Author Archives: Rob Mitchell

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.

 

Sanborn Partridge, one of the “Young Turks”, passes away at 97

Sanborn Partridge

Sanborn Partridge

Sanborn Partridge, 97, one of the “Young Turks” of the Vermont House has passed away. He had a varied and full life, but the part that pertains to politics is summed up this way in his obituary:

From 1961 to 1970, he served in the Vermont General Assembly, and 1970 to 1981 in the Senate. He was a part of the “Young Turks,” a group of Republicans and Democrats who worked together on many projects for the good of Vermont including the highway sign bill, and reapportionment. He was a member of the executive board of the University of Vermont, serving as Chairman for one year. He also served on the boards for the Proctor, Rutland and Vermont Historical Societies, several library boards, the Rutland Hospital, the Red Cross and the Union Church of Proctor.

Partridge, a Republican, recalled his membership in the “Young Turks” for a Vermont Folklife Center interview:

The gang that the newspapers tagged as the Young Turks were eleven. One of them had been there the year before, but ten of them were freshman Legislators. And we used to get together, I think it was Thursday evenings, or after five o’clock and our house rule was no drinks for the first hour. And we traded information about the committees on which we served. I think we were windows into something like seventeen committees out of twenty, maybe. And so we could clue each other on what was coming up. It was simply a felt need to learn that we were working on.

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Senate committee assignments shake up the Statehouse

What do the Senate committee assignment shake-ups mean for the legislative session ahead? Pete got into this in his story on the subject in today’s Times Argus and Rutland Herald, but one key post, the Natural Resources committee chair, was given to a vocal critic of mountaintop wind projects, signaling action in that quarter:

In by far the highest-profile snub, Chittenden County Democrat Ginny Lyons was stripped of her post as chairwoman of the Committee on Natural Resources. She will be replaced by Hartwell, who will lead the fight this year for a three-year moratorium on mountaintop wind development.

Hartwell is also a vocal critic of the Public Service Board. He wants to radically alter the regulatory process for some major energy projects — a sentiment he says some of his new committee-mates share.

“Right now there are a lot of people who get to make a statement (in the Act 248 regulatory process) and then just get ushered out of the process rather than having their position truly heard,” Hartwell said. “It’s kind of an antiquated system that we’d like to bring up to date.”

Another key assignment was the posting of Progressive Tim Ashe to lead the Senate Finance Committee, a premier post.

 

Senate Committee assignments announced

The Senate committee lineups were announced today, and there were some shakeups. Pete Hirschfeld is reporting on this right now and we’ll have an update with the fallout for the blog and tomorrow’s newspaper. Obviously, one of these assignments will change when Gov. Shumlin announces a replacement for Bill Carris of Rutland, who is stepping down.

From the release by Nancy Driscoll, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Phil Scott:

Montpelier, VT  – Lt. Governor Phil Scott, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, and Senator Dick Mazza, members of the Senate Committee on Committees, announced the Senate committee assignments for the 2013-2014 legislative session.
Those committee assignments are:
MORNING COMMITTEES
Agriculture
Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex-Orleans), Chair
Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison)
Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland)
Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin)

Economic Development
Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), Chair
Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Don Collins (D-Franklin)
Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington)
Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington)

Health & Welfare
Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison), Chair
Sen. Sally Fox (D-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden)
Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor)
Sen. Anthony Pollina (D-Washington)

Judiciary
Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), Chair
Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), Vice Chair
Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor)
Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham)
Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden)

Natural Resources
Sen. Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington), Chair
Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham)
Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange)
Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans)

Transportation
Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle), Chair
Sen. Rich Westman (R-Lamoille), Vice Chair
Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor)
Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland)
Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia)

AFTERNOON COMMITTEES
Appropriations
Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), Chair
Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor), Vice Chair
Sen. Sally Fox (D-Chittenden)
Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington)
Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden)
Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex-Orleans)
Sen. Rich Westman (R-Lamoille)

Education
Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), Chair
Sen. Don Collins (D-Franklin), Vice Chair
Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden)
Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington)
Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden)

Finance
Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), Chair
Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange), Vice Chair
Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison)
Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham)
Sen. Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington)
Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden)
Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland)

Government Operations
Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), Chair
Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington), Vice Chair
Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison)
Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland)
Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin)

Institutions
Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland), Chair
Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington), Vice Chair
Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia)
Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle)
Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans)

Montpelier, VT  – Lt. Governor Phil Scott, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, and Senator Dick Mazza, members of the Senate Committee on Committees, announced the Senate committee assignments for the 2013-2014 legislative session.

 

Those committee assignments are:

 

MORNING COMMITTEES

 

Agriculture

 

Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex-Orleans), Chair

Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden), Vice Chair

Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison)

Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland)

Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin)

 

Economic Development

 

Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), Chair
Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden), Vice Chair

Sen. Don Collins (D-Franklin)

Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington)
Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington)

 

Health & Welfare

 

Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison), Chair
Sen. Sally Fox (D-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden)

Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor)

Sen. Anthony Pollina (D-Washington)

 

Judiciary

 

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), Chair
Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), Vice Chair

Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor)
Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham)
Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden)

 

Natural Resources

 

Sen. Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington), Chair
Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden), Vice Chair

Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham)
Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange)
Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans)

 

Transportation

 

Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle), Chair
Sen. Rich Westman (R-Lamoille), Vice Chair

Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor)

Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland)

Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia)

 

 

AFTERNOON COMMITTEES

 

Appropriations

 

Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), Chair
Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor), Vice Chair

Sen. Sally Fox (D-Chittenden)

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington)

Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden)
Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex-Orleans)
Sen. Rich Westman (R-Lamoille)

 

Education

 

Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), Chair
Sen. Don Collins (D-Franklin), Vice Chair

Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden)

Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington)

Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden)

 

Finance

 

Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), Chair
Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange), Vice Chair
Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison)

Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham)

Sen. Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington)

Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden)

Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland)

Government Operations

 

Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), Chair
Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington), Vice Chair

Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison)

Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland)

Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin)

 

Institutions

 

Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland), Chair
Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington), Vice Chair

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia)

Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle)
Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans)

Leahy declines Appropriations chairmanship

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Politico.com is reporting that Patrick Leahy has declined the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In a statement issued by email, Leahy said:

“Chairing the Judiciary Committee and maintaining my seniority on the Appropriations Committee will allow me to protect both the Constitution and Vermont.”

The Politico story:

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is turning down the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a surprise move in a chamber where senior senators are quick to snag the most influential positions on Capitol Hill, aides said Wednesday.

Leahy began telling colleagues Wednesday he would remain chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the panel that oversees the Justice Department, federal courts and hot-button constitutional issues — rather than take over the Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings of federal discretionary spending. The Appropriations Committee spot opened up following the death of long-time Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who had served in the body since 1963.

Candidates line up to replace Carris in Senate

From Gordon Dritschilo at the Rutland Herald:

One name kept coming to the lips of Rutland County Democrats on Thursday: Eldred French of Shrewsbury.

French, who lost his seat in the Vermont House of Representatives after redistricting pitted him against fellow incumbent Dennis Devereaux of Mount Holly, was repeatedly described as being at the top of the list of candidates to replace Sen. William Carris, D-Rutland.

Carris announced Wednesday he was stepping down for health reasons. The Rutland County Democrats will hold a caucus and come up with as many as three names to forward to the governor, who will then appoint someone to fill out the remainder of Carris’s term.

County Chairwoman Kathy Hall said she expected to hold the caucus after New Year’s. She said she had heard four or five names, and one name more frequently than the others, but she would not disclose any of the names under discussion.

“I was told I have to remain unbiased and I am worried if I mention names I’ve heard, it would affect things,” Hall said.

However, a number of current and former county Democratic officeholders put French’s name forward Thursday.

For the rest of the story at the Rutland Herald, click here.

Carris to step down from State Senate seat

Sen. Bill Carris, Democrat of Rutland and the former Senate Majority leader, has announced he will leave his senate seat effective Monday.

The three-term Democratic senator from West Rutland said problems with his back and ankle prompted the decision.

“The pace is pretty frenetic up there,” he said. “People don’t know how much running around you do.”

“I’m pretty sad about it. It was a real tough decision,” he added.

Carris, who just won re-election to a fourth term last month, said he underwent corrective surgery this fall that he hoped would make it easier to walk.

But with less than a month before the start of the next legislative session, Carris said he doesn’t believe he is physically capable of doing the job.

Carris said he sent his letter of resignation to Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday and alerted the president pro tem of the senate as well as fellow Rutland County Senators Kevin Mullin and Margaret Flory.

Shumlin will be called upon to appoint someone to take Carris’ place following a caucus of Rutland County Democrats who will select three candidates to recommend to the governor.

Single-payer group offers ideas on how to pay for it

From the Times Argus and Rutland Herald today, a story from Pete Hirschfeld:

MONTPELIER — A group that helped build the political will for single-payer health care in Vermont has issued a report telling elected officials how to pay for it.

The Health Care is a Human Right Campaign unveiled a 17-page proposal Monday in which it identifies a combination of income and payroll taxes as the most “equitable” means of financing the new system. More a conceptual framework than a solid proposal — the report doesn’t estimate overall system costs or calculate the dollar value of the new revenue streams — the report says its blend of financing options would place the lion’s share of the financial burden on those best able to afford it.

“And that’s been one of the key principles from the beginning,” said James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, which oversees the campaign. “The Shumlin administration is doing all the work to figure out how much it’s going to cost, and we’re essentially saying this is the most equitable way to come up with the money.”

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding said he was impressed with what he called a very well-written report. “It will be a helpful document as the dialogue on how to pay for single-payer takes place in the coming months and years,” Spaulding said.

As to the specific proposal, which would use a mix of corporate and personal income taxes, combined with a “progressive” payroll tax, Spaulding said, “In general they make a strong case.”

For the rest of the story, click here.

Does more competition in health insurance actually bring down costs?

David Sanger

David Sanger speaks at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland Tuesday.

While speaking at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre last night, the New York Times’ Washington bureau chief David Sanger raised an interesting question about our assumptions on health insurance and competition.

He referred to a study that was written up in the Times’ Economix blog, which compared the concentration of competition, measured by how much of a state’s insurance market is concentrated in the largest two insurers, to the rise in the cost of health insurance premiums in the same state over the ten years between 2000 and 2010.

The study finds that there is not a meaningful correlation between more competition and lower costs. In fact, Sanger pointed out, the reverse actually seems to be true – and this raises concerns about the direction we’re taking with Obamacare.

The concern comes from the increased competition required from health insurance exchanges – which states are required to have set up by 2014, or the federal government will set up for them.

Apparently, the more concentrated the insurance market, the more leverage the biggest insurers have to bring down costs. The more fragmented the market, the less leverage each individual insurer has. As Economix puts it:

In imperfect health care markets, competition can be counterproductive. The larger an insurer’s share of the market, the more aggressively it can negotiate prices with providers, hospitals and drug manufacturers. Smaller hospitals and provider groups, known as “price takers” by economists, either accept the big insurer’s reimbursement rates or forgo the opportunity to offer competing services. The monopsony power of a single or a few large insurers can thus lead to lower prices. For example, Glenn Melnick and Vivian Wu have shown that hospital prices in markets with the most powerful insurers are 12 percent lower than in more competitive insurance markets.

Food for thought as we steadily advance on the way to a single-payer system. For the full Economix blog post on this, please click here.

 

Legislators mourn loss of Greg Clark

By Peter Hirschfeld | Bureau Chief

MONTPELIER – Elected officials of all political stripes are mourning the death of Rep. Gregory Clark, the five-term Republican from Vergennes killed in a traffic accident Friday morning.
Police say Clark was killed on Route 7 in Waltham early Friday morning after stepping out his car to clear his windshield and being struck by another vehicle.
As law enforcement officials pieced together the circumstances surrounding the deadly incident, Clark’s House colleagues recalled his compassion for his constituents, and the humor with which he often advocated on their behalf.
“He was a great guy who really cared about Vermonters, and in particular young Vermonters, and making sure they had the tools they needed to be successful,” said Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith.
Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan, chairwoman of the House Education Committee on which Clark served, called him one of the “most popular” members of the entire body. Continue reading

Pollina to push state bank idea

Anthony Pollina, a Washington County Progressive, Democrat and Working Families senator, wants the state to try again at looking at the possibility of a state bank.
Currently, the vast majority of incoming tax money or federal money the state receives goes to TD Bank, which earns a profit and charges fees, Pollina says. Through a state bank, which would use existing local banks or a state agency like the Vermont Economic Development Authority, the state could earn interest and use the money to re-invest in businesses or student loans, advocates say.
In 2010, a preliminary analysis by the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office wrote the system has a number of potential long-term benefits, but it would likely have a complicated and controversial transition.
Committee hearings have gathered testimony about the possibility, but banking representatives have opposed the measure.
A bill to study the issue was introduced last year by Pollina and Chittenden County Sen. Ginny Lyons, a Democrat, but the proposal ultimately was tabled.
Pollina said during an interview last week a state bank would work in partnership, rather than competition, with banks. He also said he believes that public support is more receptive now than it was two years ago.
He also said the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics has supported the idea.
A fellow with the institute, Gary Flomenhoft, was part of the legislative testimony on the issue.
He’s suggested the North Dakota state bank was a key part in the state having a budget surplus after the 2008 stock market crash when other states came out with deficits. He’s pointed to how in 2009 the North Dakota state bank returned $30 million to the state based on investments.
A conference from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 7 at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier has plans to discuss the issue of state banks. The conference, called Vermont’s New Economy, costs $25. Attendees can register at global-community.org/cgi/gc/neweconomy/.
Pollina is also working to draft a bill for another study group to try to undo declining state funding to state colleges for the cost of college education.
The state currently funds about 12 percent of the cost, Pollina said. In 1980, state funding paid for about half, and tuition covered the rest, he said.

Taylor, Ellis to run for assistant majority leader

Waterbury Rep. Rebecca Ellis, and Barre Rep. Therese “Tess” Taylor are seeking a Democratic caucus vacancy in the Statehouse as the assistant majority leader, a position that helps facilitate communication between legislators and party leadership.
“I think in that process it’s really important for the individual legislators to know that they’re being heard and have an opportunity to speak and have an opportunity to discuss ideas and priorities,” Ellis said.
Ellis was appointed as a state representative by Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2011, and was recently elected to a full term.
She has also served on the Waterbury Select Board for seven years, including four years as chairwoman. She also served on the Waterbury Planning Commission from 2001 to 2006.
Ellis said in addition to helping build consensus through the funding and construction of two firehouses in Waterbury, she was moved by the ability of a group of people to work together in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene and that her experience was something she could bring to assistant majority leader.
During the immediate aftermath of the storm, a key group of about 20 leaders often met daily for about a month, and Ellis also helped facilitate 22 long-term recovery projects.
Taylor was first elected as a state representative in 2008. She served two three-years terms as a school board member with Spaulding High School and Barre Technical Center, which included time as chairwoman. She’s also been on the board of the Barre Supervisory Union, which she’s also chaired.
One of her major accomplishments in working with others includes helping resolve an 11-day teachers’ strike in 2005.
She also has board experience with the Central Vermont Workforce Development Board and Barre Partnership, a nonprofit focused on revitalizing the city’s downtown that she has headed as president.
Taylor said she’s been able to reach out to others because of her experience with the Vermont Historical Society, where she previously served as the director of education and public programming.
As reported in Seven Days, the opening comes as the current Democratic whip, Addison County Rep. Willem Jewett, is seeking the position of majority leader. Caledonia County Rep. Lucy Leriche held that position, but she didn’t run for re-election.
The caucus will vote on the decision Dec. 8.

Gov. Shumlin announces second-term staffing changes

Peter Shumlin

Peter Shumlin

Gov. Shumlin announced the following second-term staffing changes in a press release today:

Chief of Staff Bill Lofy will leave the administration to take a position with the Democratic Governors Association, which Gov. Shumlin is expected to chair in 2013. Lofy will step down as chief of staff at the end of the year; he will work for the DGA primarily from Vermont. Lofy formerly worked for U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, and held senior positions at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Alex MacLean, Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs, will leave the administration in early 2013 to take a position in the private sector. MacLean staffed Gov. Shumlin during his tenure as President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, and has run his two successful gubernatorial campaigns. Continue reading

Welch, Sanders to discuss budget and deficit

BURLINGTON — Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives is going to be talking about his priorities for the lame-duck session of Congress.
Rep. Peter Welch is planning to discuss the issues in his Burlington office on Monday before he returns to Washington.
The Norwich Democrat will outline his efforts to pass a farm bill and the need to avoid what is being called the looming fiscal cliff of tax increases and dramatic budget cuts.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh off reelection, will also be holding a press conference at his Church Street office at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the budget deficits. Sanders as well will return to Washington in time for the start of ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations between both houses of Congress and the White House, which are expected to start  Tuesday.