Scott praises House budget work, seeks some concessions

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott heaped praise on a budget plan crafted by House Democrats Wednesday, noting they followed his directive to forego raising taxes and fees. Still, the governor said he is hoping the House budget plan will still be amended Thursday and Friday as the full House debates the proposal to incorporate more of his ideas. “I mean this sincerely — I think they’ve done a lot of work and I appreciate their efforts. They could have gone in a different direction. They could have tried to raise taxes and fees and continued down this path that we’ve been going for the last decade or so, but they didn’t. Continue Reading →

Pot legalization flames out in House

MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders in the House jettisoned a bill Tuesday that would legalize marijuana in Vermont to the Human Services Committee after it became clear that they lacked the votes to pass it on the floor. The bill, H.170, was expected to finally have its day in the House after previous delays. But Democratic House leaders acknowledged late in the day that support for the measure was wavering. Instead of bringing the bill to a vote it was sent to the Human Services Committee on a voice vote where its prospects, and a timeline for consideration there, are unclear. The legislation would legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of dry marijuana, two mature marijuana plants and four immature points. Continue Reading →

Scott signs immigration bill into law as Trump administration cracks down

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott, flanked by Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Democratic lawmakers, signed into law Tuesday a bill aimed at curbing the impacts of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump in January. The signing comes just a day after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced at the daily White House briefing a crackdown by the Trump administration on jurisdictions that do not honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain people they may want to take custody of. Such jurisdictions have been commonly referred to as sanctuary cities or states, but there is no legal definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction. The bill signed into law Tuesday, S.79, grants Scott as governor the sole authority to enter into agreements with the federal government to deputize local, county or state law enforcement personnel to enforce federal immigration law. Scott said the law is necessary because the president’s executive orders indicate “a shift in federal policy in the areas of immigration and border security.”

“The executive orders indicate the federal government will seek agreements and engage with the states to perform immigration enforcement functions that are the responsibility of the federal government. Continue Reading →

House Appropriations sends state budget to the floor

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee gave unanimous approval Monday to a state budget plan that closes a $72 million projected gap between revenue and expenses without raising taxes and fees, a demand from Republican Gov. Phil Scott that has loomed over the Democratic majority for months. Overall, the Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, opted to cut general fund spending by about $67 million. Another $5 million in revenue is expected to be generated through enhanced compliance of existing taxes. The plan was approved by the committee on a 11 to 0 vote Monday afternoon, and won the support of four Republican members. The House’s 2018 fiscal year spending plan does not raise taxes or fees, as Scott demanded. Continue Reading →

Thousands of Vermonters at risk after massive data breach

massive security breach at the Vermont Department of Labor may have compromised the Social Security numbers of tens of thousands of Vermonters, and Gov. Phil Scott says the state is contemplating legal action against the private vendor responsible for the breach. The breach affects a database maintained for the state of Vermont by a third-party vendor, called America’s Job Link Alliance. Scott says the state learned Wednesday that “the vendor now believes more than 180,000 accounts on Joblink were compromised.”

The breach could affect anyone who’s applied for unemployment since 2003, and has entered information into an online jobs database that people are required to use to demonstrate they’re seeking new employment. When people file for unemployment, they’re in most cases required by state and federal law to look for work. “And as part of their regular job search, they have to put their information into the database and they then can use that database to help them find jobs,” says Commissioner of Labor Lindsay Kurrle. Continue Reading →

Scott taps Judge Karen Carroll for Vermont Supreme Court

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott has tapped Superior Court Judge Karen Russell Carroll Thursday to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, who will retire from the bench at the end of the month. The selection of Carroll, first appointed as a state Superior Court judge in 2000 by former Democratic Gov. Howard Dean, means the five-member Vermont Supreme Court will have a majority of women justices for the first time in state history. Scott, speaking at his weekly news conference Thursday, said the gender balance of the court did not weigh into his decision-making process. Rather, the governor said he focused on each candidate’s history and personality. “The personality of Karen, I think, lends itself well to the court,” Scott said. Continue Reading →

Vermont businesses may see decrease in costs, lawmakers say

MONTPELIER — Legislative leaders say Vermont businesses are expected to see a $28 million decrease in expenses this year from lower workers’ compensat ion and unemployment insurance costs. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said projections from the Vermont Department of Labor indicate businesses will see the significant decrease in their costs. The reprieve in unemployment insurance costs comes as the state recovers from the Great Recession when the number of unemployed Vermonters surged. “The really good news for business out there is that between 2016 and 2017, between workers’ comp and unemployment insurance, businesses within the state of Vermont will see a $28 million reduction in expenses, which is, I think, pretty exciting and good news for businesses,” Johnson said. The speaker said projections show a $ 1 2 . Continue Reading →

House Judiciary sends pot bill to the floor

MONTPELIER — The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday in favor of a bill to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, sending the measure to the full chamber after Democratic leaders secured enough votes to ensure it passes. The Judiciary Committee voted 8 to 3 in favor of H.170, which would make it legal in Vermont to possess 1 ounce or less of marijuana, up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants. It is expected to hit the House floor next week. The bill mirrors the policy already in place in Washington, D.C. But it does not create a legal, regulated market like the one that exists in Colorado and that was passed by the Senate last year. Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, the Judiciary Committee chairwoman, said she views the bill as addressing a criminal justice issue that continues to exist in Vermont. Continue Reading →

Gun-seizure bill advances in House

MONTPELIER — Following hours of tense — sometimes terse — debate, the Vermont House advanced a bill Tuesday that would allow police to temporarily seize guns from accused domestic abusers. The House gave the legislation preliminary approval on a voice vote to the measure, H.422, after voting 78-67 to approve the House Judiciary Committee’s changes. It will be up for final passage today. The bill would allow law enforcement officers to confiscate firearms from the homes of those accused of domestic violence for up to five days. Despite finding enough support to pass the House, its prospects in the Senate appear murky. Continue Reading →