathering the required signatures and plans to submit his petition to the Secretary of State’s Office by the Thursday deadline. Auditor Doug Hoffer, a Democrat and Progressive, has already filed for re-election. As a business consultant, Feliciano says he has the necessary background to help state government improve its operations and finances by finding improvements. He said he decided to seek the office after people told him his background was well-suited for the position. Continue Reading →

Contraceptives bill signed into law

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation into law Monday that will eliminate co-pays and deductibles for contraceptives and ensure that vasectomies for men are now included in insurance coverage. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation into law Monday that will eliminate co-pays and deductibles for contraceptives and ensure that vasectomies for men are now included in insurance coverage. Shumlin, a third-term Democrat who is not seeking re-election, signed H.620, on the steps of the State House Monday with lawmakers and representatives of Planned Parenthood looking on. He said the legislation moves Vermont in the right direction while some parts of the country are heading backward. “When we look around us here in 2016, here in America, and we look at the issue of reproductive rights and women’s health, it’s pretty darn shocking to this governor of Vermont when I see what’s going on with the rest of the country,” the governor said. “We have the presumptive [presidential] nominee of the Republican Party who has literally suggested that women should be punished should they seek an abortion. Continue Reading →

Minter unveils economic development plan

BARRE — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter has unveiled her plan to stimulate economic growth in Vermont. Minter stood before the City Place building on Monday to share her plan to invest in downtowns such as Barre, while calling for investment in agriculture, manufacturing, energy efficiency and the tech sector. “Too many people are struggling in an economy that is stacked against them,” said Minter, who highlighted the public-private partnerships in Barre that have led to a revitalization of the downtown. The state has invested $19 million dollars in downtown Barre, resulting in $45 million in private investment, a move that led to the construction of the City Place building, which houses both state offices and private businesses. Minter said that, in her first year as governor, the state would award money to three communities, who will be chosen through a competitive process. Continue Reading →

Wolffing to lead Smith’s LG bid

MONTPELIER — Erika Wolffing, the top aide to outgoing Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, will leave her post Friday to head Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith’s campaign for lieutenant governor. “I’ve known Erika for years and I’ve always had a great amount of respect for the work that she’s done and I’ve worked with her much more closely with her in the last two years as she worked in the Senate Pro Tem’s office,” Smith said Thursday. “I wanted somebody who I knew could do the job and I knew she was that person.”

Wolffing, 30, has worked in Campbell’s office since December 2014. She said Thursday her role as Smith’s campaign manager is not yet officially, but should be finalized “ideally on Friday” after she resigns her current position. Wolffing worked through two legislative sessions for Campbell, which his colleagues say were among his most effective as the pro tem. Continue Reading →

Speaker joins race for lieutenant governor

Vermont Speaker of the House Rep. Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, announces Tuesday at an impromptu press conference on the State House steps that he is no longer seeking the governor's seat to spend more time with his family following a diagnosis of breast cancer for his wife, Melissa. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

MONTPELIER — Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith is entering the race for lieutenant governor, ending months of speculation about his political plans after he suspended his gubernatorial bid in November to help his wife wage a battle with breast cancer. Smith, 50, announced his candidacy in an emailed news release Wednesday morning after discussing his plans in an embargoed interview with the Vermont Press Bureau Tuesday afternoon. He joins Chittenden County Sen. David Zuckerman and Burlington Rep. Kesha Ram in a three-way Democratic primary for the state’s second-highest office. Smith said he called both Zuckerman and Ram to tell them he would be entering the race before making it public. The speaker, from Morrisville, announced his candidacy for governor last June, flanked by legions of House members backing his candidacy. Continue Reading →

Bucknam launches bid for AG

Deborah Bucknam (courtesy photo)

MONTPELIER — Republican Deborah Bucknam has entered the race for attorney general and will challenge T.J. Donovan, the Democratic state’s attorney for Chittenden County, for the office. Bucknam, 69, from Walden, officially announced her candidacy Monday and plans to hold a formal kick-off in the near future where she will outline the themes of her campaign. On Monday, Bucknam said her experience as an attorney in Vermont spurred her desire to run. “I’ve been practicing law for 37 years and representing mostly individuals and some small businesses, and I just see the effect of the justice system and Vermont state government on individuals. In recent years I haven’t really liked what I’ve seen,” she said. Continue Reading →

Energy siting bill passed without funding section

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MONTPELIER — Language providing funding for regional planning commissions that was left out of an energy siting bill passed by lawmakers in the waning hours of the legislative session will need to be restored when lawmakers return in January. Both House and Senate leaders agree that the funding — about $300,000 — was intended to be part of the final version of the legislation. The money will help regional planning commissions develop regional energy plans and assist municipalities with town-level energy plans. Those plans will be necessary under the law if local communities are to receive “substantial deference” from the Public Service Board when energy products are considered. House Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said the absence of the funding in the bill was a simple drafting error as the office of Legislative Counsel worked quickly to update the legislation ahead of adjournment. Continue Reading →

Lawmakers pass budget bills

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers burned the midnight oil to pass budget bills and ultimately adjourn for the 2016 Legislative Session. Members of the House and the Senate worked late into Friday night to approve a budget for fiscal year 2017 that amounts to an overall increase of 2.4 percent. Lawmakers approved a spending appropriation of $2.46 billion in state funds, including spending for the General Fund, transportation and other special funds. The appropriation amounts to an increase of 3 percent when compared with current spending. Annual growth for the spending appropriation has averaged 3.9 percent over the past five years. Continue Reading →

House defeats efforts to legalize, further decriminalize pot

Law enforcement officers listen to debate in the House about marijuana legalization. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House on Tuesday soundly rejected a Senate proposal to legalize marijuana and create a regulated retail market for the drug, and even fell short of decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of two marijuana plants. The House did manage to salvage a commission that will study the legalization of marijuana and report its findings back to the Legislature, likely setting up another push at legalization next year after the November election. The House first voted 121 to 28 Tuesday against the Senate’s proposal, which was strongly backed by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. The Senate passed the bill on a 17 to 12 vote. Rep. Chris Pearson, a Progressive from Burlington, was among the slim minority of House members who supported the Senate’s language. Continue Reading →

Shumlin administration to require payment for release of remaining emails

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MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has asked the Vermont Press Bureau to withdraw its standing public records request for tens of thousands of emails the administration sought to delete, citing the cost and time required to fulfill it. Scott Coriell, spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin, and Darren Springer, the governor’s chief of staff, made the request Monday. The administration released the first batch of about 5,500 pages of emails last week that were sent and received by five former staff members. The first release of emails required about 200 hours of staff time to complete. Coriell said the cost of releasing the first batch of emails amounted to $5,300, but the administration is not seeking payment. Continue Reading →