Jane Kitchel

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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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Senate advances budget and tax bills unanimously

MONTPELIER — The Senate advanced its version of the 2018 fiscal year state budget and a corresponding tax bill Wednesday on unanimous votes. The Senate’s spending plan, passed on a 30 to 0 vote, includes a $1.56 billion General Fund, which is 1.7 percent higher than the current 2017 fiscal year budget. It is slightly lower than the House-passed version, however, which grew 1.8 percent over the current year. Overall, the Senate’s total state budget including all state and federal funds totals $5.83 billion — slight more than the House’s $5.815 billion in total spending. The Senate version spends more than $13 million in ways that differ from the House proposal, which cleared the House on a 143 to 1 vote. Continue Reading →

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Watch: Capital Beat with Sen. Jane Kitchel and Rep. Kitty Toll

Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, are on the program this week to discuss the 2018 fiscal year state budget. The two sisters are charged with ushering a nearly $6 billion budget through the Legislature. Capital Beat airs on Vermont PBS Plus Mondays at 8:30 p.m. Continue Reading →

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VSEA, Democratic candidates call for funding labor contract

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees Association and the three Democratic candidates for governor are calling on lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract for state workers recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board, but Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin says it is too costly. The VSEA and the candidates — Matt Dunne, Sue Minter and Peter Galbraith — held a State House news conference Wednesday calling on the Legislature to include a 2 percent salary increase for state workers in the 2017 fiscal year state budget and a 2.25 percent increase in the 2018 fiscal year budget. That increase was recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board Tuesday in a 3 to 2 split decision over the Shumlin administration’s proposal for a 1 percent increase in 2017 and a 1.25 percent increase in 2018. VSEA President Dave Bellini said Wednesday the union has been seeking a fair contract through collective bargaining since last August that respects state employees. “You show respect and support by putting your money where your mouth is — funding our contracts, our retirements, making investments in safety for the hardworking Vermonters who are state employees,” he said. Continue Reading →

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Senate approves marijuana legalization

MONTPELIER — Senators made it easier for the little guy to break into the cultivation business when they gave their final approval to marijuana legalization. By a vote of 17 to 12 Thursday afternoon, the Senate approved what has been arguably been the most debated bill of this legislative session, and in doing so, sends it on to House for further discussion. “It’s a relief for me to have it out of the Senate,” said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and someone who became an unlikely advocate for legalization. Sears thanked his fellow lawmakers, including colleagues such as Sens. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, and Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, both of whom voted for the bill while in committee despite their opposition, which allowed the bill to come to the Senate floor for debate. Continue Reading →

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Senate pot vote came down to the wire

MONTPELIER — An unknown outcome is a rare occurrence when debate begins in the Vermont Senate, but it remained unclear Wednesday afternoon as senators took to the floor to consider legalizing marijuana if they would, in fact, vote to advance it. “I honestly don’t know,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears said ahead of the vote. “We’ve got a few squishy people.”

In the end, 16 senators prevailed over 13 members who opposed legalization. The preliminary vote Wednesday to advance the legislation to a final vote came after a flurry of activity in the State House by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and others who were trying to win every potential vote. Shumlin hunkered down in his ceremonial office Wednesday morning just down the hallway from the Senate Chamber. Continue Reading →

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Marijuana bill limps out of committee

MONTPELIER — The Senate’s marijuana legalization bill limped out of its final committee and will come up for a full vote this week. By a 4 to 3 vote Monday afternoon, The Senate Appropriations Committee gave its approval to S.241, which would permit the legal sale of marijuana in 2018. Vermont is looking at becoming the fifth state to legalize marijuana — following Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — and would be the first state to do so through the legislative process rather than though a ballot initiative. To even get out of the committee — the third Senate Committee to review the bill since the start of the legislative session — required the affirmative vote of a Senator who said she will oppose the bill when it comes to the floor Wednesday. “I will vote yes to bring it to the floor, with a clear vote of no on the floor,” said Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden. Continue Reading →

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State officials not banking on windfall from Keurig sale

MONTPELIER — The pending sale of Keurig Green Mountain is set to make a number of shareholders wealthy, but it also could deliver a significant windfall to the state’s coffers through the collection of capital gains taxes. The acquisition of Keurig, the Waterbury-based coffee giant, by JAB Holding Co. was announced in December, but is expected to close some time in the first quarter of 2016. The $13.9 billion transaction is an all cash deal and will pay shareholders $92 per share. Generally speaking, anyone earning income through a capital gain can exempt the first $5,000 in earnings, according to Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers look to retirement bonuses to save the state money

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has proposed a retirement incentive package for state employees that could save the state $2.5 million, providing most of the retirees are not replaced. Monday morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed a proposal that would offer financial bonus to as many as 300 employees who are already eligible to retire, with the goal of leaving 75 percent of those positions vacant after the employees retire. The offer would be open to employees who are at least 62 years old and have put in at least 5 years of service; employees with at least 30 years of service; and employees whose age and years of service totals 87 or more. The proposal would pay employees who have worked at least 5 years and less than 15 years a bonus of $750 for every year worked. Employees who have 15 or more years would receive $1,000 for every year worked. Continue Reading →

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