Shumlin administration releases emails it sought to delete

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MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has released the first batch of emails sent and received by five former staffers that it sought to destroy last month, a request that drew heavy criticism because it came just days before state and federal fraud charges against two Northeast Kingdom developers were revealed. The first batch of emails — about 5,500 — that were slated for deletion was released to the Vermont Press Bureau Friday as part of a public records request. The administration agreed to release the emails after they were reviewed to redact protected and privileged information. Scott Coriell, spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin, said all members of the governor’s staff, excluding the governor, have spent the past week completing the request, which required about 200 staff hours. There are tens of thousands of emails that are subject to the records request, according to Coriell, and the administration has no precise timeline for when the remaining records will be released. Continue Reading →

Peep the duck will stay at East Montpelier home

Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter

MONTPELIER — The state has issued a possession permit to an East Montpelier woman to keep a wild wood duck at her home after the duck’s fate captured the attention of Vermonters and even lawmakers. Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter said the permit will allow Kim Stevens to keep the duck named Peep at her home. The Department of Fish and Wildlife sought to remove the duck in March after it came to the department’s attention that she was keeping the animal as a pet. Steven’s dog found Peep as a baby and brought it home. Stevens cared for the animal and it has been allowed to roam outside, but it always returns. Continue Reading →

Independent contractor bill gets new lease on life

Rep. Bill Botzow

MONTPELIER — A bill seeking to clarify who can be classified as an independent contractor by employers was recalled to the House floor Thursday by Democrats after they got wind of a Republican effort to do the same. The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development passed the bill out of committee unanimously in March, but was it recommitted to the committee after House Speaker Shap Smith said the bill would face opposition on the House floor and had a slim chance of passing in the Senate. The issue has been brewing for several years, but legislation clarifying the difference between an employee and an independent contractor has never made it to the finish line. Representatives of labor and business groups have been unable to find common ground. On Thursday, Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, was preparing to make a motion to relieve the committee of the bill and return it to the House. Continue Reading →

Lawmakers question refugee plans

MONTPELIER — Rutland City’s mayor says the 100 Syrian refugees coming to the city could be just the first round, even as lawmakers from the county expressed their displeasure for being left out of the loop. Mayor Chris Louras surprised many people Tuesday when he announced the city would begin taking in refugees in October. On Wednesday, Louras spoke with Rutland County’s senators and representatives about the resettlement plans, and offered an apology of sorts for keeping lawmakers in the dark, while at the same time saying he didn’t regret his actions. “There had to be conversations for which this many public officials could not be involved, and while I appreciate many of you feeling blindsided — and man, I’d feel blindsided too, if I were you — I’m owning it,” Louras told the dozen or so assembled lawmakers. “However, sometimes information needs to be controlled during a review process and during a decision-making process,” Louras said. Continue Reading →

Senate tries to spur House into action on marijuana legalization

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MONTPELIER — The Senate on Wednesday attached the language it passed earlier this year creating a legal, regulated marijuana market to a House-passed bill dealing with criminal procedures, a move designed to spur the House into action on legalizing pot. The House has not considered S.241, the Senate’s marijuana legalization bill passed earlier this year, on the floor. After being scaled back by the House Judiciary Committee to only include a commission to examine the issue, the House Ways and Means Committee amended it again to legalize up to 1 ounce of pot and the cultivation of two marijuana plants. The legislation has been stalled in the House Appropriations Committee for nearly two weeks, however. Without the votes to advance it, the committee has opted to let the clock tick down on the legislative biennium. Continue Reading →

Sanders searches for path, purpose

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during an election night campaign event at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Huntington, W.Va. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

MONTPELIER — After suffering four more losses Tuesday, softened just a bit by a victory in Rhode Island, Sen. Bernie Sanders must now plot a way forward for his campaign without viable path to winning the nomination. Sanders’ Democratic primary rival Hillary Clinton coasted to double-digit margins of victory in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and also won a closer contest in Connecticut. After losing New York, Sanders’ path to the nomination was extremely narrow. Now it has essentially eroded. Sanders was able to win Rhode Island, but the small state offers him few delegates and Clinton now has about 90 percent of the delegates she needs to secure the nomination. Continue Reading →

Lawmakers address police body cameras

MONTPELIER — Law enforcement will create rules governing the use of body cameras, but a last-minute amendment means those rules will be reviewed and approved by the General Assembly. On Thursday, House lawmakers gave final approval to a bill to create a statewide standard for the way police use body cameras, and the way that information will be used and shared with the public. Senate Bill 174 calls for the Law Enforcement Advisory Board — which is part of the state Department of Public Safety — to create a model policy for the use of body cameras by Dec. 15 of this year. Law enforcement agencies will have until July 1, 2017, to either adopt the model policy or create their own policies that meet the minimum standards established by the board. Continue Reading →

Highway safety bill challenges civil liberties

MONTPELIER — House lawmakers have given final approval to a transportation bill that creates a threshold for marijuana intoxication, with critics saying the legislation is not based on science and could lead to the disclosure of private medical information. On Wednesday, lawmakers approved SB 225, which lowers the threshold for a driver’s alcohol level when combined with marijuana, and paves the way for roadside saliva tests that reveal not just the presence of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — but other drugs as well. Under the terms of the bill, a driver would be considered impaired when having a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05 when combined with a THC count of 1.5 nanograms.

The current drunken-driving BAC threshold is 0.08. Prior to Wednesday, the bill called for an intoxication level of 0.05 for alcohol when combined with any measurable amount of marijuana. However, Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, introduced an amendment setting a specific amount of THC, which he said was based on numerous studies equating 1.5 nanograms with intoxication. Continue Reading →

VSEA, Democratic candidates call for funding labor contract

Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Steve Howard calls for lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract at a State House news conference. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees Association and the three Democratic candidates for governor are calling on lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract for state workers recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board, but Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin says it is too costly. The VSEA and the candidates — Matt Dunne, Sue Minter and Peter Galbraith — held a State House news conference Wednesday calling on the Legislature to include a 2 percent salary increase for state workers in the 2017 fiscal year state budget and a 2.25 percent increase in the 2018 fiscal year budget. That increase was recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board Tuesday in a 3 to 2 split decision over the Shumlin administration’s proposal for a 1 percent increase in 2017 and a 1.25 percent increase in 2018. VSEA President Dave Bellini said Wednesday the union has been seeking a fair contract through collective bargaining since last August that respects state employees. “You show respect and support by putting your money where your mouth is — funding our contracts, our retirements, making investments in safety for the hardworking Vermonters who are state employees,” he said. Continue Reading →

After New York defeat, Sanders says a ‘path to victory’ remains

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters at the Burlington International Airport after losing the New York Primary to Hillary Clinton. (VPR/Taylor Dobbs)

Sen. Bernie Sanders says he’s looking forward to next week after Hillary Clinton beat him by about 15 percent of the vote in the New York primary Tuesday. “Today we took Secretary Clinton on in her own state of New York and we lost,” Sanders said to reporters after landing in Burlington Tuesday night. “I congratulate Secretary Clinton on her victory.”

Sanders didn’t say much about New York after that. “Next week, we will be competing in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware, and we look forward to winning a number of those states,” Sanders said. He didn’t venture a guess as to how many of those states he thinks he can win, but Sanders says he still thinks he can win the nomination. Continue Reading →