State Government

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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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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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Listen: Capital Beat Podcast 4.27.17

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Freelance journalist and VTDigger columnist Jon Margolis joins Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and Vermont Public Radio political reporter Peter Hirschfeld this week. Topics include accomplishments of Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature in their first 100 days and lingering disagreements over the state budget. Subscribe to the Capital Beat Podcast on iTunes for the latest episodes. Continue Reading →

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Scott seeks teacher health care overhaul as Dems, union balk

MONTPELIER — With the legislative session winding down, Gov. Phil Scott is pushing a proposal for a major overhaul of the way Vermont teachers negotiate their health care benefits, leaving Democrats puzzled as to why he did not present a detailed proposal sooner. Scott held a State House news conference Tuesday, surrounded by superintendents and school board members, to tout his proposal to have teachers across the state negotiate their health care benefits with his administration, rather than with local school boards. He said the state is in a unique position this year to save Vermont’s property taxpayers $26 million. That’s because the health care plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative are changing as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. As a result, all local school boards across the state are negotiating new health care benefits with teachers. Continue Reading →

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Senate rejects raising the legal age for tobacco products

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate rejected legislation Tuesday that would have raised the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. The legislation, S.88, was sidelined by its supporters several weeks ago when it became apparent that it lacked the votes to pass the chamber. But Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Claire Ayer, D-Addison, brought the bill back to the floor Tuesday where it was defeated on a 13 to 16 vote. Ayer said before the vote that she thought it was “possible” it would pass, but interest groups seeking to raise the legal age to purchase and possess tobacco products to 21 said it still lacked the votes. Ayer, and Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden, a strong proponent of the bill, said they were willing to risk its defeat. Continue Reading →

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Finance commissioner to depart at end of fiscal year

MONTPELIER — Vermont Department of Finance and Management Commissioner Andrew Pallito is planning to leave his post at the end of the current fiscal year for a position with the Green Mountain Care Board. Rebecca Kelley, spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Phil Scott, confirmed Monday that Pallito is planning to work for the administration through the end of June before departing. “He is leaving but he is committed to seeing the budget process through. He will continue to work with us on that and will be with us through the end of the fiscal year,” Kelley said. “There should be no change in how we’re moving forward on the budget process.”

Pallito did not return phone and email messages Monday, but Susan Barrett, the board’s executive director, said Pallito has accepted a position to become the director of health system finances for the Green Mountain Care Board, the state’s health care regulatory body. Continue Reading →

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