Neal P. Goswami

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Discord lingers over teacher health care

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and lawmakers came up short once again Thursday in their quest to find common ground on a major fiscal issue that, once resolved, will allow the legislative session to come to a close. Democratic House and Senate leaders Wednesday evening tweaked a proposal put forth by Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe and offered it up as a compromise to the Republican governor. But Scott said it wasn’t something he was prepared to accept and planned to offer a counter proposal. Lawmakers have been engaged in a standoff with Scott for the past several weeks over how to save up to $26 million annually in the state’s Education Fund. 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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Deal on teacher health care remains elusive

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers returned to the State House Wednesday after adjourning for a long weekend Friday but were still unable to find common ground with Gov. Phil Scott on the main issue holding up the end of the legislative session. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate met with the Republican governor Wednesday, along with representatives of the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont National Education Association, but no accord was reached on how to achieve up to $26 million in projected savings from changes in the health insurance plans offered to teachers that will take effect in January. The potential savings comes from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. The federal Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, includes a tax on high-end insurance plans. To avoid the tax, VEHI is offering a new slate of plans to Vermont teachers that have lower premium costs but higher out-of-pocket expenses. Continue Reading →

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House sends pot legalization bill to the governor

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House concurred Wednesday with a Senate-passed bill to legalize marijuana, becoming the first Legislature in the country to send a recreational marijuana legalization bill to a governor to become law. The bill, S.22, was passed by the House on a 79-66 vote after appearing to be dead several times since the legislative session began in January. It followed an untraditional path through the Legislature to make it to Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who said Wednesday he remains unsure if he will veto it. While other states have already legalized marijuana, those states were compelled to act by voter-approved referendums. The Vermont General Assembly is the first legislative body in the country to have two chambers approve legalization for recreational marijuana use. Under the legislation, people 21 and older will be allowed to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana beginning July 1, 2018. Continue Reading →

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State revenues tumble in April

MONTPELIER — State revenues declined sharply in April, bringing the year-to-date revenues of the state’s General Fund below its target with two months remaining in the fiscal year. Secretary of Administration Susanne Young said Thursday that General Fund revenues collected in April totaled $201.1 million, which is $21.65 million below its monthly target. The monthly haul missed the target set in January by the state’s Emergency Board by 9.7 percent. The poor showing last month was driven by a steep decline in the personal income tax, which was $25.34 million less than expected. Corporate tax collected in April were ahead of projections by $3.94 million. Continue Reading →

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Dems fend off push to alter teacher health care negotiations

MONTPELIER — The House and Senate are continuing to wrangle with crucial money bills as they aim to adjourn the first half of the legislative biennium Saturday. They have plenty of work left to do, however, and a showdown with Republican Gov. Phil Scott looms large at the end of this legislative session over his main priority for this year. Late Wednesday night, Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson cast a rare vote to fend off a Republican-led amendment to fundamentally change the way teachers in the state negotiate their health care benefits. Johnson, D-South Hero, cast her vote after the House voted 74-73 to embrace a plan pushed by Scott to move negotiating for teachers’ health care benefits from the local school district level to one statewide contract. With her vote against the measure, the House was knotted at 74-74 — close, but not enough for the GOP and 16 Democrats who bucked their own leadership to secure a majority. Continue Reading →

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House advances pot legalization

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House narrowly passed a marijuana legalization bill late Tuesday night after hours of debate, but the legislation is not expected to advance further this year. The bill. H.170, passed around 11:30 p.m. on a 74 to 68 vote, after two attempts to send it back to committee and several amendments aimed at weakening or delaying it. The bill allows for the legal possession of up to 1 ounce of dry marijuana and the cultivation of up to two mature marijuana plants and four immature plants. The vote was a victory for proponents of legalization, but the legislation is not expected to advance beyond the House this year. Continue Reading →

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GOP pushes governor’s teacher health care savings

MONTPELIER — The House postponed action on an education financing bill Monday as Democrats and Republicans continued to posture over Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to save $26 million in the Education Fund by changing how teachers negotiate their health care benefits. Scott is looking to capitalize on a unique situation this year that has all teachers in Vermont negotiating new health care benefits. That’s because the Vermont Education Health Initiative, which provides health care plans to teachers, is changing its offerings in response to the federal Affordable Care Act. Scott’s plan seeks to save $26 million by removing negotiations for health care from the local level and having them take place on a statewide level with his administration. If teachers agree to pay for at least 20 percent of their health care premiums the savings are attainable, according to the governor. Continue Reading →

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House advances ethics commission

MONTPELIER — The House has approved creation of an ethics commission to oversee political entities in Vermont following a lengthy debate on the floor. The bill, S.8, was passed on a voice vote after about two hours of debate Monday. Some lawmakers raised concerns about having to disclose certain information, particularly the sources of income of spouses or domestic partners. Rep. Maida Townsend, D- South Burlington, chairwoman of the House Government Operations Committee, told her colleagues Vermont is among a small group of states that do not have a central ethics policy or an ethics commission. She said Hawaii became the first to enact such measures in 1968. Continue Reading →

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Watch: Capital Beat with Jason Gibbs, Nicole Mace and Jeff Fannon

Vermont NEA Executive Director Jeff Fannon, Vermont School Boards Association Executive Director Nicole Mace and Jason Gibbs, Gov. Phil Scott’s chief of staff, join the program to discuss the governor’s proposal to have teachers negotiate their health care benefits with his administration. Capital Beat airs on Vermont PBS Plus Mondays at 8:30 p.m. Continue Reading →

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Scott: Act now to save

e have an opportunity to save up to $26 million a year — up to $100 million over five years, adjusting for inflation — in our education system, without program cuts or asking teachers to pay more for benefits. But the Legislature must act now. The federal Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama put high-valued health plans at risk of a Cadillac tax. The Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI) is transitioning to new plans, which are projected to cost substantially less than existing plans and will not be subjected to the federal penalty. That’s why I’ve put forward a proposal — developed with the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association — that creates a statewide health benefit where the state bargains with employee unions, maximizing the savings of these new plans. Continue Reading →

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