Kurt Wright

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Scaled-back paid leave plan clears tax committee

MONTPELIER — The House Ways and Means Committee passed a paid parental and family leave bill Thursday that would provide six weeks of paid time off to Vermonters, but the bill still faces long odds. The committee’s version of the paid leave legislation was drastically scaled back from what the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee passed earlier this year. That committee’s version, which was sought by interest groups, included 12 weeks of 100 percent paid time off and a 0.93 percent payroll tax, which raise about $80 million to pay for the benefits. The Ways and Means Committee version passed Thursday — on a 7 to 4 vote — offers six weeks of paid time off and includes a 0.141 percent payroll tax on the first $150,000 of wages. It will cost about $17 million per year. Continue Reading →

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Immigration issue splits House GOP caucus

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House advanced legislation aimed at preventing local law enforcement from participating in federal immigration enforcement in a vote that split the Republican caucus with half going against a popular governor from their own party. The bill, S.79, has been pushed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and a tripartisan group of lawmakers in response to executive orders signed by President Donald Trump dealing with immigration and border security. It received preliminary approval in the House Tuesday on a 110-24 vote, with 24 Republicans voting against it. The bill originated in the Senate where it passed 30-0 and was unchanged by the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Newfane, the vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told his colleagues the legislation is “not about immigration” at the state level. Continue Reading →

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House lawmakers vote to raise the smoking age

MONTPELIER — House lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a bill that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. The House voted Tuesday to approve a bill that gradually raises the age someone can buy, possess and use all forms of tobacco during the next three years, and would increase taxes on tobacco products to compensate for lost state revenue. “Our hope is this will help move Vermont to a culture of healthier youth, less government spending and a brighter future,” said Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Putney, one of 16 co-sponsors of the bill. Under the terms of the bill, the age to purchase, possess and use tobacco would rise from 18 to 19, beginning Jan. 1, 2017. Continue Reading →

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House convenes midnight session to address spending thresholds

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers burned the midnight oil early Saturday morning to approve a bill that softens the impact of school district spending thresholds. In the sort of move normally reserved for the final days of the legislative session in May, House members convened a special session shortly after midnight Saturday morning, after reaching a deadlock the day before on a bill that would raise school district spending thresholds and lower the tax penalties for exceeding them. It was more than one week ago when House lawmakers passed a bill that would raise every spending threshold — which vary from district to district — by 0.9 percent, and lower the tax penalty for exceeding them from 1 dollar for every dollar over the threshold to 25 cents for every dollar over. The thresholds themselves are a provision of Act 46, the school district merger bill passed by lawmakers in 2015, which seeks to create larger districts to both promote equity for students and contain costs. The thresholds were intended as a two-year stop-gap measure to give relief to property tax owners while the mergers take place. Continue Reading →

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House lawmakers vote to raise school spending thresholds

MONTPELIER — House lawmakers have taken a step to address school district spending thresholds, but Senate lawmakers are looking at repealing the thresholds altogether. On Tuesday, by a unanimous vote, the House Education Committee approved a bill to raise every individual school district’s spending threshold by 0.9 percent for fiscal year 2017. “We have heard quite a bit of testimony and have heard from a lot of people back home who want to protect the cost control that was put into effect last session while recognizing every district is unique,” said Rep. Tim Jerman, D-Essex Junction. “This is a good compromise.” (more…) Continue Reading →

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Shumlin delivers final State of the State Address

MONTPELIER — In a speech that was free of protests, Gov. Peter Shumlin offered direction for his final year in office, with Republicans complaining he is ignoring the plight of property tax payers and state finances. It was one year ago during Shumlin’s 2015 State of the State Address when hundreds of protestors flooded the State House to protest his abandonment of a single-payer health care system. On Thursday, a very visible police presence screened people entering the building and prevented the general public from entering the balcony of the House Chamber. Perhaps it was the lack of an issue to protest, or the upcoming appearance of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, but either way, Shumlin’s speech Thursday featured an absence of chanting and banners. And Shumlin’s speech erased any thoughts he sees himself as a lame-duck governor, as he outlined proposals touching on education, opiates and marijuana legalization. Continue Reading →

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School spending thresholds might undergo “tweaking”

MONTPELIER – Spending thresholds for school budgets might undergo some “tweaking,” but a repeal seems unlikely. Members of the House Education Committee on Wednesday expressed reservations in repealing a provision of the state’s school district merger law intended to curb spending, but were open to making changes to the threshold formula. The committee – which, during the last legislative session crafted Act 46, which seeks to merge school districts with the goals of reducing costs and expanding educational opportunities – took testimony from a host of education experts who spoke in opposition to a provision intended to cap education spending statewide at 2 percent for the next two years. “The provision was put in because of the widespread agreement that property taxes are burdensome to Vermonters,” said Committee Chairman David Sharpe, D-Bristol. “I’ve heard widespread concern that it won’t put downward pressure on property taxes because they (the districts) will be forced to spend above the threshold and will be forced to spend more in property taxes.”

The spending threshold formula looks at a district’s per-pupil spending and compares it to the current fiscal year’s statewide average of $14,096. Continue Reading →

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House GOP will support veto of tax bill

MONTPELIER — House Republicans voted in caucus Thursday afternoon to help sustain a veto of a revenue bill — if Gov. Peter Shumlin elects to veto the legislation — as House and Senate negotiators look to finalize how they will raise money to support the state budget. GOP Leader Don Turner, of Milton, asked his caucus to take a position Thursday as negotiators continued to work. “It’s my feeling that if the governor is going to step up and help us … then I think that’s a good thing,” Turner said. Shumlin is opposed to how lawmakers have chosen to raise revenue. The House plan caps income tax deductions at 2.5 times the standard deduction. Continue Reading →

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Dem leaders look to kill ban on teacher strikes

MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders are maneuvering to amend a bill slated to hit the House floor Wednesday by replacing language that calls for a ban on teacher strikes and the imposition of labor contracts by school boards with a study. That would significantly weaken the legislation, H.76, that has been pushed heavily by Republican Rep. Kurt Wright of Burlington. Although he has secured a vote on the bill from Democratic leaders, they are now looking to kill off key parts. In addition to the ban on strikes and contract impositions, it would institute a 1-cent tax rate increase on districts that cannot reach a contract agreement within one year. House Deputy Assistant Majority Leader Tim Jerman, D- Essex, said Democrats are considering an amendment to be offered on the House floor that would institute a study on whether teacher strikes should be banned. Continue Reading →

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Republicans react to budget address

MONTPELIER – Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin’s budget address Thursday drew both praise and criticism from lawmakers on the other side of the aisle. Republican legislators praised initiatives that they claimed to be their own, while continuing to hammer Shumlin on the budget and the nearly $100 million shortfall. Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, took issue with raising the payroll tax as a method to leverage more money for Medicaid. “We’re in a really tough budget year. Everybody knows that, so when you hear a budget that is still relying on federal money, is still relying on another tax, that becomes problematic to me,” Benning said. Continue Reading →

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