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Hoffer: Judiciary failing to collect public defender fees

State Auditor Doug Hoffer

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Judiciary has done a poor job of collecting millions of dollars in fees for state-appointed public defenders, according to an audit report released Monday by Auditor Doug Hoffer. The state has failed to collect more than $2 million in fees over the past three years, Hoffer wrote in a letter to judicial officials, Gov. Peter Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro tem John Campbell, in a letter accompanying his audit report Monday. “We found that the State’s processes to collect court-ordered payments are not effective. The State has collected less than a third of the $3.1 million in court-ordered assessments for public defender services due between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2014,” Hoffer wrote in the letter. The sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of all defendants to legal representation regardless of their ability to pay. Continue Reading →

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Senate gives preliminary approval to privacy bill

Sen. Tim Ashe

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers offered a ringing endorsement Wednesday for a bill intended to protect personal privacy in the face of technological advances. With a unanimous vote Wednesday afternoon, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill intended to limit the way law enforcement can use technology ranging from drones and license plate readers to cell phones and computers to gather information on people. “Together, they do a thing we think is important, which is reinvigorate the conversation about how to protect individuals personal and private lives at a time of rapidly expanding technology,” said Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden of the provisions within the bill. Ashe noted how the concept of privacy has changed during the last 25 years, recalling when a person sending a letter would be “almost guaranteed” nobody would read it aside from the intended recipient, compared with privacy breaches today that lead to disclosure of email. Ashe also noted high-tech companies that are using satellites to photograph every inch of the planet. Continue Reading →

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Story + Video: Legal pot discussion commences, but support is in question

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MONTPELIER — Advocates of legalizing marijuana in Vermont are touting new supporters and the potential benefit to Vermont’s economy as State House discussions on legalization commence. The Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana held a State House news conference Tuesday to tout the support of former Vermont Attorney General Kimberly Cheney’s support for legalizing pot this year. The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently reviewing two bills that would do just that. The effort to legalize marijuana received a boost from Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin last week when he announced in his State of the State address last week his willingness to sign a legalization bill this year. Shumlin said he would sign a bill if it ensures pot would stay out of the hands of underage people, has tax rates low enough to scuttle the black market, considers road safety and uses revenue for drug use prevention and addiction treatment. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin looks to curb driver’s license suspensions

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin is calling on lawmakers to eliminate the more than 70 non-driving-related reasons a person can have his driver’s license suspended in Vermont. During his State of the State Address, Shumlin called on lawmakers to make it easier for Vermonters to get a suspended license reinstated, and to cut the number of reasons a license can be suspended in the first place. “Why are we creating a permanent economic disability and making it so difficult for people who want to improve their lives?” Shumlin asked the General Assembly. “I ask you to make driver restoration days unnecessary by passing legislation that ensures non-traffic-related offenses don’t lead to Vermonters losing their ability to get to work or drop their kids off at school.” (more…) Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers mull electronic privacy

David Cahill

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers are mulling ways to protect personal privacy in the face of technological advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee is reviewing an omnibus privacy bill that seeks to limit the ways law enforcement can gather and use electronic data on the public. “The goal is clearly to prescript law enforcement access to electronic communications, and what time will they need a warrant, and what time they could call AT&T and say, we want all of Sears’ phone records,” said Sen. Richard Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which took up the bill Wednesday. Sears said the bill is one the three most-important bills expected to come through his committee this session, along with marijuana legalization and increased protections for Department for Children and Families workers. Already, there is agreement among the committee members on some facets of the bill, such as requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using an unmanned aerial device — or drone — to gather information on an individual. Continue Reading →

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Senate votes to suspend McAllister

Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, pleads his case to his Senate colleagues before the body voted to suspend him on Wednesday. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate voted 20 to 10 Wednesday afternoon in an unprecedented vote to suspend Sen. Norm McAllister until criminal charges pending against him for sexual assault are resolved. “Nobody knows more than me the seriousness of these charges, these allegations. I’ve got people who want to put me in prison for the rest of my life. I’m very much aware what is at stake,” McAllister told his colleagues on the Senate floor before they voted to oust him. The historic vote came after more than an hour of discussion on the Senate floor, mostly by Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, and Republican Rutland County Sen. Peg Flory, a close friend and ally of McAllister. Continue Reading →

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Capitol Beat 1.4.2016: Lawmakers return, Trump to rally in Burlington

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Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami, VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman and Times Argus Editor Steve Pappas discuss the return of lawmakers to Montpelier for the 2016 legislative session and a Donald Trump rally slated for Thursday. Continue Reading →

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Story +Video: Rules Committee advances resolution to suspend McAllister

Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, sat alone before a Senate Rules Committee meeting Wednesday. The committee voted to advance a resolution to the full Senate that seeks to suspend McAllister from the body because of pending sex crime charges against him. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

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MONTPELIER — The Senate Rules Committee voted Wednesday in favor of sending a resolution seeking the suspension of Franklin County Sen. Norm McAllister, who is charged with several sex crimes, to the full Senate next month. The 3 to 2 vote on the suspension resolution offered by Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, came after the panel rejected another resolution from Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, on a 4 to 1 vote, that would have amended the Senate’s rules to prevent it from acting in any manner until any pending felony charges are settled in court. McAllister, if suspended under the resolution, would continue to receive his pay because it is constitutionally protected unless he is expelled, Baruth said. Sens. Baruth, Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, and John Campbell, D-Windsor, voted in favor of the suspension resolution. Continue Reading →

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Senate bill to legalize marijuana is unveiled

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MONTPELIER — Legislation to be introduced next month when lawmakers return to the State House would allow those 21 and over to grow and possess marijuana as early as July 2016. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Jeanette White, D-Windham, and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, would allow for the retail sale of pot and permitted lounges, in 2017. White crafted the bill following a series of hearings by the Senate Government Operations Committee this fall. The committee could not reach consensus on a bill, she said. Continue Reading →

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Embezzlement threatens Hunger Free Vermont

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MONTPELIER — Hunger Free Vermont is in dire need of donations as federal authorities investigate a long-term embezzlement that sapped its cash reserves, according to Executive Director Marissa Parisi. The theft was discovered about a month ago by the group’s local bank branch after irregularities in a checking account were spotted, according to Parisi. The extent of the theft is still being determined, she said. “We’re still going through everything with a fine-toothed comb and we’re working with federal authorities,” Parisi said. “It’s likely in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Continue Reading →

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