Neal P. Goswami

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House Dems take off gloves in budget battle

MONTPELIER — House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and the chairs of the House money committees came out swinging Wednesday, accusing the governor of shirking his responsibility to govern by not engaging with lawmakers in the budget process after his initial proposal was rejected. Johnson, joined by Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kitty Toll and Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Janet Ancel, excoriated Republican Gov. Phil Scott for being disengaged from the budget process and sticking to what they say is a budget plan already rejected by lawmakers and local voters. Showdowns between lawmakers and the administration are expected, but for the first time in six years, the Democratic-led Legislature must work with a Republican administration. Wednesday’s tough words from Democrats indicate a more volatile process is likely this year than in recent years when Democrats also controlled the governor’s office. Scott’s budget proposal, unveiled in late January, called for local school districts to level-fund their budgets and force teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums. Doing so would save tens of millions of dollars in the state’s education fund. Continue Reading →

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Immigration issue splits House GOP caucus

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House advanced legislation aimed at preventing local law enforcement from participating in federal immigration enforcement in a vote that split the Republican caucus with half going against a popular governor from their own party. The bill, S.79, has been pushed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and a tripartisan group of lawmakers in response to executive orders signed by President Donald Trump dealing with immigration and border security. It received preliminary approval in the House Tuesday on a 110-24 vote, with 24 Republicans voting against it. The bill originated in the Senate where it passed 30-0 and was unchanged by the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Newfane, the vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told his colleagues the legislation is “not about immigration” at the state level. Continue Reading →

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State officials: GOP health plan could have dire consequences

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s top health care officials on Friday detailed dire consequences, including the loss of as much as $200 million in annual federal funding, if the Republican health care plan proposed in Congress is enacted. Agency of Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille, along with Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Cory Gustafson and Director of Health Care Reform Mary Kate Mohlman briefed reporters on the impact the American Health Care Act, or Trumpcare, as some have taken to calling it, will have on Vermonters. Gobeille said the trio were not advocating for or against the proposal, but they had few positive points to make about the GOP proposal. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress campaigned heavily in last fall’s election on repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The plan introduced earlier this week by Republicans in Congress seeks to do that. Continue Reading →

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Scott renews call for new ed money

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott is continuing his call for new spending on early and higher education, even after local voters gave widespread approval to increased school budgets, ignoring the governor’s plea for level-funded budgets. Scott said there are still opportunities to find savings within the state’s education fund to pay for $9 million in new spending he has called for in early child care and education, and the $5 million he is seeking for higher education. The governor’s proposed 2018 fiscal year spending plan sought level-funded school budgets and a requirement that teachers pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums to help fund the new initiatives. But lawmakers rejected Scott’s call to move the school budget vote date to May, ensuring that local school boards would put their existing budgets up for a vote on Town Meeting Day. Voters approved 183 budgets on Tuesday while rejecting 18. Continue Reading →

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Welch pitches prescription bill to Trump

MONTPELIER — Rep. Peter Welch met with President Donald Trump Wednesday to pitch legislation aimed at lower prescription drug prices. The Oval Office meeting inside the White House was attended by Welch, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Dr. Redonda G. Miller, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The trio met with Trump to pitch a bill that would allow the secretary of the Agency of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Current law prohibits the federal government from doing so under a provision known as the “non-interference clause.”

Welch, a Democrat, said the legislation would eliminate the non-interference clause and direct the secretary to negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers and create a formulary to further leverage the purchasing power of the federal government. “President Trump promised lower drug prices for Americans getting crushed by unjustifiable and exorbitant increases in the price of prescription drugs,” Welch said following the White House meeting. Continue Reading →

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Scott administration concerned with GOP health care bill in Washington

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s top health care official says the Scott administration is working quickly to assess the impact a GOP health care plan in Washington would have on the state if enacted. Agency of Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille said his team is reviewing the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare. At first glance, Gobeille said, the plan could have significant negative impacts on Vermonters. After years of failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare during former Democratic President Barack Obama’s tenure, the GOP now controls both chambers in Congress and the presidency. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress campaigned on dumping the sweeping health care reform law Democrats enacted early in Obama’s presidency, and now the GOP has put forth a plan to do so. Continue Reading →

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Donovan offers advice on immigration issues

MONTPELIER— Vermont Attorney General T. J. Donovan issued guidance to local municipalities Monday aimed at helping them address legal issues regarding immigration that have emerged since Republican President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders dealing with immigration and border security earlier this year. The memo to Vermont cities and towns released by Donovan on Monday provides background information on existing state and federal laws and explains the consequences of violating them. A number of towns across the state will consider new immigration policies Tuesday at their Town Meeting Day gatherings. Adopting so-called sanctuary status, meaning local communities would flout federal immigration law, could have consequences, he said. One of the president’s January executive orders threatens to eliminate federal money for localities that violate federal immigration law. Continue Reading →

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Revised immigration order still draws criticism

MONTPELIER— Republican President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on immigration has failed to win over Vermont’s congressional delegation, while Gov. Phil Scott says he is encouraged that it is more narrowly crafted but remains concerned with other elements of Trump’s immigration policy. The president signed a new executive order at the White House on Monday without fanfare — or the press — that replaces another one signed in late January that was part of a series of orders dealing with immigration and border security. The original executive order prevented citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days and prevented all refugees from entering for a period of 120 days. The original order singled out Syrians for an indefinite ban. That original order was challenged in federal court and stayed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, essentially preventing the administration from carrying out the goals of the order. Continue Reading →

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Listen: Capital Beat Podcast 3.3.17

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April McCullum of the Burlington Free Press joins Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and Vermont Public Radio political reporter Peter Hirschfeld this week to discuss the state budget and other topics. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes for fresh episodes each week. Continue Reading →

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