State Government

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House Appropriations sends state budget to the floor

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee gave unanimous approval Monday to a state budget plan that closes a $72 million projected gap between revenue and expenses without raising taxes and fees, a demand from Republican Gov. Phil Scott that has loomed over the Democratic majority for months. Overall, the Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, opted to cut general fund spending by about $67 million. Another $5 million in revenue is expected to be generated through enhanced compliance of existing taxes. The plan was approved by the committee on a 11 to 0 vote Monday afternoon, and won the support of four Republican members. The House’s 2018 fiscal year spending plan does not raise taxes or fees, as Scott demanded. Continue Reading →

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Thousands of Vermonters at risk after massive data breach

massive security breach at the Vermont Department of Labor may have compromised the Social Security numbers of tens of thousands of Vermonters, and Gov. Phil Scott says the state is contemplating legal action against the private vendor responsible for the breach. The breach affects a database maintained for the state of Vermont by a third-party vendor, called America’s Job Link Alliance. Scott says the state learned Wednesday that “the vendor now believes more than 180,000 accounts on Joblink were compromised.”

The breach could affect anyone who’s applied for unemployment since 2003, and has entered information into an online jobs database that people are required to use to demonstrate they’re seeking new employment. When people file for unemployment, they’re in most cases required by state and federal law to look for work. “And as part of their regular job search, they have to put their information into the database and they then can use that database to help them find jobs,” says Commissioner of Labor Lindsay Kurrle. Continue Reading →

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Scott taps Judge Karen Carroll for Vermont Supreme Court

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott has tapped Superior Court Judge Karen Russell Carroll Thursday to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, who will retire from the bench at the end of the month. The selection of Carroll, first appointed as a state Superior Court judge in 2000 by former Democratic Gov. Howard Dean, means the five-member Vermont Supreme Court will have a majority of women justices for the first time in state history. Scott, speaking at his weekly news conference Thursday, said the gender balance of the court did not weigh into his decision-making process. Rather, the governor said he focused on each candidate’s history and personality. “The personality of Karen, I think, lends itself well to the court,” Scott said. Continue Reading →

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Vermont businesses may see decrease in costs, lawmakers say

MONTPELIER — Legislative leaders say Vermont businesses are expected to see a $28 million decrease in expenses this year from lower workers’ compensat ion and unemployment insurance costs. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said projections from the Vermont Department of Labor indicate businesses will see the significant decrease in their costs. The reprieve in unemployment insurance costs comes as the state recovers from the Great Recession when the number of unemployed Vermonters surged. “The really good news for business out there is that between 2016 and 2017, between workers’ comp and unemployment insurance, businesses within the state of Vermont will see a $28 million reduction in expenses, which is, I think, pretty exciting and good news for businesses,” Johnson said. The speaker said projections show a $ 1 2 . Continue Reading →

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House Judiciary sends pot bill to the floor

MONTPELIER — The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday in favor of a bill to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, sending the measure to the full chamber after Democratic leaders secured enough votes to ensure it passes. The Judiciary Committee voted 8 to 3 in favor of H.170, which would make it legal in Vermont to possess 1 ounce or less of marijuana, up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants. It is expected to hit the House floor next week. The bill mirrors the policy already in place in Washington, D.C. But it does not create a legal, regulated market like the one that exists in Colorado and that was passed by the Senate last year. Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, the Judiciary Committee chairwoman, said she views the bill as addressing a criminal justice issue that continues to exist in Vermont. Continue Reading →

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Listen: Capital Beat Podcast 3.17.17

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VTDigger’s Elizabeth Hewitt joins Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and Vermont Public Radio political reporter Peter Hirschfeld on the podcast this week. Topics included the state budget and House Democrats’ frustration with Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Subscribe to the Capital Beat Podcast on iTunes for the latest episodes.   Continue Reading →

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Watch: Capital Beat with House Speaker Johnson and Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe join the show to discuss progress on crafting the state budget, disagreements with Gov. Phil Scott and legislation that will be considered in the second half of the legislative session. Capital Beat airs on Vermont PBS Plus Mondays at 8:30 p.m. Continue Reading →

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Pot bill seen as losing steam

MONTPELIER — Legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana has hit a snag as House leaders look to navigate differing views and rally support in the chamber. The Judiciary Committee was expected to vote H.170 out of committee earlier this week. The bill seeks to legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of dry marijuana and two plants. It would largely follow the policy already in place in Washington, D.C.

The politics behind legalization are tough to navigate, however. The House legalization bill is a second bite of the apple in as many years. Continue Reading →

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Scott stands his ground on budget

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott stood his ground Thursday, a day after House Democrats accused him of “shirking” his responsibility to lead and provide them with new ideas to help balance the state budget. Scott, a first-term Republican, said at his weekly news conference Thursday that lawmakers should complete their own budget proposal if they aren’t prepared to accept his. The governor’s proposal has seen little support in the Democratic-led Legislature. His budget plan, which was revealed in late January, called for local school districts to level-fund their budgets, which would have saved $41 million in the education fund. It also calls for teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums, saving an estimated $15 million in the 2018 fiscal year. Continue Reading →

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