Jim Harrison

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Liquor-Lottery merger shelved

MONTPELIER — The House sidelined a bill Tuesday that would have created a working group to study a merger of the Department of Liquor Control and the state’s Lottery Commission. The Democrat-led House was set to debate and vote on legislation Tuesday to create a group to study the merger sought by Republican Gov. Phil Scott. The governor signed an executive order in January to merge the two entities, but the House passed a resolution last week that nullified it. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said the House is also interested in a merger, but wants more details on what it would look like. The legislation up for debate Tuesday, H. 525, was a compromise, she said, that would have continued the conversation with potential action by the Legislature next year. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers push for Liquor-Lottery merger

MONTPELIER — Two lawmakers are proposing an amendment to merge the Department of Liquor Control and the state’s Lottery Commission in January as the House prepares to debate legislation Tuesday that creates a working group to study the issue. The legislation up for debate Tuesday comes on the heels of a resolution passed by the House last week that nullified an executive order from Republican Gov. Phil Scott that would have merged the two entities beginning this week. Scott signed the executive order in January, but state law allows either the House or Senate to nix such a restructuring of the executive branch with a resolution. While the Scott administration has questioned whether that de facto veto power of the executive branch is constitutional, it has not yet moved to challenge it. On Tuesday, Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, who was appointed to the House by Scott last week to fill a vacancy, is sponsoring an amendment along with Rep. Jim Condon, D-Colchester, to merge the Department of Liquor Control and Lottery Commission beginning Jan. Continue Reading →

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Gov. Scott picks Harrison for House seat

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has chosen former Vermont Retail and Grocers Association President Jim Harrison to fill the remainder of former Republican Rep. Job Tate’s term in the Vermont House. Harrison, 63, of North Chittenden, retired from VRGA at the end of 2016 after nearly 30 years leading the organization. Tate, who was serving his second term representing the Rutland-Windsor 1 House district, resigned Friday as he prepares for a lengthy overseas deployment with the Navy Seabees. Harrison said he received a call from Scott Monday evening and was told he would be appointed to replace Tate. “I am very, very honored and flattered to be appointed to fulfill Job’s House seat. Continue Reading →

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Rep. Job Tate of Mendon to resign ahead of deployment

MONTPELIER — Republican Rep. Job Tate of Mendon plans to resign his seat in the Vermont House in the near future in anticipation of being deployed with the United States Naval Construction Battalions. Tate, 34, a reservist with the Seabees, was elected to the House in 2014 and is in the first year of his second two-year term. Tate declined to discuss the terms of his pending deployment Friday to protect his fellow battalion mates but confirmed his intention to resign because of it. “As I’m preparing to leave, I think it sounds corny and cliche, but my affection for the people I represent has grown immensely. I’m really impressed with the people in my district — their resourcefulness, their sense of humor and also how frank they are and willing to demand change. Continue Reading →

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Senators reach bipartisan deal on national GMO labeling law

MONTPELIER — A bipartisan deal has been reached by two key members of the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on a national GMO labeling law that would nullify Vermont’s labeling law set to take effect on July 1. The compromise bill was announced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the Agriculture Committee’s ranking member, and its chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas. The legislation would create the first mandatory, nationwide label for food products containing genetically modified organisms that are commonly referred to as GMOs. “This bipartisan agreement is an important path forward that represents a true compromise. Since time is of the essence, we urge our colleagues to move swiftly to support this bill,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement. Continue Reading →

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Senate panel zeroes in on paid sick leave bill

MONTPELIER — A Senate panel is zeroing in on a paid sick leave bill that amends the version passed by the House last year to make it more palatable for the business community. The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs is expected to vote on the amended legislation Thursday morning after clarifying the expense it will have on the state as an employer. The bill is expected to easily clear the committee, according to Chairman Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland. The committee delayed a vote on Wednesday until the state Department of Human Resources could detail how much its bill would cost the state. The Senate bill looks to exempt the state from the mandate, except for temporary hourly workers. Continue Reading →

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Minimum wage increase coming Friday

MONTPELIER – Minimum-wage workers will see an increase in their earnings on Friday. On Jan. 1, the state hourly minimum wage will rise 45 cents to $9.60 an hour, part of a series of incremental steps that will raise the wage to $10.50 in 2018. In 2014, lawmakers passed legislation to raise the state minimum wage over a four-year period. At the time, the state minimum wage was $8.73 an hour. Continue Reading →

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Beverage tax advances to support health care spending

MONTPELIER — The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday advanced a sweetened beverage tax and a hike in the state’s cigarette tax to cover the cost of proposed health care initiatives after weeks of wrangling. Thursday’s vote came after a number of potential revenue sources were laboriously explored. Committee Chairwoman Janet Ancel, D-Calais, and Democratic House leaders considered myriad options before piecing together a plan that raises about $18 million and could also garner enough votes. In the end, the committee found just enough votes to pass the bill out on a 6 to 5 vote. “I would like to have a stronger vote coming out of the committee than we’re going to have, but I really appreciate the work that people have done to get to where we are,” Ancel said before the vote. Continue Reading →

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Proposed sugary drink prompts debate

MONTPELIER — Business and health advocates are squaring off over a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. Wednesday morning, the House Ways and Means Committee took testimony on a proposal that would add a 2-cent-an-ounce excise tax on beverages with added sugar. Advocates claim the tax would raise as much as $34 million in state revenue while curbing rising obesity rates, while opponents say the tax will hit poor people the hardest and will drive Vermonters over the boarder into New Hampshire to shop. What was a theoretical discussion in the morning took on more weight in the afternoon, when the House Health Care Committee approved a bill that included the proposed 2-cents-an-ounce tax, and a .3 percent payroll tax, as a way to boost Medicare reimbursements. Dr. Barbara Frankowski,M.D., professor of pediatrics at University of Vermont Medical School, discussed trends in sugary drink consumption, saying consumption in the United States has risen 500 percent during the past 50 years. Continue Reading →

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New law proposed to aid investigations of gasoline price fixing

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers will consider a bill to collect data to see if drivers are facing price fixing at the gas pump. Rep. Christopher Pearson, P-Burlington, will introduce a bill that would require gas distributors to disclose how much fuel they deliver to a filling station. The effort comes as his region continues to see some of the highest gas prices in the state, and provides some of the highest profit margins of any region in the United States. “This is not an outlier phenomenon,” Pearson said. “When you start digging into it, you see something is going on.”

Pearson’s remarks came Thursday evening during a joint session of the House Transportation and Commerce Committees. Continue Reading →

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