Author Archives: Rob Mitchell

Scenes from the race to end the session

GMO labeling bill signed into law

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  A large crowd of legislators and supporters cheers after Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill into law on Thursday outside the State House that requires the labelling of GMO ingredients in food. It is the first law of its kind in the nation to pass without so-called trigger clauses.

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
A large crowd of legislators and supporters cheers after Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill into law on Thursday outside the State House that requires the labelling of GMO ingredients in food. It is the first law of its kind in the nation to pass without so-called trigger clauses.

By JOSH O’GORMAN
MONTPELIER – Before a cheering crowd of hundreds, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a first-in-the-nation food labeling bill into law, even as food producers continue to voice their opposition.
The front lawn of the Statehouse was filled with families and consumer advocates as Shumlin signed a law that will require the packaging of some foods to indicate if they contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
“We will sign the first bill in America, joining 60 other countries, where Vermonters will have the right to know what’s in their food,” said Shumlin, who compared the law to Vermont begin the first state to abolish slavery and allow civil unions. Continue reading

Mistakes may have contributed to 2-year-old’s death, committee finds

By Neal Goswami
MONTPELIER — A special Senate panel will seek subpoena power to obtain records and documents from the Rutland County Criminal Court and the Department of Children and Families in the course of its review of the Dezirae Sheldon case.
The Senate Review Panel on Child Protection was created following the February death of the 2-year-old Sheldon from severe head trauma, allegedly at the hands of her stepfather, Dennis Duby. Members said Wednesday they want to know if mistakes made more than five years ago — and revealed in recent days — could have contributed to Sheldon remaining in an unsafe environment.
Committee co-chairs Sens. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and Claire Ayer, D-Addison, learned over the weekend of discrepancies in a previous criminal case involving Sheldon’s mother, 31-year-old Sandra Eastman. Sears, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it is possible that the errors may have influenced decisions made by DCF that allowed Eastman to keep custody of Sheldon despite convictions. Continue reading

Vermont’s state of the state address makes the New York Times

In the nightly news budget they send out the New York Times had the Vermont State of the State address listed as one story in consideration for the front page for today's paper. Instead of A1, Gov. Shumlin's single-minded focus on addiction landed on A12, but still, a nice write up from Katharine Q. Seelye from the State House yesterday:

In Annual Speech, Vermont Governor Shifts Focus to Drug Abuse

MONTPELIER, Vt. – In a sign of how drastic the epidemic of drug addiction here has become, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday devoted his entire State of the State Message to what he said was a “full-blown heroin crisis” gripping Vermont.

 

Shumlin to swear in new Supreme Court justice Crawford

BURLINGTON — Vermont is going to getting a new Supreme Court justice.
Gov. Peter Shumlin is scheduled to swear in Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford on Wednesday at the Costello Courthouse in Burlington.
Crawford replaces Associate Justice Brian Burgess, who recently announced his retirement.
Crawford is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School.

Shumlin appoints Hoyt to fill Cheney seat

Gov. Peter Shumlin has appointed Kathy Hoyt of Norwich to the House seat formerly held by Rep. Margaret Cheney, D-Norwich, who was named earlier this week to a post on the state Public Service Board.
Hoyt is no newcomer to state government.
She previously served as commissioner of the state Department of Employment and Training, planning director for the Vermont Agency of Human Services, Gov. Madeleine Kunin’s and Gov. Howard Dean’s chief of staff, and secretary of the Agency of Administration.
According to the governor’s office, Hoyt has most recently been caring for her husband, former Tax Commissioner Norrie Hoyt, who died in early August. Norrie Hoyt held the same House seat for nine years, ending in 1983.
Under Vermont statute, the governor has the option of requesting nominees and choosing among them, or making a direct appointment. On previous vacancies, Shumlin has requested submissions from the parties, a process he is currently using to fill a vacancy in the Randolph House district.
However, the governor’s office said in a press release, given Hoyt’s experience and long connection to Norwich and her district, he chose to make a direct appointment.

Joint committee meeting to review energy projects

MONTPELIER — Suggestions for a new process for how to permit and site wind turbines and other electrical generation projects will be the topic when the House and Senate committees on natural resources and energy hold a joint hearing in Montpelier on Sept. 25.
The hearing is part of a review of how the state’s permit process balances state, local and other interests when it comes to wind, solar and other power projects. That review began with a siting policy commission report stemming from an executive order by Gov. Peter Shumlin last fall.
The joint committees will hear from several parties, including the siting commission’s director and several representatives of state agencies involved in the permit process. The meeting will start at 9:30 a.m. in Room 10 of the Statehouse. Time for public comment is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. For more information go to http://bit.ly/19b0EvY.

Neal Goswami joins the Vermont Press Bureau

Stefan Hard / Staff PhotoVermont Press Bureau reporter Neal Goswami.Neal Goswami has joined the Vermont Press Bureau as of Sept. 3. Goswami was a reporter for the Bennington Banner for more than 7 years, and most recently was the newspaper’s social media editor and senior staff reporter.
Goswami will join Bureau Chief Pete Hirschfeld in reporting on state government, the legislature and statewide issues. He will work out of the Barre offices of the Herald’s sister newspaper, the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, and provide local coverage on Waterbury and other assignments in Central Vermont; he report out of the Statehouse during the legislative session. Goswami is a graduate of UVM, and covered the Democratic National Convention in 2008 on a joint assignment with the Denver Post.

He has just moved to Montpelier. Follow him on Twitter: @nealgoswami

After resignation, Rader Wallack returns to Vermont health care

Anya Rader Wallack

Anya Rader Wallack

MONTPELIER — She may have resigned her high-profile post as chairwoman of the Green Mountain Care Board, but Anya Rader Wallack’s role in health care reform in Vermont is far from over.

Rader Wallack, who departed her post less than two weeks ago, is on the verge of inking a $100,000 contract with the state to oversee the use of a $45 million federal grant. In her work on the “State Innovation Model” grant, Rader Wallack will seek to propel many of the same objectives pushed by the Green Mountain Care Board.

Her expertise on matters including alternative care models and payment reform is among the reasons cited by a top administration official in his request to award Rader Wallack a no-bid contract.

In an Aug. 7 memo to Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding, Deputy Administration Secretary Michael Clasen made the case for the no-bid process.

“Anya is best suited to provide the leadership and policy expertise needed to implement Vermont’s payment and delivery system reform initiatives funded through the SIM Testing Grant,” Clasen wrote. Continue reading

Advocates raise alarm for disabled kids after funding change

MONTPELIER — The problems began in the spring of 2012, when state officials decided to change how they determine whether disabled children in Vermont are eligible for government-subsidized home care.

The Department of Health discarded its old evaluation tool in favor of one borrowed from Wisconsin, which would from then on be used to determine whether the state was properly allocating “personal care services” to the approximately 2,200 kids served by the program in 2011.

Disability advocates were almost immediately alarmed.

“There was a very significant and very sudden drop-off in the number of children found eligible,” says Gloria Quinn, vice president of developmental services at Rutland County Mental Health.

The Agency of Human Services this week was unable to provide data indicating precisely how many families have been affected by the changes. But advocates and providers familiar with the situation say about half of the children in the program saw their number of home care hours either reduced or eliminated altogether.

“Transitional funding” provided by the state has insulated families from the impacts of the new eligibility standards. But advocates say the looming termination of that temporary stopgap could expose already struggling families to a host of new challenges.

“The question for those families is what do you do now?” says Karen Schwartz, executive director of the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council. “The fact that you can’t leave your child home alone hasn’t changed.”

Melissa Bailey, director of integrated family services at the Agency of Human Services, says the changes brought about by the new evaluation method are designed to help the families impacted by the new standards, not cordon them off from the system.

The new evaluation tool, she says, exposed the allocation of personal-care services for scenarios that didn’t necessarily merit them. The changes, according to Bailey, will push families to enroll their children into programs more befitting their conditions.

“What I can tell you is that the intention of this change is not to save money,” Bailey says. “Any quote-unquote ‘savings’ are invested in children’s services to increase the capacity and access to other necessary services for these kids.”

But advocates say they’ve yet to see funding increases in other programs commensurate with the loss in personal care hours.

– Pete Hirschfeld

For the complete story, click here to go to the Rutland Herald web site.

Irene-prompted reforms make positive changes in mental health care

MONTPELIER — Before he turned even 20, Ivan Deutsch had been through 20 foster families, 15 visits to the psych ward, and more run-ins with police than he cares to remember.
For his entire teenage life, Deutsch suffered the slings of a mental illness that robbed him of a normal childhood. Thanks to a newly sprouted eight-bed residential treatment facility in Westminster, however, Deutsch said the future has finally started to look promising.
“If they hadn’t stuck with me like they had, I wouldn’t be here right now talking to you,” Deutsch told a panel of lawmakers Thursday. “I thought I was always going to be on the borderline of not living. But thanks to Hilltop, I made it.”
Amid the persistent turmoil of a mental health system under siege, Ivan Deutsch, and the Hilltop Recovery Residence that helped save him, offer at least a glimmer of hope for the reformation of a mental health system plunged into crisis by Tropical Storm Irene.
Nearly two years have passed since the historic floods inundated the state’s 52-bed psychiatric hospital, crippling the state’s ability to care for its most acutely ill residents. Vermonters experiencing psychotic breaks saw their wait times in emergency rooms spike to all-time highs in May, and Gov. Peter Shumlin himself has described the lack of secure, in-patient hospital beds as a disaster waiting to happen. Continue reading

Leahy ‘straw purchase’ gun bill advances out of Judiciary Committee

By Edward Donga | For the Rutland Herald and Times Argus

WASHINGTON — Breaking down largely along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-7 Thursday to approve a bill, sponsored by Chairman Patrick Leahy, that would outlaw the so-called straw purchase of firearms.

The committee’s action paves the way for the legislation to come before the full Senate for debate.

A straw purchase involves someone buying a firearm for another individual — such as a convicted felon — who would otherwise be unable to purchase it because he or she cannot pass the required background check.

“The practice of straw purchasing firearms is undertaken for one reason: to get a gun into the hands of someone who is prohibited from having one,” said Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont. “We know that many of the guns used in criminal activities are acquired through straw purchases.”
Continue reading

Shumlin tells Politico: “Congress… is holding America hostage”

Peter Shumlin

Peter Shumlin

From Politico.com reporter Kevin Robillard:

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has seen the enemy — and it is Republicans in Congress.

“The one thing that stands in our way of prosperity, of job creation, right now, is this Congress, which refuses to work with the president,” Shumlin said Friday on POLITICO’s State Solutions Conference, adding: “We have a Congress that is holding American prosperity hostage right now; we have Republican governors who are passing the tax policies they can’t get past a Democratic [Senate] and a Democratic president.”

He was speaking at Politico’s “State Solutions” conference, and had much more to say, on gun control and on the 2016 Presidential race. The interviewer gets in a nice sigh, about 45 seconds into the video – watch the video and read the full story at Politico.com.

Debate on opening police records nearing a close

By Brent Curtis | Special to the VPB

MONTPELIER — A prominent member of the media added his views Wednesday to a debate at the Statehouse over expanding public access to criminal investigation files.

“It seems to us that this is an excellent start, if not an endpoint,” retired WCAX-TV anchor and news director Marselis Parsons said of draft legislation to adopt federal Freedom of Information Act standards for records that are categorically off-limits under existing Vermont public records exemptions.

“The change would make information more available to the public — not the press per se … but the public,” he added.

Parsons, who retired from a full-time role at the station more than three years ago, and WCAX president and general manager Peter Martin were among six people who spoke Wednesday about proposed changes to the records law.

Click here for the rest of the story at www.rutlandherald.com >>>

Hoffer announces five auditing projects

Recently elected State Auditor Doug Hoffer announced this morning his office has begun five performance audits of state government functions.

The Auditor’s office will review

  1. The Department of Corrections’ “Correct Care Solutions” contract (a three-year contract worth $53 million);
  2. Two Agency of Transportation contracts that have yet to be determined but will be identified in the planning phase;
  3. The Agency of Administration’s Workers’ Compensation and Injury Prevention Program (which paid $7.3 million in claims in fiscal year 2012, according to the Auditor), to see whether the program has focused on prevention of causes of claims and identify trends in claims;
  4. State-issued cell phones to see whether the phones are under-used and / or costs can be reduced;
  5. Finally, the office will take a look at the state’s “last mile” telecom project, which is intended to bring high-speed internet to every home and business in Vermont through subsidies for the low-yield ‘last mile’ areas, and the state’s investment in health information technology.