Video: Vermont this Week on Vermont PBS

Vermont Press Bureau reporter Josh O’Gorman joins Terri Hallenbeck of Seven Days, Johnny Herrick of VTDigger and moderater Stewart Ledbetter on this week’s show.

Capitol Beat with the Governor 1-30-15

Play

Gov. Peter Shumlin sits down Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami to defend his payroll tax plan and discuss the needs of millennials in Vermont. He also predicts a Super Bowl victory for the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Gov. Peter Shumlin records Capitol Beat with the Governor.

Gov. Peter Shumlin records Capitol Beat with the Governor. (Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

Manufacturers call for less regulation, more education

MONTPELIER — Leaders in manufacturing say the nation and the state don’t need more regulations, but better regulations.

Approximately 100 people turned out Thursday for a conference hosted by Associated Industries of Vermont that looked at national and state trends in the manufacturing industry, as well as the challenges and opportunities the industry is facing.

“As you know all too well, manufacturing here in Vermont and across the country has its strengths, but there is still so much more to be done,” said Bill Driscoll, vice president of Associated industries of Vermont.

The conference included remarks from Ned Monroe, senior vice-president of external affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers, who offered a big-picture perspective on the state of the industry in the United States and in Vermont.

According to Monroe, nationally, manufacturing comprises 12.5 percent of the gross domestic product. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Vermont, approximately 31,700 people — or 10.4 percent of the workforce — are employed in the manufacturing sector, earning an average salary of $69,000 a year.

Monroe later clarified that this figure was not the average salary of a person working on an assembly line, but also included professions related to manufacturing, such as engineers and electricians.

Monroe said that between excessive regulation and having the highest corporate income taxes in the world, manufacturing in the United States is 20 percent more expensive than anywhere else.

“They can’t work in a total fog as to how they will be taxed and regulated,” said Monroe of the uncertainty faced by manufacturers. “We all want clean air and clean water and protect the beauty of the environment, but we don’t need new regulations. What we need are better regulations, because what we have now create barriers and harm global competitiveness.”

Janette Bombardier, Vermont senior location executive for IBM, echoed Monroe’s thoughts, especially when it comes to regulations created on the state level.

“There’s no need for Vermont to recreate regulations at the state level. There are plenty of federal laws already,” Bombardier said. “When you create new regulations at the state level, you create confusion.”

Bombardier also addressed another barrier to manufacturing in Vermont: the lack of skilled workers.

“We continue to have openings because we can’t find enough people,” said Bombardier, who said the starting salary at GLOBALFOUNDRIES in Essex for a person with a two-year degree is $44,000, plus benefits. “That’s a pretty good job for a 20-year-old who’s just starting out.”

According to Monroe, at the national level, 80 percent of manufacturers report that they struggle to find skilled workers.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said the expansion of manufacturing jobs in Vermont is a key component to retaining young, employed tax payers, many of whom have left the state in recent years.

“That’s the working class,” Scott said. “We’ve come to the end of the road in terms of how much can tax Vermonters.”

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, who serves on the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, said the current economic climate in Vermont offers challenges and opportunities.

“We do have some great manufacturing companies, environmental tech companies and biotech companies. We’re talking about these clean, green manufacturing jobs and they’re good jobs,” Scheuermann said. “We need to sell ourselves and we need to have a product to sell so we can show people that this is a state where things can happen.”

“The biggest takeaway for me is, we talk about not being able to keep our children in the state, but if we’re not educating them enough to take the jobs that are available, then we’re never going to be successful,” said Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland.

“Economic development of jobs is a key issue, and if we can’t develop jobs, we’ll lose parents and children,” said Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Montpelier. “We’ll lose a population we can’t afford to lose. We have to be competitive.”

josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com

Join the conversation with the Vermont Press Bureau by following us on Facebook, Twitter and at vermontpressbureau.com. Listen for new podcasts Mondays and Fridays, and look for Capitol Beat on ORCA Media and online.

House advances annual budget adjustment

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House gave preliminary approval by voice vote Thursday to the annual budget adjustment bill, which will lower state spending in the current fiscal year by $12 million.

The reduction in spending is needed following a revenue forecast delivered by state economists last week that projects lower revenues than initially thought. In fact, the current, 2015 fiscal year budget is has seen a downgrade of more than $41 million since January 2014 — a 2.8 percent reduction in funds available to support government operations.

The budget adjustment, unanimously approved by the House Appropriations Committee Monday, uses $10 million in spending reductions to cover the downgrade and sets aside $2 million for use in balancing the 2016 fiscal year budget. It brings available revenue in line with spending, and sets 2015 fiscal year spending less than 1.5 percent more than the previous year, said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.

“This budget brings general fund growth to under what average growth in the economy is,” she said.

Rep. Mitzi Johnson

Rep. Mitzi Johnson

The plan approved by the Appropriations Committee covers increased costs for Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace. Overall spending on the exchange is rising by $28.3 million, including $14.6 million in state funds, according to Finance Commissioner James Reardon. It is the first time state funds are being used for operations related to the exchange.

The budget adjustment also includes $2.15 million in additional funds for the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington. And, it funds 110 new opiate treatment slots in Bennington County, which will free up space in Rutland County.

“Though overall spending is down, we were able to make some investments,” Johnson said.

There are several large reductions, too, including $ 1 million in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, $437,000 in mental health housing vouchers and $224,000 in cuts to the Judiciary, which is expected to decrease the availability of judges.

Johnson said a plan to cut $500,000 from the Judiciary presented by Gov. Peter Shumlin was scaled back. Instead, the committee sent a letter to the Judiciary asking officials to find ways to cut costs without diminishing services or slowing justice.

Floor action on the bill came to a grinding halt Thursday afternoon when Rep, Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, sought to introduce an amendment seeking greater transparency in exchange spending. Republicans said the amendment was triggered because of new state spending on the exchange.

House Speaker Shap Smith called for a recess to allow the Appropriations and Health Care Committees to review the amendment and provide time for the parties to caucus.

Rep. Mary Morrissey

Rep. Mary Morrissey

Morrissey’s amendment called for halting the expenditure of funds included in the budget adjustment for VHC unless Lawrence Miller, the governor’s chief of health care reform, provides lawmakers with:

— A full accounting of the state and federal expenditures through 2014 for development and implementation of the exchange
— Projected remaining development and implementation of the exchange through 2015
— Remaining balance of any federal grants awarded to the state for development and implementation of the exchange
— Projected expenditures for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 for the operation of the exchange by funding source and department

House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, said the amendment will force the administration to become more transparent and will provide information to lawmakers that so far has not been forthcoming.

“I think it’s a very good one if you believe in transparent government,” he said.

The Appropriations Committee substituted its own version of the amendment, essentially stripping Morrissey’s fingerprints from the process. The Democratic version, which was approved by the House on a voice vote, removed the threat of halting spending.

“We’re prepared to take action should we not receive satisfactory information,” Johnson said in an effort to placate discontent among Republicans.

The House later agreed to add the amendment to the budget adjustment on a 135 to 0 roll call vote. Democrats said they have already asked the administration for the data sought in the amendment and have already received most of it.

Morrissey said she is “appreciative” that the Democratic majority choice “to copy” her amendment.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Exchange tax documents in the mail, state says

MONTPELIER — State officials are warning Vermonters who obtained health insurance through Vermont Health Connect to be on the lookout for important tax documents that should arrive in the mail by next week.

More than 25,000 1095-A forms have been mailed to Vermonters. The form has the financial information customers provided when signing up for health insurance coverage on the state’s online marketplace.

But Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller said some customers may experience problems because not all change of circumstance requests have been processed by the state. Another batch of changes is expected to be processed by Feb. 20, so some customers may received a corrected 1095-A.

“There will be some that get corrections but that doesn’t necessarily slow anybody down in completing their taxes,” Miller told reporters Thursday. “People may find that they’ve got a discrepancy … and need some help.”

State officials brief reporters on required tax documents for Vermont Health Connect customers.

State officials brief reporters on required tax documents for Vermont Health Connect customers.

Customers could also be required to pay back subsidies if their incomes changed during 2014, or could receive payments from the federal government, depending on whether their income went up or down.

Miller said 36 percent of the 37,239 Vermonters on the exchange had no federal subsidy. Ten percent of customers had only a federal subsidy, and 54 percent received a federal subsidy as well as additional premium assistance from the state.

Everyone who receives a 1095-A form in the mail will need to fill out IRS Form 8962. The 1095-A form includes the financial information needed to do so. Even those that didn’t receive tax credits as part of their coverage must complete the form if they purchased a bronze, silver, gold or platinum plan on the exchange, according to officials.

Customers with questions will see a “substantially faster” connection to the VHC call center than the IRS. Miller said the IRS “received inadequate funding to fully staff its’ call center” and wait times of at least 20 minutes are expected.

“That will be a bigger challenge for folks if they need to call the IRS help center,” he said.

Tax preparation software and accountants and tax preparers should be prepared to help complete required tax forms related to health care.

“Those people have been prepared and folks should expect a relatively smooth experience,” Miller said. “My hunch is, while this seems very new and very complicated, for the majority of people as they go through their taxes, it will be smooth.”

State officials said whether or not customers will owe money back for subsidies received or receive subsidies after-the-fact depends on how close their actual income was compared to what they estimated. That information is unclear to the state until forms are completed and filed.

“No way of knowing. This is the first year its’ been done. It’s hard to know what happens to people’s income over the course of a year. You would tend to assume, that if people based their financial information on their income from last year, most people would have seen a slight increase in their income,” Miller said. “It depends on what they estimated.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Report: Vt. lacks transportation to attract young adults

 The Vermont Transportation Board today released its Annual Report, which documents the comments the Board collected during a recent series of public forums that focused on the Transportation needs and wants of young adults.

 After hearing from some 250 Vermonters during a series of eight public forums that were held during the fall of 2014, the report documents that young adults are not only dissatisfied with Vermont’s transportation services, but believe that the state’s limited public transportation options combined with its limited number of bicycle-and-pedestrian facilities is causing many of their peers to either move away from the Green Mountains or not consider Vermont when choosing a place to live, work and raise a family.

 “Vermont’s population of young adults has been on the decline for decades now,” said Transportation Board Chairman Nick Marro. “The reasons for this trend are multifaceted, but somewhere within this decline lies a transportation nexus. Understanding how young people view the current state of Vermont’s transportation system, and understanding how those views differ from previous generations, is one of the keys to being able to properly plan for the state’s future.”

 Vermont for years now has seen a steady decline of young adults. The number of Vermonters between the ages of 20-39 shrunk 20 percent – a fall from 187,576 to 149,831 – over the 20-year period between 1990 and 2010, according to U.S. Census data. Adding significance to this trend is that Vermont’s overall population grew by 11 percent – from 562-758 to 625,741 – over this same time period.

 A groundbreaking national study published in late 2012 showed that today’s young adults drive motor vehicles significantly less than did young adults of similar ages just one generation ago. The study documented that from 2001 to 2009, the annual vehicle miles traveled by a 16-34 year-old decreased 23 percent from 10,3000 to 7,900. Over this same time period, these same young people took 24 percent more bicycle trips, walked to destinations 16 percent more often, and traveled 40 percent more miles by public transportation.

 “Vermont does not always follow national trends, so the Transportation Board wanted to talk with young Vermonters to learn whether their transportation behavior was in synch with their national counterparts,” Marro said.  “What young Vermonters told us is that they would like to live a lifestyle that is not dependent on an automobile, but that Vermont’s lack of car-free alternatives not only makes that impossible, but also deters many of their peers from considering Vermont as a place live and work.”

 The Board’s report details the reasons young people find Vermont transportationally unattractive. These reasons include a lack of public transportation that both runs at convenient times and stops at the destinations they need to reach, a lack of safe and well-lit bicycle facilities such as dedicated bike lanes in downtown areas or bike paths that reach other destinations, and a lack of well-maintained and well-lit pedestrian facilities like sidewalks that connect their homes to nearby restaurants and shops.

Report shows increase in the state’s livable wage

MONTPELIER — A new legislative report examines the “livable wage” needed to make it in Vermont without having to rely on social services.

Wednesday, the Joint Fiscal Office released a report stating that two adults living together with no children need to earn $13 an hour to pay all of their bills. The report is issued every two years, and $13 an hour represents a 52-cent increase compared with the livable wage in 2013.

“If you’re working full time and you’re playing by all the rules society puts out there for all of us, our feeling is — and I think this is shared by most Vermonters — you should be able to pay your bills,” said Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. “We’re not talking about an extravagant lifestyle. We’re talking a bare-bones budget.”

Kahler attributed the increase to the cost of housing.

The report takes into account a host of financial factors, from housing, food and transportation to health care, child care and clothing.

The wage estimates vary from the metro — meaning the Burlington region — to the rural, meaning everywhere else. According to the report, a single person with no children needs to earn $17.26 an hour to make it the Burlington area, compared with $15.42 an hour in the rural parts of the state.

The numbers for a single parent are far more daunting; a single parent with one child needs to earn $24.57 to $28.84 an hour to make his or her bills. For a single parent with two children, those figures range from $30.97 to $35.94 an hour.

This month, the minimum wage in Vermont rose 42 cents to $9.15 an hour.

“If we have a diminished middle class in this state, it means we’re not bringing in as much in terms of broad-based tax revenue,” Kahler said. “It also means we have more and more Vermonters relying on public assistance to supplement their earned income, and that is having a huge impact on our state budget.”

Kahler’s thoughts were echoed by Russ Bennett, owner of NorthLand Design & Construction in Waitsfield and a member of the Board of Directors for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

“Some jobs are actually a burden on society. Poverty breeds poverty and it costs people their dignity and it costs us all, as a society, money,” said Bennett, who pays his employees a livable wage as defined by the report. “If we pay people a livable wage, one, they won’t be a burden on society for these benefits, and two, they’ll be paying taxes.”

Liz Holtz, founder and CEO of Liz Lovely, a gluten-free cookie manufacturer in Waitsfield, said paying her employees a livable wage is an important component to the success of her business.

“The sustainability of our business is also the sustainability of their lives,” Holtz said. “A livable wage is the only real way I can do that for them. They don’t have to work three other jobs to get that livable wage to provide for their families.”

Bennett said the state should take measures to reward businesses that pay a livable wage, and penalize profitable businesses that do not.

“I think we should provide incentives, but we should also provide disincentives,” Bennett said. “If a company is making a good profit and it’s paying the minimum wage, it should probably pay a higher corporate tax to compensate for the burden it’s shifting onto society,” Bennett said.

josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com

Join the conversation with the Vermont Press Bureau by following us on Facebook, Twitter and at vermontpressbureau.com. Listen for new podcasts Mondays and Fridays, and look for Capitol Beat on ORCA Media and online.

Sorrell outlines state’s GMO case for lawmakers

MONTPELIER — Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell told the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday that he expects a judge to rule on dueling motions in the GMO labeling case within the next three months, which will help lay out a path for the rest of the case.

A host of food industry groups filed suit last year against the state’s GMO labeling law, set to take effect July 1, 2016, claiming it is unconstitutional. Sorrell briefed the committee Wednesday on the status of the case.

The plaintiffs have asked the judge for a summary judgment, claiming the state is restricting their free speech rights by forcing them to label products that contain GMOs. They also claim the state cannot prevent them from calling a product natural if it contains GMOs.

The state has filed a motion for dismissal of the lawsuit. Oral arguments have already been heard, and Sorrell said the state “attacked each count of the plaintiffs’ complaint.”

In some cases, restricting the right to speech can be unconstitutional, according to Sorrell.

“In first amendment free speech arena, there’s the freedom to speak or the freedom to remain silent. So, restricting speech can be a violation of free speech rights,” Sorrell said.

Attorney General William Sorrell testifies before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

Attorney General William Sorrell testifies before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

Under the state’s GMO labeling law, the state is compelling food manufacturers to state whether or not food products have GMO ingredients. “They’re objecting, saying, ‘You are forcing us to speak on labels and we don’t want to,’” Sorrell said.

In this case, Sorrell said the state has argued that it is not unconstitutional, and courts have found such compelled speech to be constitutional in similar cases.

“On the compelled speech issue we suggest that there are legitimate governmental concerns about environmental issues and public health issues as it relates to genetically engineered products, and legitimate governmental interest to accommodate religious considerations for a segment of the population,” he said.

The state’s motion to dismiss cited a case from an appeals court in Washington, D.C., one step below the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the appeals court ruled that meat must be labeled with the country of origin. The court applied a lenient standard for the government to overcome, according to Sorrell.

“We suggest in our argument that this is very much akin to the country of origin required disclosure on meat products that we’re talking about here,” he said. “We should win on the compelled speech piece.”

And, unlike products that contain alcohol or tobacco and require health warnings, the required labeling requires facts to be disclosed, much like nutrition labels.

“Unlike those kinds of warnings, what our statute requires are simply factual assertions without sort of the taint or flavor, if you will, of saying, ‘Caution, these are hazardous to your health,’” Sorrell said. “These are akin to the … kinds of closures that you typically see on products for calories, fat content, salt and sugar and the like. The standard to which we should be held shouldn’t be a higher standard because it is just a factual assertion as opposed to a warning.”

Sorrell said he is also confident in the state’s argument for prohibiting the use of the term “natural” for GMO products.

“There is no first amendment right to make either false or misleading statements,” he said.

The state’s case points to a posting on the website of Monsanto, a biotechnology company that is part of the suit against the state, that describes GMOs as “plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.”

“We say, ‘Listen, there’s no way you can say that this is natural,” Sorrell said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, indicated he believes that posting will harm the plaintiffs’ case.

“They kind of shot themselves in the foot with that post,” Starr said.

The suit also claims an undue burden on interstate commerce. Sorrell told the committee that the law provided more than two years notice to food manufacturers of the pending labeling requirement.

“The state was very accommodating there,” he said.

And GMO labeling is already required in more than 60 countries and two other states, Connecticut and Maine, have passed labeling requirements, but those have yet to take effect.

“This is not Vermont as some island in the world that’s requiring labeling,” Sorrell said.

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss is expected to issue a ruling on the initial motions within the next several months, according to Sorrell. That will inform both sides how the rest of the case will proceed, he said.

“I think we’re hoping to be on a track where whatever evidentiary proceeding we’re going to need to do will be done some time by late fall. Hopefully, a decision at the trial court [will happen], if not within this calendar year, then very early into the next calendar year,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Video: Public hearing on gas prices

Video: Hearing on S.9, protecting children from abuse

Release: Leahy testimony on Lynch

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member, Senate Judiciary Committee at the hearing on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to serve asAttorney General of the United States

It is a pleasure to welcome Loretta Lynch to this Committee.  Ms. Lynch is smart, tough, hard-working, and independent.  She is a true prosecutor’s prosecutor.  Her qualifications are beyond reproach, which is why she has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate twice before to serve as the top Federal prosecutor based in Brooklyn, New York.  I look forward to another swift confirmation process for Ms. Lynch.

 As the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Ms. Lynch has brought terrorists and cyber-criminals to justice, obtained convictions against corrupt public officials from both political parties, and fought tirelessly against violent crime and financial fraud.  Ms. Lynch has remained determined to protect the rights of victims.  She has worked hard to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve – as evidenced by the fact that her nomination enjoys strong support from both.  She has prosecuted those who have committed crimes against police officers, as well as police officers who have committed crimes.  Her record shows that as Attorney General, Ms. Lynch will effectively, fairly, and independently enforce the law.

 Born in North Carolina, Ms. Lynch is the daughter of a Baptist preacher and a school librarian.  We are honored to have members of her family with us today.  I know she will be introducing them to us momentarily.  Ms. Lynch grew up hearing her family speak about living in the Jim Crow South, but she never lost faith that the way to obtain justice is through our legal system.  Her nomination is historic.  When confirmed as the 83rd Attorney General of the United States, she will be the first African American woman to lead the Department of Justice.  I can think of no one more deserving of that honor.

 Ms. Lynch will lead a Justice Department that faces complex challenges.  Nearly one-third of its budget goes to the Bureau of Prisons, draining vital resources from nearly all other public safety priorities.  A significant factor leading to this budget imbalance is the unnecessary creation of more and more mandatory minimum sentences.  Passing new mandatory minimum laws has become a convenient way for lawmakers to claim that they are tough on crime – even when there is no evidence that these sentences keep us safer. That policy fallacy is one of the reasons we have the largest prison population in the world.  And it is why I oppose all mandatory minimums.  We must work together on thoughtful solutions to address our mass incarceration problem.

 The Justice Department also needs strong leadership to keep up with the rapid development of technology.  We must stay ahead of the curve to prevent and fight threats to cybersecurity and data privacy.  The growing threat of cybercrime is very real but so is the specter of unchecked government intrusion into our private lives – particularly dragnet surveillance programs directed at American citizens.  The intelligence community faces a critical deadline this June when three sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are set to expire.  We must protect our national security and our civil liberties.  We must work together to reform our Nation’s surveillance laws so we can achieve both goals and restore the public’s trust.

 The next Attorney General will play an essential role in protecting all Americans on these issues and many others.

 The President’s selection for Attorney General—no matter the President—deserves to be considered swiftly, fairly, and on her own record.  A role this important cannot be used as yet another Washington political football.  I am confident that if we stay focused on Ms. Lynch’s impeccable qualifications and fierce independence, she will be quickly confirmed by the Senate.  Ms. Lynch deserves a fair, thoughtful, and respectful confirmation process – and the American people deserve an Attorney General like Ms. Lynch.

Ms. Lynch, I thank you for your years of public service, and I look forward to your testimony.

Release: Shumlin makes transportation push to Congress

Testifying before a U.S. Senate Committee today, Gov. Peter Shumlin urged Congress to act quickly to replenish the Federal Highway Trust Fund so Vermont and other states can get to work repairing crumbling infrastructure. The Governor warned that in Vermont, projects relying on federal money need to go out to bid next month in order to begin construction in the spring. Failure of Congress to act could put at risk those badly needed projects and the jobs that go with them.

 The Governor was joined by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley from Alabama in a bipartisan show of support for continued transportation infrastructure funding from Congress. Vermont alone relies on roughly $300 million each year in funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which will become insolvent in May if Congress fails to act.

 “Our nation’s economic prosperity depends upon a reliable transportation system to efficiently move people and goods,” Gov. Shumlin said in written testimony submitted to the Committee. “Governors across this nation understand that infrastructure is fundamental to our economic competitiveness and job growth.  We make that connection every day as we travel around our states and talk to our citizens and employers.”

 In his testimony, the Governor pointed to the negative effect transportation infrastructure disruptions can have on jobs and the economy, citing the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene, which damaged 500 miles of roads and bridges throughout the state, and the sudden emergency closure of the Lake Champlain Bridge in 2008, which caused serious transportation problems for Vermonters in that region.

 Federal funding has helped Vermont make significant progress improving its transportation infrastructure in the past few years. In 2008, Vermont ranked near the bottom of all states – 45th in the nation – for numbers of structurally deficient bridges. By 2013 the state ranked 28th. The overall percentage of structurally deficient bridges has declined from 19.7 percent in 2008 to just over 7 percent in 2014. And the percentage of pavement rated in very poor condition has declined from a high of 36 percent in 2008 to only 13 percent in 2014.

 The Governor testified before the before U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and was introduced by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders who sits on that committee. Sen. Sanders has been influential in pushing Congress to act to fund transportation infrastructure investments and recently introduced a bill to rebuild America’s crumbling network of roads, bridges, transit systems, and other infrastructure projects. The five-year plan would invest $1 trillion in the effort and create or maintain at least 13 million decent-paying jobs.

 “In Vermont and across our country we have roads and bridges that are in desperate need of repair,” Sen. Sanders said. “That is why I have introduced legislation to invest $1 trillion to modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. I look forward to working with Gov. Shumlin and my colleagues in Congress to pass legislation to rebuild our state and national infrastructure.”

Release: GMP praises Sanders’ solar amendment

Green Mountain Power today issued the following statement from Mary Powell, President and CEO, in support of Senator Sander’s Rooftop Solar Amendment:

 “Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s Energy Company of the Future, supports Senator Bernie Sanders’s amendment for its economic and environmental value. The proposal will support installation of solar power systems on top of 10 million homes and businesses within the next decade.  This plan aligns with GMP’s mission to deliver low-cost, low-carbon, and highly reliable power, which is critical to our energy future.

 “GMP is partnering with customers to accelerate the pace of change here in Vermont. We are finding new ways to help Vermonters save money and be more comfortable, while moving to cleaner local sources of energy – exemplified by our Energy Homes of the Future ‘e-Homes’ in Rutland and our goal to make Rutland the Energy City of the Future. Generating energy through microgrids empowers our customers to make more choices about how and when they use energy.  We are also partnering with NRG Energy Inc. to bring innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable energy solutions for Vermonters.

“While some national utilities and national utility organizations are reaching out to GMP to join in opposition to fight innovative clean energy solutions like this solar proposal from Senator Sanders, we are moving full steam ahead with our efforts to find new ways to benefit customers. We want to transform the distribution grid from a 100-year-old electric delivery model to a new system designed to create efficiencies and distributed energy solutions through renewable technologies and energy storage. This is the future, and we are so excited to be a part of how Vermont is leading the way.

“We appreciate the efforts of leaders like Senator Sanders and others who recognize the importance of ongoing investments in renewable energy.”

Release: Libertarians oppose background checks

The following statement was released Wednesday morning:

The Vermont Libertarian Party opposes expanding background checks for gun sales in Vermont. Vermont firearm dealers currently conduct background checks on each person purchasing a firearm both in-store and at gun shows. Expanding the background check law will have no effect on stopping criminal purchases, because criminals don’t obey laws.

The effect of expanded background checks by the State of Vermont means unreasonable restrictions placed on Vermonters’ freedom and liberty. It’s not unreasonable to be afraid that we’ll end up with a poorly-crafted law like Washington State’s I-594, where a parent can’t even use their own gun to teach their child proper gun safety and gun use on their private property without committing a felony.

According to 2013 ATF and FBI crime statistics, violent crime in Vermont is among the very lowest in the nation, even though Vermont has one of the highest firearm ownership rates in the nation. The ATF and FBI crime statistics tracing firearms used in violent crimes back to their originating state of purchase show that Vermont is not a major originator of criminal firearms used in crimes occurring in other states, despite what some groups entering this debate might claim.

The Vermont Libertarian Party supports common-sense policy reform to reduce violent crime. We believe it is in the best interest of second amendment supporters whose rights are under attack and anti-gun advocacy groups concerned with public safely, to support ending prohibition, dispute the resolution related to the now-illegal market in drugs which can be settled peacefully in public courts and not violently on the streets or in homes. Prohibition creates violence. Laws prohibiting unpopular forms of voluntary trade do not cease that trade. They drive it underground, attract more violence, and encourage more potent concentrations of the product to make it easier to smuggle.

A black market for drugs fuels a demand for black market firearms used to settle disputes violently, because no civil authority effectively regulates prohibited commerce, and civil courts are closed to adjudicate these disputes peacefully.

Because prohibition and not firearms create conditions for criminal violence to rise, it is reasonable to argue that ending drug prohibition is the most sincere and effective way to combat criminal violence, and simultaneously protect liberty from future restriction. Repealing these consensual crime laws will end criminally-controlled commerce, result in a dramatic reduction in drug-related violence involving firearms nationwide, and reduce the stigma for people seeking help with substance use. As a result, the reduction in enforcement and correctional spending may be used to create more effective drug addiction prevention and recovery programs, or reduce taxes.

– See more at: http://www.vtlp.org/blog/1301/vermont-libertarian-party-opposes-expanding-background-checks-for-gun-sales-in-vermont/#sthash.omXvafU5.dpuf

Report: Vermont National Guard sees fewer sexual assault reports

MONTPELIER — Members of the Vermont National Guard reported fewer instances of sexual assault in 2014 than they did the year before, according to a report issued Tuesday.

According to the report, during fiscal year 2014 — Oct. 1, 2013 through September 2014 — three members of the Vermont National Guard reported being the victims of sexual assault. This figure is half of the six sexual assault reports received during fiscal year 2013.

“The Vermont National Guard is making real progress in building a culture of dignity and respect in our organization,” said Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, the Vermont adjutant general. “The fact that the number of sexual assault cases has declined tells us that we are making some progress, and we’re trying to create a confidence in the reporting system so that survivors feel comfortable enough and confident enough that if this does happen, they can come forward and they will get the support they need and perpetrators will be held accountable.”

In May 2013, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a requirement for the Vermont Adjutant and Inspector General to provide an annual report on the number of complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Guard members have the option of reporting sexual assault either through the Vermont National Guard or to local law enforcement. The Vermont National Guard has personnel who handle complaints of assault — as well as harassment and discrimination — and allow Guard members to file a complaint without having to follow the chain of command.

In 2014, The Vermont National Guard received two complaints of sexual assault from alleged victims who did not wish to trigger formal investigations. A third complaint was investigated by civilian law enforcement and was determined to be sexual harassment.

The report also details four cases carried over from previous years. Two cases are closed, pending more evidence or due to the inability of law enforcement to locate individuals for interviews. A third case was not investigated at the request of the alleged victim. In the fourth case, the perpetrator was convicted and adversely separated from the Vermont National Guard.

During the last four years, about half of the sexual assault complaints received involved alcohol, according to Vermont National Guard officials.

According to the latest report, in 2014, the Vermont National Guard received seven complaints of sexual harassment, including two involving the same perpetrator. In those two incidents, one complaint involved sexual harassment and the second involved a reprisal following the first complaint.

Of the seven incidents, two were resolved with what the report called “adverse or administrative action.” The other five investigations remain open.

In all sexual harassment instances, the victim was female.

For the second year in a row, there were no reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation. According to Cray, the lack of discrimination complaints among members of the Vermont National Guard — where gay and lesbian soldiers and airman can serve openly — is a reflection of the organization’s professionalism.

“The 4,000 men and women that are part of today’s military are professionals and understand what it means to be a soldier and an airman and respect that and respect those kinds of choices,” Cray said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said he had not seen the report, but he praised the efforts of the Vermont National Guard to curb incidents of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination.

“I’m really grateful to Gen. Cray and his team for really leading on this issue and saying, ‘Listen, enough is enough. We’re not going to put up with this in the Guard any longer, and we’re going to not only change training, change policies, change practices … but we’re also going to annually review how we’re doing and make sure that we’re staying on top of it,’” Shumlin said. “Gen. Cray has talked to me about this numerous times. He really wants to get it right. I commend him for getting it right and I look forward to receiving the report.”

josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com

Join the conversation with the Vermont Press Bureau by following us on Facebook, Twitter and at vermontpressbureau.com. Listen for new podcasts Mondays and Fridays, and look for Capitol Beat on ORCA Media and online.