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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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House Appropriations sends state budget to the floor

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee gave unanimous approval Monday to a state budget plan that closes a $72 million projected gap between revenue and expenses without raising taxes and fees, a demand from Republican Gov. Phil Scott that has loomed over the Democratic majority for months. Overall, the Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, opted to cut general fund spending by about $67 million. Another $5 million in revenue is expected to be generated through enhanced compliance of existing taxes. The plan was approved by the committee on a 11 to 0 vote Monday afternoon, and won the support of four Republican members. The House’s 2018 fiscal year spending plan does not raise taxes or fees, as Scott demanded. Continue Reading →

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Listen: Capital Beat Podcast 3.17.17

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VTDigger’s Elizabeth Hewitt joins Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and Vermont Public Radio political reporter Peter Hirschfeld on the podcast this week. Topics included the state budget and House Democrats’ frustration with Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Subscribe to the Capital Beat Podcast on iTunes for the latest episodes.   Continue Reading →

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Watch: Capital Beat with House Speaker Johnson and Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe join the show to discuss progress on crafting the state budget, disagreements with Gov. Phil Scott and legislation that will be considered in the second half of the legislative session. Capital Beat airs on Vermont PBS Plus Mondays at 8:30 p.m. Continue Reading →

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Pot bill seen as losing steam

MONTPELIER — Legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana has hit a snag as House leaders look to navigate differing views and rally support in the chamber. The Judiciary Committee was expected to vote H.170 out of committee earlier this week. The bill seeks to legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of dry marijuana and two plants. It would largely follow the policy already in place in Washington, D.C.

The politics behind legalization are tough to navigate, however. The House legalization bill is a second bite of the apple in as many years. Continue Reading →

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Scott stands his ground on budget

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott stood his ground Thursday, a day after House Democrats accused him of “shirking” his responsibility to lead and provide them with new ideas to help balance the state budget. Scott, a first-term Republican, said at his weekly news conference Thursday that lawmakers should complete their own budget proposal if they aren’t prepared to accept his. The governor’s proposal has seen little support in the Democratic-led Legislature. His budget plan, which was revealed in late January, called for local school districts to level-fund their budgets, which would have saved $41 million in the education fund. It also calls for teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums, saving an estimated $15 million in the 2018 fiscal year. Continue Reading →

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House Dems take off gloves in budget battle

MONTPELIER — House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and the chairs of the House money committees came out swinging Wednesday, accusing the governor of shirking his responsibility to govern by not engaging with lawmakers in the budget process after his initial proposal was rejected. Johnson, joined by Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kitty Toll and Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Janet Ancel, excoriated Republican Gov. Phil Scott for being disengaged from the budget process and sticking to what they say is a budget plan already rejected by lawmakers and local voters. Showdowns between lawmakers and the administration are expected, but for the first time in six years, the Democratic-led Legislature must work with a Republican administration. Wednesday’s tough words from Democrats indicate a more volatile process is likely this year than in recent years when Democrats also controlled the governor’s office. Scott’s budget proposal, unveiled in late January, called for local school districts to level-fund their budgets and force teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums. Doing so would save tens of millions of dollars in the state’s education fund. Continue Reading →

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Immigration issue splits House GOP caucus

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House advanced legislation aimed at preventing local law enforcement from participating in federal immigration enforcement in a vote that split the Republican caucus with half going against a popular governor from their own party. The bill, S.79, has been pushed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and a tripartisan group of lawmakers in response to executive orders signed by President Donald Trump dealing with immigration and border security. It received preliminary approval in the House Tuesday on a 110-24 vote, with 24 Republicans voting against it. The bill originated in the Senate where it passed 30-0 and was unchanged by the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Newfane, the vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told his colleagues the legislation is “not about immigration” at the state level. Continue Reading →

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State officials: GOP health plan could have dire consequences

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s top health care officials on Friday detailed dire consequences, including the loss of as much as $200 million in annual federal funding, if the Republican health care plan proposed in Congress is enacted. Agency of Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille, along with Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Cory Gustafson and Director of Health Care Reform Mary Kate Mohlman briefed reporters on the impact the American Health Care Act, or Trumpcare, as some have taken to calling it, will have on Vermonters. Gobeille said the trio were not advocating for or against the proposal, but they had few positive points to make about the GOP proposal. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress campaigned heavily in last fall’s election on repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The plan introduced earlier this week by Republicans in Congress seeks to do that. Continue Reading →

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