Joe Benning

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Battle of Bennington debate still rages

MONTPELIER — The Battle of Bennington was vigorously defended on the Senate floor Tuesday as the chamber sought to commemorate another Revolutionary War battle. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, rose to amend a House resolution commemorating the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Hubbardton. It was the resolution’s final “whereas” clause that drew Sears’ ire. It states that “the Battle of Hubbardton was the only Revolutionary War military engagement fought in Vermont, as the Battle of Bennington, despite its name, occurred in nearby New York…”

Sears rose to amend the resolution by stripping out the clause. Historians seem to agree that the battle was fought across the border in Walloomsac, N.Y., on Aug. Continue Reading →

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Supreme Court denies Shumlin’s appointment authority

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court ruled unanimously against outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin Wednesday, barring him from appointing a new justice to join its ranks and delivering a stinging blow on his penultimate day in office. Shumlin, a Democrat, had hoped to appoint a replacement for Justice John Dooley, who revealed in September that he was not seeking retention on the court. Shumlin triggered the replacement process by calling upon the Judicial Nominating Board to send him the names of well qualified candidates to succeed Dooley, who will leave the bench when his term expires on April 1. But Rep. Donald Turner, the House minority leader, and Sen. Joe Benning, the Senate minority leader, petitioned the Supreme Court on Dec. 21 asking it to prevent Shumlin from making the appointment. Continue Reading →

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Supreme Court hears appointment case, decision pending

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

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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With concession, Doyle’s storied Senate career to end

MONTPELIER — Longtime Washington County Sen. Bill Doyle withdrew his request for a recount on Wednesday, effectively ending his 48-year tenure in the Vermont State House. Doyle, a Republican who sought re-election earlier this month, finished behind Democrat Francis Brooks and the two other incumbent senators from Washington County. Brooks edged him out by just 191 votes. Doyle, 90, initially moved for a recount following the election, but on Wednesday he opted to forego that effort and concede defeat after consulting “advisors” who told him a recount was unlikely to close the gap. “In order to prevail in a recount, I would need 96 votes to change,” Doyle said in his statement. Continue Reading →

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Senate approves changes to the state’s public campaign financing law

MONTPELIER — The Senate has given its approval to a bill intended to make publicly financed political campaigns more viable. By a vote of 19 to 6, Senate lawmakers Friday approved S.220, a bill that moves up the date a candidate seeking public financing can start a campaign, which supporters say will allow these candidates to better compete with those who are privately financed. “My feeling is, we shouldn’t privilege publicly financed candidates, but we shouldn’t punish them, either,” said Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, the lead sponsor of the bill. The punishment Baruth is referring to is the amount of lead time a privately financed candidate has over one seeking public financing. While a privately funded candidate may declare his or her intent to run for office and begin raising money at any time, a candidate seeking public financing must wait until the Feb. Continue Reading →

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Senate gives preliminary approval to marijuana legalization

MONTPELIER — The question of allowing anyone to grow marijuana dominated a discussion Wednesday in which the Senate gave preliminary approval to legalization. By a vote of 16 to 13, Senate lawmakers gave the initial go-ahead to a bill that would allow for commercial cultivation and the sale of marijuana, setting the possibility for full Senate approval Thursday. On the floor, the bill had the support of someone who, months ago, would have seemed an unlikely legalization advocate: Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “If you had told me, even three months ago, that not only would I be voting yes, but speaking on the floor to defend the bill, I would have told you you were crazy,” said Sears, who said he was persuaded to support legalization following nearly a month of testimony and a series of public forums held around the state. Under the terms of the bill, starting in January 2018, it will be legal to grow and sell marijuana, provided you are licensed by the Department of Public Safety. Continue Reading →

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Republicans call for assessment of Vermont Heath Connect

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s top republicans are calling for an independent assessment of Vermont Health Connect to determine if it’s worth keeping. On Friday, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning and House Minority Leader Don Turner called for the Green Mountain Care Board to conduct an assessment of the state’s beleaguered health care exchange. “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging,” said Scott, whose remarks follow testimony offered earlier this week to the House Health Care Committee from Garton Consulting, which recommended an independent assessment. Sen. Benning, R-Caledonia, reviewed a two-year time line of blown deadlines, cost overruns and lack of functionality for Vermont Health Connect. “Vermonters have suffered a long history of broken promises and missed deadlines on this frustrating path to affordable and dependable health care,” Benning said. Continue Reading →

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DCF protection bill clears committee

MONTPELIER — A bill that offers enhanced penalties for assaulting mandated reporters and criminalizes the act of making a threat cleared a key legislative committee Wednesday. By a vote of 4 to 1, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave its go ahead to a proposed law that would offer stiffer penalties for assaulting a worker with the Department for Children and Families or anyone who is required to report suspected child abuse. The bill comes in response to the 2015 shooting death of DCF worker Lara Sobel, who was killed outside her office in downtown Barre in August, and is one of several recent initiatives to protect workers who sometimes find themselves in the middle contentious domestic situations. Under the terms of the bill, DCF workers and mandated reporters will join the ranks of police officers, first responders and medical providers; assaulting a member of any of these professions carries a stronger penalty than the assault of the average person on the street. The enhanced penalty for assaulting a mandated reporter would only be in effect if the assault is directly related to the act of making a DCF report. Continue Reading →

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Senate passes paid sick leave bill, again

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers once again approved a bill requiring employers to grant their workers paid sick leave. Wednesday afternoon, the Senate approved H.187, which will require all employers to offer three days of paid sick leave a year, beginning in 2018. “Tens of thousands of working Vermonters who have long lacked such basic protections as paid sick days eagerly await the bill being signed by Governor Shumlin to move us another step forward toward a society that protects health and human rights for all,” said Isaac Grimm, lead organizer at Rights and Democracy. The bill has had a long road, passing the House during the last legislative session before stalling in the Senate. This session, Senate lawmakers took up the bill, culminating with its passage last week. Continue Reading →

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