State Government

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After briefings, Scott more comfortable with vetting of refugees

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

MONTPELIER — Lt. Gov. Phil Scott says he has become more comfortable with the vetting of Syrian refugees after learning more from state and federal officials about the process. Listen: Vermont Press Bureau Report for VPR News

Scott, who is a candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor, called for a pause in allowing Syrian refugees to be relocated in Vermont following the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. Former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman, Scott’s primary opponent in the gubernatorial race, has called for a similar halt to the program. The attacks have sparked a debate across the country, and in Vermont, about whether Syrian refugees pose a national security risk. Continue Reading →

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Story + Video: Shumlin meets with refugees

Gov. Peter Shumlin visited a classroom of refugees ranging in age from 18 to 60, participating in a class teaching basic English at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue Tuesday morning. (Times Argus/Jennifer Langille)

BURLINGTON — Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday visited with refugees from around the world that have settled in Vermont to welcome them to the state as a debate rages around the country regarding the acceptance of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn nation. The governor spoke to about a dozen refugees living in Vermont as they attended an English language class at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington. They have arrived in Vermont from several nations, including Bhutan, Somalia, Myanmar and the Congo — some within the past few months and some years ago. Shumlin, one of the few governors who has spoken in favor of welcoming Syrian refugees since concerns were raised following the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, told the new residents he wanted to “come and thank you on behalf of Vermonters for being Vermonters.”

“I can’t tell you how excited we are that you have joined the best state in the country. Continue Reading →

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Concern raised with off session legislative work

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

MONTPELIER — Vermont has always had a part-time Legislature comprised of ordinary, civic-minded Vermonters, but one representative says that characteristic is threatened by the growing level of engagement outside of the regular legislative sessions. Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, a Republican, took to social media Friday to lament the extensive work performed by some legislative committees since the official session ended in mid-May. “Is anybody else as frustrated as I with the amount of legislative activity that has happened since our May 16th adjournment? Report, after report, after report has legislative committees meeting and conducting legislative work just about full-time,” Scheuermann wrote. “While there have always been some summer study committees during the off session, I have never seen the amount of legislative work being conducted as I am seeing this year.”

Is anybody else as frustrated as I with the amount of legislative activity that has happened since our May 16th… Continue Reading →

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State revenue growth to continue, but remains volatile

Justin Johnson

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin Administration says revenue forecasts will likely remain unchanged going into the next year, while acknowledging revenue streams have grown more volatile. Administration Secretary Justin Johnson hosted an Internet forum Monday afternoon to inform the public on the pressures lawmakers will face as they craft the 2017 budget, and took testimony from the public on the effects budget cuts might have to social services. In a good news-bad news sort of statement, Johnson discussed the trend of revenues coming into state coffers. “Revenue is growing. It has been growing consistently, year over year, since the global financial crisis in 2008,” Johnson said. Continue Reading →

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Treasurer: Pension funds need financing changes


MONTPELIER — Vermont’s three pension funds were battered by the Great Recession and are currently funded below levels recommended by actuaries, but the state has made some adjustments to improve their positions and state Treasurer Beth Pearce says she will seek long-term changes to the way they are financed to further ensure stability. Vermont, like many other states, has struggled to fund the retirement benefits promised to teachers and state and municipal employees. The cost of health care benefits for retirees has grown faster than revenue growth, and the pension funds the state manages saw market losses during the Great Recession. The three pension funds managed by the state — for teachers, state workers and municipal workers — provide retirement benefits, including health care, to tens of thousands of Vermonters. There are more than 8,000 active state employees, and nearly 10,000 active teachers and more than 6,600 active municipal employees. Continue Reading →

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Watch: Vermont PBS’ Vermont This Week

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami joins the panel on Vermont PBS’ Vermont This Week. HEADLINES:
Syrian Resettlement Opens Vermont Divide
Smith Ends Campaign for GovernorSanders Defines Democratic Socialism
Marijuana Legalization Bill Taking Shape
Lawmakers Consider Revising Act 46
Swanton Voters Reject Turbines
Stewart Ledbetter, Moderator
Paul Heintz, Seven Days
Neal Goswami, Vermont Press Bureau
Robin Smith, Caledonian Record Continue Reading →

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Unemployment remains at 3.7 percent

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s seasonably-adjusted unemployment remained level in October at 3.7 percent, the Vermont Department of Labor announced Friday. October’s unemployment rate matched the revised number from September. The national average in October was 5 percent, according to the department. The October rate, the eighth-lowest in the country, makes the night consecutive month of unemployment below 4 percent. Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan noted a sharp drop in the labor force from September to October of more than 2,000 people. Continue Reading →

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Possession, edibles top legalization debate

Sen Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, studies marijuana legalization

MONTPELIER — Possession limits and edibles topped a discussion Thursday on how the state might go about marijuana legalization. The Senate Government Operations Committee spent most of the day mulling how, not if, pot would be legalized during the upcoming legislative session, with an eye toward everything from the way Vermonters would be allowed to cultivate to the items that would be available at shops selling pot products. Numerous bills related to legalization are pending, including one from Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden – who is running for lieutenant governor – calling for legalization, to another from Rep. David Potter, D-West Rutland, whose bill calls for a saliva test to determine if a motorist is driving while stoned. All of these bills are set against the backdrop of a state-commissioned study from the Rand Corporation released in January stating the taxation of marijuana could generate as much as $70 million in revenue, an attractive proposition for some lawmakers as the state is looking at a projected $66 million deficit. In some ways, the committee’s take on marijuana mirrors existing laws governing alcohol. Continue Reading →

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Outside Audit Finds Vermont Health Connect Out Of Federal Compliance


he first independent, external audit of Vermont Health Connect has arrived, and Virginia-based auditing firm says the state is out of compliance with federal regulations for state health insurance exchanges. There’s a term of art in accounting called a “adverse opinion.” It means an institution isn’t in compliance with generally accepted accounting principles, or that documents needed to prove compliance are either missing or inaccurate. (more…) Continue Reading →

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Commentary: Reversing the trend of rising incarceration rates


or most of the last two decades, Vermont’s prison inmate population has been rising. Between 1997 and 2008, it grew by 86 percent. Projections made in 2007 said that Vermont’s inmate population would grow to 2,619 by November 2015. After years of work to reform Vermont’s criminal justice system that trend has been reversed, and today Vermont has 1,734 inmates, 885 less than projected. When I first ran for Governor I made reforming the criminal justice system a priority because it is the right thing to do. Continue Reading →

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