Neal P. Goswami

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Scott vetoes pot legalization, offers path forward

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a marijuana legalization bill but said Wednesday he will reconsider signing it if lawmakers make changes during a veto session next month. Scott’s announcement at a news conference Wednesday ended days of speculation about the bill’s fate, but it opened the door to even more intense lobbying and campaigning in the weeks leading up to the June 21 veto session. It also halts — at least temporarily — the potential for Vermont to become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use through the legislative process. Eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana, but all did so through voter referendums.

“I am returning this bill to the Legislature. I am, however, offering a path forward that takes a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves toward a regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market,” the governor said. Continue Reading →

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Scott selects Mullin, Usifer for Green Mountain Care Board

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott formally announced the appointment of Republican Sen. Kevin Mullin to serve as chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board, along with Maureen Usifer, who will work alongside Mullin as another new member. Mullin, 58, of Rutland, is the current chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee. He said Wednesday he will resign his Senate seat in the coming days to accept the appointment to the board. Mullin was appointed to the Senate in January 2003 and has won re-election every election cycle since then. He previously served three terms in the Vermont House. Continue Reading →

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Scott to veto pot legalization bill

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said Wednesday he will veto a marijuana legalization bill sent to him by lawmakers for technical reasons but will reconsider signing it if lawmakers make some changes during a veto session next month. Scott’s announcement Wednesday ends days of speculation about the bill’s fate, but opens the door to even more intense lobbying and campaigning in the weeks leading up to the June 21 veto session. Scott, a first-term Republican was facing a midnight deadline. His five days of consideration were about to end after receiving the bill from the Legislature last week. He faced three options — sign it into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Continue Reading →

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Scott will tap Mullin to lead Green Mountain Care Board

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has chosen Rutland County Republican Sen. Kevin Mullin to be the next chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board, according to several sources. Mullin, the current chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee, will resign his Senate seat in the coming days to accept the appointment to the board. Both Mullin and Scott spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley declined to comment on the appointment Tuesday evening. Scott called Mullin Tuesday to inform him of the appointment, according to the sources. Other candidates who were interviewed but not selected have been informed in recent days. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers adjourn, await veto

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers ended the legislative session early Friday morning, passing a state budget and other key bills, but with no accord reached with Gov. Phil Scott on the cost of teachers’ health care benefits, lawmakers will surely return next month for a veto session. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, met with the Republican governor several times Thursday hoping to hammer out a deal. The meetings occurred with such frequency that rank-and-file lawmakers began to assume a deal was imminent. But the legislative leaders finally acknowledged Thursday evening that a deal was to remain elusive and set in motion the process required to complete the budget and other money bills without the governor’s approval for adjournment. Scott, who spoke to both chambers before they adjourned, reaffirmed his intention to veto the budget and a bill that sets property tax rates. Continue Reading →

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Dems declare impasse, look to end session without agreement with governor

MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders in the Legislature, frustrated by a lack of movement in negotiations with Republican Gov. Phil Scott, said Wednesday they are moving forward with wrapping up work on the state budget and other key bills and hope to end the legislative session Thursday. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, held a State House news conference Thursday morning and declared an impasse in their talks with the governor over how to save on the cost of teachers’ health care. The two leaders presented a united front after several weeks of talks with the governor failed to produce an agreement. “We have reached an impasse,” Johnson said. “We’ve had over a dozen meetings in the last couple of weeks where we brought proposals forward to the governor to talk about how reduce property taxes for Vermonters and what we’ve discovered is that the key component of this is not actually the money piece, it’s about who’s controlling the conversation.”

“There is a point where negotiation becomes a dictation,” Ashe said. Continue Reading →

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Unions oppose latest attempt to resolve teacher health care showdown

MONTPELIER — Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson’s proposal to save on the cost of teachers’ health care plans appears to be growing on Gov. Phil Scott, but she received a lashing from unions Tuesday and may have trouble getting fellow Democrats on board. Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the Republican governor have been engaged in a stalemate for three weeks over a demand by Scott that teachers pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums. The impasse has caused the Legislature to remain in session beyond the 18 weeks included in the state budget. Democratic leaders and Scott agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. VEHI is offering new plans to all Vermont teachers beginning in January that have lower premium costs but higher out-of-pocket expenses. That change is driven by a provision in the federal Affordable Care Act that will tax high-end insurance plans that many teachers currently have. Continue Reading →

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Speaker crafts new savings plan, hopes to end stalemate

MONTPELIER — Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said Monday she is working on a compromise with Republican Gov. Phil Scott to end a stalemate over teacher health care savings that has prevented lawmakers from completing the legislative session. Johnson, of South Hero, said she met with the governor Monday to reveal her plan to achieve the health care savings without infringing on the collective bargaining rights of teachers. Scott has been demanding for several weeks that lawmakers achieve up to $26 million in savings in the Education Fund from health care savings. “It keeps negotiations local and respects collective bargaining practices, which is important to some of the parties at the table,” the speaker said. “It really narrows some of that discussion a bit and works to create savings up to the $26 million statewide.”

Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the governor agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. Continue Reading →

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Health insurers seek rate increases

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s largest health insurer is asking regulators to approve a double-digit increase in premiums as it deals with myriad cost pressures. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont has filed its requested 2018 health insurance rates for plans sold on the state’s exchange with the Green Mountain Care Board, the state’s health regulatory body that reviews and approves health insurance rates as well as hospital budgets. The insurer, which covers about 70,000 Vermonters, is seeking an average rate increase of 12.7 percent. BCBS President and CEO Don George said the requested increase is based on the cost of health care services as well as policy decisions unrelated to care that the company does not control. Those outside pressures account for about 6 percent of the 12.7 percent increase, he said. Continue Reading →

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Legislature goes into overtime as disagreements with Scott remain

MONTPELIER — The Senate passed a proposal Friday to achieve $13 million in Education Fund Savings, but lawmakers are stuck on a slow-motion path to adjournment and will return to the Capitol next week after House Republicans declined to suspend House rules to immediately consider the legislation. The Senate voted 20-9 in favor of mandating $13 million in savings from local school districts in the 2018 fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2018. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, said the plan is intended to meet Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s demand for Education Fund Savings. But the proposal approved by the Senate achieves the savings in ways the governor has said he does not support. Scott wants to save money by requiring all teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the governor agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. Continue Reading →

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