Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Rundown Week 14: Melissa Jenkins

This week on the rundown Jenna Pizzi discusses what it was like to cover the murder of Melissa Jenkins.

The Rundown – Week 13 from 802 Live on Vimeo.

3/29/12 – Couple charged in murder

Read the court documents regarding the case and the arrest of Allen and Patricia Prue.

3/28/12 – Jenkins’ death ruled a homicide

3/27/12 – Hundreds hold vigil for Jenkins

3/27/12 - Police follow leads in missing woman case

 

 

Slick Willie Shaw, Ben & Jerry ride the Obama wave for a free scoop of publicity

So by now you likely know that President Barack Obama is coming to town Friday to rake in some coin for his presidential re-election bid and rally his Democratic base.

But did you know Slick Willie Shaw was going to be in Burlington too?

Slick Willie and his fellow Harlem Globetrotters are among those riding the president’s coattails to get a little publicity for their event. 

“On the same day as President Obama’s anticipated visit, Harlem Globetrotter Slick Willie Shaw will add to the patriotic feel in Burlington, VT,” reads the news release.

Continue reading

Shumlin trying out for role on national stage

Less than two years into his new job,Vermont’s first-term governor has his sights set on a position of more national prominence.

As first reported in POLITICO, Peter Shumlin wants to take the reins at the Democratic Governors Association. We spoke with the governor this morning outside his ceremonial office in the Statehouse, and he confirmed that he is indeed seeking the DGA chairmanship.

He says he can use the position to galvanize support for issues including health care, job creation and economic development. With Congress shackled by “Tea Party Republicans,” Shumlin said, “we need governors who will take action on these important issues.”

“I would be excited to help generate some momentum on those issues, by serving as chairman of the DGA,” Shumlin said.

POLITICO had the scoop on Shumlin, who told the news outlet Wednesday that he’d like to succeed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“I am a candidate,” he said. “I am interested in chairing the DGA. I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with former chairman Jack Markell and current chair Martin O’Malley and we’ve been blessed with extraordinary leadership there. Gov. O’Malley has done a great job at keeping the DGA a force. I’d love to give back to an organization that’s given a lot to me.”

He does owe them. The DGA and its Vermont PAC, Green Mountain Future, invested $1.1 million helping Shumlin carry the hard-fought election in 2010.

The DGA customarily doesn’t elect its chair until December, and the POLITICO is characterizing Shumlin’s campaign for the job as “early and aggressive.”

Interesting tactic for a guy who says he won’t begin his reelection campaign for governor until Labor Day.

Given its small size,Vermont in recent years has wielded disproportionate influence over the governors associations. Howard Dean served as chairman of the DGA in 1997 and chairman of the National Governors Association in 1994 and 1995.

James Douglas chaired the NGA from 1999 to 2000 and headed the Republican Governors Association immediately prior.

Assuming he wins a second term, we’ll find out in December whether Shumlin can match his predecessors’ sway with gubernatorial colleagues.

According to POLITICO, Shumlin is the early favorite to win the gig.

Conservative group says Shumlin schmoozing with Big Pharma

A conservative watchdog group wants to know why Gov. Peter Shumlin was rubbing elbows with high-rolling pharmaceutical executives at a soiree in Washington, D.C., last month.

Shumlin has long touted his adversarial realtionship with the health care industry. Big Pharma and private insurers, especially, have landed in the crosshairs of the governor’s rhetorical fire.

But he broke bread and clinked glasses with some of those same industries’ top dogs last month at a pair of events sponsored by the Democratic Governors Association.

In one event, open to donors who have given at least $100,000 to the DGA, Democratic governors – Shmlin among them – gave face time to represenatives from Allergan, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Pfizer. A separate event for donors in the $250k-plus group (the Founders’ Circle, in DGA lingo) included execs from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Records made public by Judicial Watch, an organziation that airs the ill-doings of (mostly) Democratic elected officials, include an email exchange involving a Pfizer exec who asks to be seated next to Shumlin at one of the events.

“Steve Janson with Pfizer requested to sit at Governor Shumlin’s table,” Frank Bergold, deputy Finance Director for the DGA, wrote in a Feb. 23 email to Shumlin aide Allison Richards. “I wanted to run that by you to make sure it was okay.”

A little more than an hour later, Richards responded:

“Governor Shumlin is great with that.”

Shumlin Chief of Staff Bill Lofy says there’s no ‘there’ there. Janson, Pfizer’s VP of public affairs, was a former staffer of Gov. Howard Dean and is a “longtime friend” of the governor’s.

That’s why they sat next to each other, he said.

Tom Fitton, head of Judicial Watch, said Shumlin was nonetheless seated at the intersection of money and politics, where special interests use their money to buy access and favor with high-profile elected officials.

“I’m not saying it’s extortion or bribery. But it’s pay to play, and it’s an ugly business,” Fitton said today. “I think Gov. Shumlin shoud explain why it is he thinks it’s appropriate to offer access to special intersts in exchange for donations, and what policies, if any, were discussed at these meetings.”

Lofy says they’ve picked the wrong target. Shumlin’s record against the pharmaceutical lobby in particular, Lofy said today, is unassailable.

“No governor in the country has a stronger or more consistent record of standing up to the pharmaceutical industry than Gov. Shumlin,” he said. “From fighting for fair drug pricing to standing up to predatory data mining, Gov. Shumlin has time and again fought Pharma on behalf ofVermont consumers. This attack illustrates just how little this extreme right wing Washington group knows about the governor’s record andVermont’s history of opposing the pharmaceutical industry.”

It’s worth noting that the Judicial Watch story stemmed from a March 7 records request relating to a totally different story the organization was working on. All the Democratic governors were FOIAed. Shumlin’s office just happened to be the first to respond, and the documents they produced included an itinerary documenting the DGA donor dinners.

The DGA donor events occurred while Shumlin was in the nation’s capital for an annual meeting of the National Governors Association.

Shumlin on Jenkins, jobs and fracking

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s press conference on Wednesday covered everything from the shocking murder of a school teacher in northeastern Vermont to the question of whether a job at a nuclear plant is a “green” job. Here are some snippets.

JOBS: The governor took a two-pronged approach to trumpeting the brightening jobs picture in Vermont. First, he pointed to the Vermont Department of Labor numbers showing the unemployment rate dropped below 5 percent for the first time since 2008. It hit 4.9 percent for February.

He also touted a report from the U.S. Department of Labor showing that Vermont has the highest proportion of green employment, more than any other state with nearly 13,000 jobs.

But wait, does that figure include the roughly 600 positions at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant that Shumlin has worked so hard to shut down?

It does.

Shumlin doesn’t consider those nuclear jobs green.

“If you lived where I live and you had the question of a high-level nuclear waste dump in your backyard with thousands and thousands of years of radioactive life, we have a hard time in Windham County being convinced that those are clean, green jobs,” said Shumlin.

But he also argued the inclusion of nuclear jobs doesn’t mean the green jobs report he was touting that ranked Vermont so high is flawed.

JENKINS MURDER: Shumlin said Melissa Jenkins, the 33-year-old St. Johnsbury woman found dead this week, was the “model of a good mother.”

“This unspeakably horrid tragedy is so unlike what we expect in Vermont, and I just want to join all Vermonters in sending her family our love and support in this difficult time,” said Shumlin, who also commended police for their work on the investigation.

FRACKING: The Vermont House passed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, the controversial practice used to extract natural gas. The Senate took testimony on so-called “fracking” Wednesday.

Some advocates want an outright ban rather than a moratorium, but Shumlin hasn’t given much thought to the moratorium vs. ban question.

“I haven’t given it a lot of thought knowing that Vermont doesn’t have too much gas to frack for, and I intend to focus on things that are actually relevant to Vermont,” he said.

House committee room renovations, sound system improvements on track

Lawmakers had to root around for money in the capital bill budget adjustment this year, so that they could set aside $18 million to respond to the flooded-out office complex in Waterbury.

They lifted the legislative couch cushions and found the cash in delayed projects and funds that had been freed-up as a result of Tropical Storm Irene.

Where they didn’t squeeze money was a pending project to make the committee rooms where they spend their days hammering out bills and taking testimony prettier, more accommodating and more functional.

The capital bill budget adjustment that includes $18 million to deal with post-Irene construction also includes $420,960 to “renovate and refurnish” a handful of House committee rooms.

Some of the money will also be used to update the Statehouse sound system. (In the House chamber, lawmakers speak through microphones when raising a point of order or interrogating other legislators).

Some of the House committee rooms were renovated last summer, and the rooms on the third floor are scheduled for work this summer.

But Rep. Alice Emmons, the chairwoman of House Corrections and Institutions Committee, said it wasn’t self interest that has prompted lawmakers to keep the funding intact.

Tight committee rooms that inefficiently use space make it hard to even open the door at times, which she said is a disservice to the public.

Accommodating average Vermonters and letting them see their representatives at work reforming health care or building the state budget is important to keeping Vermont’s tradition of open and accessible Democracy intact, she said.

“That’s what this is about,” Emmons said.

In exchange for ‘major concessions,’ utilities win big endorsement for proposed merger

Huge news this morning fromVermont’s top utility regulator, who says her department will formally endorse a proposed merger between the state’s two largest electric utilities.

In a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Department of Public Service, Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service Corp., the parties have come to agreement on some of the most controversial provisions in the merger deal, including windfall protection and ownership of VELCO.

Commissioner of Public Service Elizabeth Miller said the department signed on to the deal only after winning “major concessions” from the utilities. The proposed agreement now goes to the Public Service Board, the three-person independent panel ultimately responsible for approving the merger.  

Miller said in a statement that the concessions “significantly increase (the merger’s) value to customers and to Vermontas a whole.”

Negotiations over the merger have centered largely on three issues: ownership of VELCO, the state’s electric transmission company; a windfall-sharing provision to compensate CVPS ratepayers for bailing out the utility in 2001; and how to split projected savings associated with the merger between shareholders and ratepayers.

Miller said the deal will prevent Green Mountain Power from wielding majority control over VELCO by requiring the consolidated utility to give up seats on the transmission company’s governing board, and by transferring about one-third of its VELCO ownership to a nonprofit public benefit corporation.

Miller said the utilities will satisfy the windfall-sharing provisions by investing $21 million in weatherization and efficiency programs, including $12 million in the first year and another $6 million by the end of 2013.

Pending legislation inMontpelierwould require the utility to satisfy the windfall provision by sending checks totaling $21 million directly to CVPS’ 137,000 customers.

The deal also hastens the rate at which projected savings are used to reduce rates for customers. The deal is expected to shave $144 million from operating costs over the next decade, though, under the utilities’ initial proposal, ratepayers wouldn’t have seen any substantial benefit until years six-through-10 of the merger.

The Rundown – Week 12

The Rundown – Week 12 from 802 Live on Vimeo.

This week Peter Hirschfeld sits down with Don Turner to talk about what it is like to be in the minority party at budget time.

Top stories of the week from the VPB:

5. House OKs big transportation bill

4. Donovan to challenge Sorrell for Attorney General

3.Bill proposes gradual expansion of school choice

2. Senate snuffs attempt at marijuana ‘decrim’

1. Bill could kill merger, utility execs say

 

Benning, Baruth push marijuana ‘decrim’ amendment in Senate

**********UPDATE: The Senate voted 14-13 — with Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell casting the tiebreaking vote — to let the marijuana decriminalization amendment “lie,” along with the underlying legislation.

That means its essentially in a holding pattern, but clearly many lawmakers lack an appetite to tackle this bill at this point. 

It was a convoluted (some might say dazed and confused) day of action on this bill both in the Senate Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.

There were a lot of annoyed senators in the Statehouse after this one.

Read tommorrow’s Times Argus and Rutland Herald for a full report.

Here’s the original blog post outlining the issue below:

An effort to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana sprouted unexpectedly in the Senate on Friday.

Sen. Joe Benning, a Caledonia County Republican, and Sen. Philip Baruth, a Chittenden County Democrat, launched an effort to amend a piece of legislation scheduled for the Senate floor.

Their amendment would make possession of an ounce or less of pot a $100 civil penalty on par with a traffic ticket.

Benning and Baruth will try to insert their amendment into a bill, S.138, that touches on several judicial issues and has language related to marijuana criminal penalties.

That language, they argue, makes their decriminalization amendment “germane” to S.138.

The Senate is on the floor now but S.138 has not come up yet, so the outcome is not clear.

 

Bertrand leaves GOP post, party coffers sapped

Mike Bertrand ended his short stint as executive director of the Vermont Republican Party last week, departing the post to dedicate more time to his private consulting business.

Bertrand succeeded Pat McDonald last November, but said growing demands on his time meant he “couldn’t in good faith” stay on as the party’s executive chief.

“I’d kind of bitten off more than I could chew,” Bertrand said. “But I absolutely plan to stay involved in the party. In fact I was at the (GOP’sMontpelier) office for a couple hours (Thursday).”

Bertrand hadn’t been paid since the beginning of the year, according to GOP Chairman Jack Lindley. An ebb in fundraising, Lindley said, has temporarily sapped the party’s accounts. Lindley said he intends to deliver Bertrand his back pay, though Bertrand said it really isn’t a big deal.

“Trust me,” Bertrand said. “It isn’t a lot of money and I’m not worried about it.”

Lindley said he’ll stand in as the party’s chief communications officer until the organization brings on a new executive. Lindley said he’s trying to raise enough money to fund the party through the 2012 election cycle.

“Obviously there’s a lot going on this summer, and we’ve got to figure out our configuration in terms of field personnel,” Lindley said. “We’re in a cycle right now where we’re in a little bit of a lull, fundraising-wise, but I’m working on that right now.”

Shumlin adminstration polling on taxpayers’ dime?

That’s the allegation from critics of Peter Shumlin’s single-payer health care law. They say a random-digit telephone survey of 1,000 Vermonters, commissioned by the Department of Vermont Health Access, is testing public opinion on one of the governor’s campaign keystones.

DVHA officials say their intentions are pure. The survey, according to Commissioner Mark Larson, is funded by a federal grant and is intended to gather information crucial to the development of the health-benefits exchange.

Information collected in the $40,000 survey, he says, will be used to customize Vermont’s federally mandated online insurance marketplace.

Larson insists the survey isn’t a public-opinion poll, and that it has nothing to do with single-payer health care.

Why then, critics are asking, does the survey ask folks about “Green Mountain Care,” and whether they have a “positive, negative or neutral” opinion of the program?

Around Montpelier at least, ‘Green Mountain Care’ is commonly used to refer to the single-payer system envisioned in Act 48. 

Larson, however, says it’s also the term used to describe an assemblage of government-subsidized  health insurance prorgams – like VHAP, Catamount and Dr. Dynasaur. THAT’S the Green Mountain Care the survey is talking about, Larson says.

You can read all about the flap, for free, at http://www.vermonttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/RH/20120322/NEWS03/703229846

Sen. Nitka hospitalized after fall

LEBANON, N.H. — A Windsor County State Senator is hospitalized at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire after a major fall in her apartment last Thursday.
Alice Nitka of Ludlow was in her Montpelier apartment when she fell down the stairs and injured her spleen, according to her husband Martin Nitka. He said that Alice “saw a spider, reached over (to remove it), and fell down some stairs.”
Alice Nitka went transported to Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin and spent three nights in the hospital. Her husband said doctors “hoped it would heal on its own” but she was transferred to DHMC on Monday for additional medical attention.
“The doctors did a medical procedure where they plugged a hole in her spleen,” Martin Nitka said. “We have no idea when she will be released. It depends on how everything works out.”
– From Christian Avard of the Rutland Herald

Vt. enviros mourn Vermont Yankee’s 40th

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, Chair of the House Natural Resources & Energy Commitee, speaks at a press conference at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday about his disappointment that Vermont Yankee remains open. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

 Dashed hopes and shattered dreams were on display at a Statehouse news conference Wednesday where lawmakers, environmental activists and representatives from some of the state’s most influential environmental groups mourned Vermont Yankee’s 40th anniversary.

They had hoped to be celebrating this spring day the final shutdown of the nuclear plant. Alas, ’twas not to be.

“Like others, I had this on my calendar as a retirement party,” said Sandra Levine, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation. “But it seems like I’m going to be drinking alone – at least for today.”

The opponents of the nuclear reactor said they remain determined to shut down the reactor in Vernon.

Lawmakers look to impose will on GMP/CVPS merger proposal

A coalition of lawmakers will look to sway the terms of a blockbuster utility merger with a proposed amendment to a renewable-energy bill Wednesday.

In a morning press conference at the Statehouse, lawmakers from all three major parties will introduce language that would effectively force the consolidated utility to pay ratepayers at Central Vermont Public Service Corp. a direct cash payment before any merger deal goes through.

The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington), Patti Komline (R-Dorset), Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) and Paul Poirier (I-Barre), deals with a so-called “windfall protection” clause that has become one of the more controversial aspects of the proposed merger between Green Mountain Power and CVPS.  

CVPS hit a financial rough patch early in the last decade when its long-term power contract with Hydro-Quebec forced the utility to pay above-market rates for wholesale electricity.

To stave off financial calamity, CVPS sought permission for a rate hike from the Public Service Board in excess of what the board’s conventional rate-setting formula would otherwise allow.

The board okayed the increase, but stipulated that ratepayers would be made whole if CVPS ever became financially healthy enough to attract a takeover bid.

AARP is leading a public campaign to make sure those cash payments are issued before the merger goes through. The $21 million AARP says is due to ratepayers amounts to $76 for each of CVPS’ 137,000 residential customers. Commercial customers would enjoy payouts of about $352 on average, and industrial businesses could see checks in excess of $12,500.

GMP says it’s satisfied the windfall protection clause by offering to invest $40 million in an efficiency program that officials say would reap ongoing savings for all ratepayers. AARP and many lawmakers say it’s a raw deal however, and want cash in the pockets of customers.

The amendment will likely be ruled not germane to the underlying renewable energy bill. But lawmakers will have made their point. The opinions that matter most, of course, are those belonging to the three members of the Public Service Board, which has ultimately say over the terms of any merger deal.

House votes to keep minors out of tanning beds

Vermont isn’t just one of the whitest states in the country. It’s also one of the palest.

Short winter days and below-freezing temperatures tend to deter would-be sunbathers from soaking in the February rays. The results manifest annually on the first warm day of spring, when, to onlookers’ horror, Vermonters unveil their pasty limbs.

Some avoid such grotesquerie with wintertime excursions to the local tanning salon. Among them – high-school teenagers seeking a beach-ready bod for the prom or perhaps a sunny spring-break vacation.

But Language approved by the House this morning will make it illegal for minors to use tanning beds inVermont.

Citing increased cancer rates among people who frequent tanning salons, lawmakers want to keep children under 18 from exposing their skin to concentrated UV rays used in the devices.

A combination of emotional testimony from cancer survivors – including one who contracted melanoma at a young age and lost much of her leg – and sobering statistics from health organizations helped generate the political will needed to pass a bill that has languished for at least four years in the House Committee on Health Care.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies tanning beds as a “Group 1” carcinogen – the same tier as cigarettes.

The legislation, now headed to the Senate, will mean a $100 fine for merchants who allow minors to use tanning beds once, and a $500 fine for offenses thereafter.