Don Turner

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House OKs recount of Orange House race

Rep. Robert Frenier

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House approved a resolution Wednesday after hours of pointed debate that calls for a recount in the Orange-1 House district race between Robert Frenier and Susan Hatch Davis that was decided by seven votes. Frenier, a Republican who was seated as a House member last month, beat Hatch Davis, a five-term Progressive incumbent, by an eight-vote margin on Election Day. A recount sought by Hatch Davis narrowed Frenier’s victory to a seven-vote margin, but was certified by a judge. Hatch Davis remained unconvinced, however, and sought another recount, which was rejected by Orange County Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout. Hatch Davis then contested the election with the House, which has the authority to “judge” the election and qualifications of its members under the Vermont Constitution. Continue Reading →

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Senate committee rejects Scott’s school budget mandate

Sen. Phil Baruth

MONTPELIER — The Senate Education committee has unanimously voted to oppose Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to mandate that all school budgets be leveled-funded next year — and that rejection has broad budget implications. That’s because the governor had hoped to deal with a budget gap in the state’s General Fund, in part, by transferring early education, higher education and teacher retirement programs over to the Education Fund. The roughly $50 million price tag for this transfer was to be offset by a plan to require that all local school budgets not grow at all next year. The governor’s proposal would also require all teachers to pay for 20 percent of their health care premiums.

Because many school boards are finalizing their budgets for next year, the governor proposed moving all local budget votes from Town Meeting Day in March to late May to give the boards more time to reduce their budgets. Senate Education chairman Phillip Baruth says the governor’s plan is unfair to local school boards. Continue Reading →

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Approve Gov. Scott’s pragmatic budget to achieve critical reform

Rep. Don Turner

ov. Phil Scott is attempting a “top-down” approach to check education spending because past legislative efforts have failed, and new initiatives are unlikely to win the approval of the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Democrats that are now expressing a newfound concern for local control seem to have forgotten that they championed the anti-school choice Act 46. Fortunately, these crocodile tears aren’t fooling anyone. In presenting a budget plan that confronts our serious state-spending problem, Gov. Scott showed a bold commitment to fiscal pragmatism that has evaded Montpelier for too long. Continue Reading →

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Supreme Court hears appointment case, decision pending

Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley speaks during oral arguments Tuesday for a case that will determine whether outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin can replace him when his term expires April 1. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin can appoint a replacement for one of its members, Justice John Dooley, before Shumlin leaves office on Thursday. The hearing Tuesday, held in a packed Supreme Court chamber filled with media, lawmakers, statewide elected officials and other observers, was triggered by a petition filed by Rep. Donald Turner and Sen. Joe Benning just before Christmas challenging Shumlin’s authority to name Dooley’s replacement. The justices made no indication Tuesday afternoon before ending the court session when it would issue a ruling. However, the court is expected to rule imminently in order to settle the matter before Republican Gov.-elect Phil Scott is sworn into office on Thursday afternoon. Should the justices rule in Shumlin’s favor he could then name a replacement for Dooley on Wednesday when the new Senate is sworn in. Continue Reading →

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Sears backs Shumlin in Supreme Court legal battle

Sen. Dick Sears

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include comments from Gov.-elect Phil Scott. MONTPELIER — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has filed a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court defending Gov. Peter Shumlin’s authority to appoint a Supreme Court justice before he leaves office on Thursday. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, a close friend and political ally of Shumlin, submitted the legal argument ahead of a Tuesday hearing scheduled by the state’s highest court to determine if Shumlin can make the appointment. Sears is asking the court to dismiss or deny the petition filed by two lawmakers challenging Shumlin’s authority. “Once the vice chair of the committee got involved I thought the chairman ought to get involved,” Sears told the Vermont Press Bureau. Continue Reading →

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House GOP seeks shorter session, narrow focus on fiscal issues

Rep. Linda Myers, R-Essex Jct., leaves the podium after speaking at a House GOP news conference highlighting the caucus' electoral and legislative goals. (Times Argus/Stefan  Hard)

MONTPELIER — Vermont House Republicans say they are gunning for a substantial pick up of seats and will be pursuing a two-year state budget process and a complete focus on fiscal issues rather than new policies. More than two dozen House Republicans and Republican candidates gathered for a State House news conference Tuesday to highlight their goals for the upcoming general election and legislative biennium. House Minority Leader Don Turner, of Milton, said he hopes to lead the House in a new direction after the election. “It’s time for a new direction and a new way of thinking in Vermont. I want to lead that change in the House and I want to be looking for support from all the Republican colleagues, across party lines — independents and Democrats — because I believe that we cannot sustain this pace of heavy spending and recklessly taxing Vermonters to no end,” Turner told reporters. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers craft replacement language for vetoed energy siting bill

searsburg_wind_power_facility_in_searsburg_vt_ap_photo_tim_roske

MONTPELIER — Key lawmakers have drafted replacement language for an energy siting bill vetoed by Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday they hope will be passed during a legislative veto session on Thursday to fix issues he identified in his veto message. Shumlin, a Democrat who is not seeking a fourth two-year term, vetoed S.230 Monday over concerns that language approved on the final day of the legislative session would have unintended consequences. He said the emergency rule-making process called for in the bill for new wind turbine sound standards unintentionally invokes a provision in statute that would make Vermont the first state in the country to declare a public health emergency around wind energy “without peer-reviewed science backing that assertion up.”

Additionally, Shumlin said new temporary sound standards for wind turbines “unintentionally relies on a standard used in a small 150 kilowatt project as the standard for all wind” projects, which “could have the clearly unintended effect of pushing wind projects closer to homes where the background noise is higher.” Another provision in the bill requires notice of certificates of public good for energy projects on parcels of land to be filed with land records. He said that “could create problems for residential solar customers when they go to sell their home.”

The fourth concern deals with money. Under the bill, regional planning commissions are supposed to help municipalities develop local energy plans that conform to the state’s energy goals. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin vetoes energy siting bill

Wind_power_plants_in_Xinjiang,_China

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin has vetoed a controversial energy siting bill, triggering a special legislative veto session on Thursday where lawmakers can try to override his rejection or look to fix the portions he finds unacceptable and send it back. The legislation, S.230, was passed by lawmakers on the final day of the legislative session last month after last-minute wrangling by House and Senate negotiators and the Shumlin administration. It seeks to provide local communities with more say over the siting of renewable energy projects if they craft their own energy plans that are approved by the Department of Public Service. It also seeks to create sound restrictions for wind generation projects. The governor, a Democrat, said the bill would hurt the state’s renewable energy progress, which he said has created more than 17,000 jobs in Vermont. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers pass budget bills

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers burned the midnight oil to pass budget bills and ultimately adjourn for the 2016 Legislative Session. Members of the House and the Senate worked late into Friday night to approve a budget for fiscal year 2017 that amounts to an overall increase of 2.4 percent. Lawmakers approved a spending appropriation of $2.46 billion in state funds, including spending for the General Fund, transportation and other special funds. The appropriation amounts to an increase of 3 percent when compared with current spending. Annual growth for the spending appropriation has averaged 3.9 percent over the past five years. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers talk school choice and district mergers

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers and members of the public are calling for greater guarantees to preserve school choice. On Thursday, the House School Choice Caucus called for a clarification of Act 46 — the 2015 school district merger law — as it relates to towns that offer school choice. “In the long run, we’re seeing Act 46 create a lot of confusion and we’re here today to give a voice to that confusion,” said Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Irasburg. Unlike many caucuses, the House School Choice Caucus does not reflect a partisan divide based on political affiliation, but based on the size of the community, with nearly all of the caucus members hailing from small towns. “There’s a real need for leadership in directing our choice towns to keep this tradition and this very important issue with schools,” said Rep. Linda Martin, D-Wolcott. Continue Reading →

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