Josh O'Gorman

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Advocates call for equal pay for women

MONTPELIER — Politicians and advocates decried what they referred to as “occupational segregation” during Equal Pay Day. Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day in Vermont and across the country, as advocates highlighted the pay disparity between wages earned by men and women. At the State House, speakers addressed the disparity and released a report showing many jobs that pay a living wage are dominated by men, while women are more likely to be employed in fields that do not pay enough to survive, based on figures from the state’s Joint Fiscal Office. Gov. Peter Shumlin highlighted efforts to improve the lives of working women in the state, from paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage to universal pre-K education and protections for workers who compare their salaries. “We know that we must continue to close the pay gap. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers talk school choice and district mergers

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers and members of the public are calling for greater guarantees to preserve school choice. On Thursday, the House School Choice Caucus called for a clarification of Act 46 — the 2015 school district merger law — as it relates to towns that offer school choice. “In the long run, we’re seeing Act 46 create a lot of confusion and we’re here today to give a voice to that confusion,” said Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Irasburg. Unlike many caucuses, the House School Choice Caucus does not reflect a partisan divide based on political affiliation, but based on the size of the community, with nearly all of the caucus members hailing from small towns. “There’s a real need for leadership in directing our choice towns to keep this tradition and this very important issue with schools,” said Rep. Linda Martin, D-Wolcott. Continue Reading →

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House pot bill would keep it illegal, decriminalize cultivation

MONTPELIER — House lawmakers are considering an alternative marijuana bill that would not go as far as legalization, but would decriminalize small-scale cultivation. Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee took up an alternative to S.241 — the legalization bill that cleared the Senate in February — that would keep marijuana illegal, but would decriminalize the cultivation of as many as two plants. The alternative bill was put forward by committee Chairwoman Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, who noted the lack of support in her committee for full legalization. “I know it will not go as far as some people will go, but it goes further than other people would like to go,” Grad said. “I don’t expect people to jump on board or change their minds, but this is something that reflects the testimony we have heard.”

During an evening hearing held last week by the committee, many members of the public urged lawmakers to allow personal cultivation. 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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Story + Video: Public weighs in on marijuana legalization

MONTPELIER — Advocates and opponents — many more of the former than the latter — offered testimony Thursday night on the topic of marijuana legalization. Nearly 60 people — plus many more who were there to watch — gathered at the State House On Thursday night to offer testimony on S.241, which would allow for the legal possession and sale of marijuana in 2018. Under the terms of the bill, a Vermont resident would be able to purchase as much as half an ounce from a licensed retailer. Cultivation would also be limited to a handful of licensed businesses. Overall, 34 people signed up to offer testimony in favor of legalization; 19 people testified in opposition to the bill and five people were undecided. Continue Reading →

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House gives preliminary approval to property tax bill

MONTPELIER — The proposed property tax bill would see an increase in residential rates and a decrease in the commercial and nonresidential rate. On Tuesday, House lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill that would raise the average property tax rate by 0.2 cents, and would lower the commercial and nonresidential rate by 0.5 cents. While the commercial and nonresidential rate is the same for everyone, regardless of where they are located, the residential tax rate will vary from municipality to municipality. For the second year, property taxes — which fund the vast majority of the state’s Education Fund — are based on a formula that results in what’s referred to as a “yield amount.”

The yield amount is the amount of money that would result from a tax rate of $1 for every $100 of assessed value. On Tuesday, lawmakers approved a yield amount of $9,701. 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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Education officials call for study of state’s pre-K and dual enrollment programs

MONTPELIER — Education officials are calling for an examination of the state’s pre-K and dual enrollment programs so more low-income children can take advantage of them. The State Board of Education is asking lawmakers to look at the unintended consequences of programs that are intended to provide for greater educational equity, but are being utilized more frequently middle-class and affluent families than those living in poverty. William Mathis, chairman of the board’s Legislative Committee, made it clear the board supports the initiatives that are intended to expend pre-K education and allow high school students to take college courses, but is concerned the programs might not be reaching the students who need them most. “We strongly support both dual enrollment and preschool enrollment. These are some of the most important programs we have to promote equity,” Mathis said. Continue Reading →

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House lawmakers look to “ban the box”

MONTPELIER — House lawmakers have given their overwhelming endorsement to a bill intended to make it easier for people with criminal histories to find employment. By a vote of 138 to 5, the House give preliminary approval to a bill that would — for the most part — prohibit employers from inquiring of a prospective employee’s criminal background on an application form. “The House’s vote to ban the box is a vote for compassion, redemption and opportunity,” House Speaker Shap Smith said after the vote. “The current policy of screening for criminal histories in preliminary job applications puts a barrier in the way of successfully finding employment. By removing this wall, Vermonters will have more opportunities to succeed.”

The bill still has a ways to go, pending a final vote of House lawmakers today and approval by the Senate. Continue Reading →

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U.S. Senate fails to block Vermont food labeling law

MONTPELIER — Vermont lawmakers, both here and in the nation’s capital, are celebrating a failed attempt at the federal level to nullify the state’s food labeling bill. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate failed to come up with enough votes for a bill that would prohibit state’s such as Vermont from enacting laws requiring food manufacturers to disclose ingredients that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who led the charge against the proposed federal legislation, celebrated the vote. “This was a hard-fought victory for Vermont, on our state’s right to honor Vermonters’ right to know what’s in the food they buy,” Leahy said. “Our defense of Vermont’s law has been fought with skill and determination in the courts, under the leadership of Governor Shumlin and others, and in the Congress.”

Leahy was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Continue Reading →

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