Commentary

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An independent ethics commission is still needed

Secretary of State Jim Condos

he Vermont Constitution (Chapter 1, Article 6) demands that our elected officials are open, transparent, and accountable. The authors understood how transparency in government is the very basis of trust. State statute also demands access and accountability:

It is the policy of this subchapter to provide for free and open examination of records consistent with Chapter I, Article 6 of the Vermont Constitution. Officers of government are trustees and servants of the people and it is in the public interest to enable any person to review and criticize their decisions even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment. (1 V.S.A. § 315)

The overwhelming majority of our dedicated local and state public officials are trustworthy, hard-working individuals striving to better the lives of those they serve. Continue Reading →

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School Choice Matters for Vermont Families

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n our country, we love to customize, whether it’s a new addition to the house or the colors and fonts surrounding our text messages. We choose everything, from our line of work to our preferred place to grab lunch (where we probably customize our lunch order). So it’s easy to understand why parents want more choices in their children’s education. Parents understand that education options open doors for their children. Every child is unique, with distinct interests and learning styles. Continue Reading →

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Jeff Sessions Was Too Extreme For Republicans In 1986. Is He Too Extreme For Republicans Now?

Sen. Patrick Leahy

his week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet in a legendary room that has been the site of such historic events as the Watergate hearings, and Senator John Kennedy’s presidential campaign announcement. This ornate room has since been named for my friend, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and more recently senators have met in this room for the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Attorney General Eric Holder. As senators prepare to gather in the Kennedy Caucus Room next week for the confirmation hearings of Senator Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General of the United States, I cannot help but wonder what Ted would think. Thirty years ago he said this about the current nominee who then was a nominee to be a district court judge:

“Mr. Sessions is a throwback to a shameful era which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past. It is inconceivable to me that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. attorney, let alone a U.S. Federal judge. Continue Reading →

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Now Vermont, Too, Shows Why National EB-5 Reforms Are Needed

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ears ago when I began working to reform the national EB-5 program, the problems we saw seemed far removed from the many promising EB-5 development projects in Vermont. It is heartbreaking, and it is maddening, to see such problems here at home. It is now painfully clear to all Vermonters that the EB-5 Regional Center program is flawed. The program once promised to transform the Northeast Kingdom and other underserved communities through millions of dollars of investment at no cost to taxpayers. Yet it has become mired in fraud and abuse across the country, and unfortunately such allegations have now reached our state. Continue Reading →

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Commentary: Focus on the students

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he first major hurdle of the 2016 legislative session was resolved Saturday when lawmakers approved a tweak to the cost containment threshold in Act 46, last year’s education governance reform bill. The debate echoed many familiar conversations about our school system. There were speeches about declining enrollment, property taxes, and the relationship between state and local government. But what made the 2016 debate remarkable was that many lawmakers discussed the state’s educational system without ever mentioning how our decisions impact Vermont kids. The irony was not lost on me – earlier in the day, my fourteen-year-old son, Eli, visited the State House on a class fieldtrip from People’s Academy. Continue Reading →

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Commentary: Replace the Education Funding Formula

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ermont’s property tax burden will continue to dominate conversation around the state, and in the State House, until the Legislature has the political will to address the problem in its entirety. That problem is composed of three primary parts: An inefficient education system built to serve tens-of-thousands more students than we have today, an outdated human service system that is failing families and children and shifting the burden on to schools, and a supercharged education funding formula created in Act 60, modified in Act 68 and further tweaked over the years that lacks real cost containment incentives. We simply cannot afford what we have and because we can’t afford to make improvements kids are getting short changed. Act 46, while imperfect and in need of improvement, jumpstarted the difficult but necessary discussion on school consolidation. Reforming our human service system from one that measures inputs (how many people we’re enrolling) to one that measures outputs (how many people we’re helping to achieve financial independence) is a complex discussion our Democrat colleagues have so far refused to have. Continue Reading →

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Commentary: Vermont Should Divest from Coal and ExxonMobil Stocks

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n Christmas Day, I burned brush on my farm in Putney — in a t-shirt. My experience was not unlike that of many Vermonters as we all lived through Vermont’s most tropical Christmas in memory, capping off the world’s warmest year on record. Climate change is here, and it is affecting the Vermont that we love, from our ski areas to our lakes. Now is the time to take every sensible action to combat it if we’re to have a shot at preserving a livable planet for our kids and grandkids. At home, we’ve done a lot; from increasing by ten and 20 times the amount of solar and wind in Vermont, respectively, to investing in energy efficiency to help Vermonters use less energy and save money. Continue Reading →

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Commentary: Four Years After Irene, Renewal In Waterbury

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his past August, we marked the four year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene. Memories of communities besieged by flood waters, houses knocked from their foundations and families forever changed are still fresh for each of us, and for so many other Vermonters. But just as Vermont rebuilt from the historic 1927 floods, Vermonters have pulled together to build back stronger, smarter and better after Irene. This has required new and creative thinking, and significant collaboration between communities, the State of Vermont and the federal government. Nowhere in Vermont is that story better told than in Waterbury. Continue Reading →

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Commentary: Lara’s Legacy

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lancing through my morning paper the other day, an entry in the “police log” caught my eye, and not in a good way. It read “A woman threatened to ‘go all Jody Herring’ on a Department for Children and Families caseworker.” It was a harsh reminder of how important VSEA’s current campaign to enhance on-the-job safety for DCF workers is. But this group of workers is not alone. VSEA members working in the Employment Services Division, Office of Child Support, Probation and Parole, Corrections and other agencies and departments throughout state government have also told their union that they would like improved on-the-job safety. VSEA members recognize that our request for increased worker safety protections will cost money, but another Lara Sobel tragedy is something no one wants, and, judging by the newspaper entry I told you about (and other scary incidents workers have been told me about), time is particularly of the essence here. Continue Reading →

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