Courts & Judiciary

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Senators look to advance discussion on legal pot

MONTPELIER — Frustrated by a lack of action in the House, the Senate will consider two amendments in the coming days that would put the state on a path toward legalizing marijuana. The Senate Judiciary Committee laid out its plans Tuesday to offer various amendments. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said there is “general frustration” in the Senate that the House has been unable or unwilling to act on its own bill this year, which prompted a review among some senators on how to move the conversation forward. “We had fully counted on the House passing H.170 this year. When they got to the floor I think there was a big deflation for us in the Senate. Continue Reading →

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Leahy joins filibuster effort against SCOTUS nominee

MONTPELIER — Sen. Patrick Leahy joined with most of his fellow Democrats in the Senate Monday and announced he will support a filibuster against President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Leahy is a senior member, voted 11-9 along party lines Monday to send Judge Neil Gorsuch’s name to the full Senate for confirmation later this week. But Leahy, and several other Democrats, announced their intention Monday to oppose what’s known as a cloture vote in the Senate. A cloture vote requires a threshold of at least 60 votes to end debate and move to a confirmation vote on the Senate floor. At least 41 Democratic senators now say they will not vote for cloture, meaning majority Republicans will not be able to confirm Gorsuch in the traditional manner. Continue Reading →

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State officials warn of potential scammers

BARRE — Attorney General T.J. Donovan and other state officials are urging Vermonters to be vigilant against scammers as the state and federal tax filing deadline nears. Donovan joined Vermont Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom and others at a news conference at Capstone Community Action in Barre Monday to raise awareness of tax scams. The most common, Donovan said, is callers pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service seeking back taxes owed to the federal government. Such scams increase as the annual tax filing deadline approaches, he said. “March Madness is over. The April reality check is upon us. Continue Reading →

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Pot legalization flames out in House

MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders in the House jettisoned a bill Tuesday that would legalize marijuana in Vermont to the Human Services Committee after it became clear that they lacked the votes to pass it on the floor. The bill, H.170, was expected to finally have its day in the House after previous delays. But Democratic House leaders acknowledged late in the day that support for the measure was wavering. Instead of bringing the bill to a vote it was sent to the Human Services Committee on a voice vote where its prospects, and a timeline for consideration there, are unclear. The legislation would legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of dry marijuana, two mature marijuana plants and four immature points. Continue Reading →

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Scott signs immigration bill into law as Trump administration cracks down

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott, flanked by Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Democratic lawmakers, signed into law Tuesday a bill aimed at curbing the impacts of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump in January. The signing comes just a day after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced at the daily White House briefing a crackdown by the Trump administration on jurisdictions that do not honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain people they may want to take custody of. Such jurisdictions have been commonly referred to as sanctuary cities or states, but there is no legal definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction. The bill signed into law Tuesday, S.79, grants Scott as governor the sole authority to enter into agreements with the federal government to deputize local, county or state law enforcement personnel to enforce federal immigration law. Scott said the law is necessary because the president’s executive orders indicate “a shift in federal policy in the areas of immigration and border security.”

“The executive orders indicate the federal government will seek agreements and engage with the states to perform immigration enforcement functions that are the responsibility of the federal government. Continue Reading →

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Scott taps Judge Karen Carroll for Vermont Supreme Court

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott has tapped Superior Court Judge Karen Russell Carroll Thursday to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, who will retire from the bench at the end of the month. The selection of Carroll, first appointed as a state Superior Court judge in 2000 by former Democratic Gov. Howard Dean, means the five-member Vermont Supreme Court will have a majority of women justices for the first time in state history. Scott, speaking at his weekly news conference Thursday, said the gender balance of the court did not weigh into his decision-making process. Rather, the governor said he focused on each candidate’s history and personality. “The personality of Karen, I think, lends itself well to the court,” Scott said. Continue Reading →

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House Judiciary sends pot bill to the floor

MONTPELIER — The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday in favor of a bill to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, sending the measure to the full chamber after Democratic leaders secured enough votes to ensure it passes. The Judiciary Committee voted 8 to 3 in favor of H.170, which would make it legal in Vermont to possess 1 ounce or less of marijuana, up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants. It is expected to hit the House floor next week. The bill mirrors the policy already in place in Washington, D.C. But it does not create a legal, regulated market like the one that exists in Colorado and that was passed by the Senate last year. Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, the Judiciary Committee chairwoman, said she views the bill as addressing a criminal justice issue that continues to exist in Vermont. Continue Reading →

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Gun-seizure bill advances in House

MONTPELIER — Following hours of tense — sometimes terse — debate, the Vermont House advanced a bill Tuesday that would allow police to temporarily seize guns from accused domestic abusers. The House gave the legislation preliminary approval on a voice vote to the measure, H.422, after voting 78-67 to approve the House Judiciary Committee’s changes. It will be up for final passage today. The bill would allow law enforcement officers to confiscate firearms from the homes of those accused of domestic violence for up to five days. Despite finding enough support to pass the House, its prospects in the Senate appear murky. Continue Reading →

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Donovan offers advice on immigration issues

MONTPELIER— Vermont Attorney General T. J. Donovan issued guidance to local municipalities Monday aimed at helping them address legal issues regarding immigration that have emerged since Republican President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders dealing with immigration and border security earlier this year. The memo to Vermont cities and towns released by Donovan on Monday provides background information on existing state and federal laws and explains the consequences of violating them. A number of towns across the state will consider new immigration policies Tuesday at their Town Meeting Day gatherings. Adopting so-called sanctuary status, meaning local communities would flout federal immigration law, could have consequences, he said. One of the president’s January executive orders threatens to eliminate federal money for localities that violate federal immigration law. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers unfazed by White House comments on marijuana

MONTPELIER — A White House official warned last week of a possible crackdown on federal marijuana policy but officials in Vermont say the discussion about whether to legalize the drug here will continue. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to questions at the White House’s daily briefing last Thursday with vague warnings about potential enforcement of the federal government’s policy. “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” he told reporters. Former Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration’s policy was to largely look the other way as states moved forward with state-level legalization. But Republican President Donald Trump may change all of that, putting states like Colorado, where there is a large, regulated marijuana retail market, in the Trump administration’s bullseye. Continue Reading →

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