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House defeats efforts to legalize, further decriminalize pot

Law enforcement officers listen to debate in the House about marijuana legalization. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House on Tuesday soundly rejected a Senate proposal to legalize marijuana and create a regulated retail market for the drug, and even fell short of decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of two marijuana plants. The House did manage to salvage a commission that will study the legalization of marijuana and report its findings back to the Legislature, likely setting up another push at legalization next year after the November election. The House first voted 121 to 28 Tuesday against the Senate’s proposal, which was strongly backed by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. The Senate passed the bill on a 17 to 12 vote. Rep. Chris Pearson, a Progressive from Burlington, was among the slim minority of House members who supported the Senate’s language. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin administration to require payment for release of remaining emails

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MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has asked the Vermont Press Bureau to withdraw its standing public records request for tens of thousands of emails the administration sought to delete, citing the cost and time required to fulfill it. Scott Coriell, spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin, and Darren Springer, the governor’s chief of staff, made the request Monday. The administration released the first batch of about 5,500 pages of emails last week that were sent and received by five former staff members. The first release of emails required about 200 hours of staff time to complete. Coriell said the cost of releasing the first batch of emails amounted to $5,300, but the administration is not seeking payment. Continue Reading →

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House delays marijuana vote

MONTPELIER — The House Democratic leadership backed away from a vote on legalizing marijuana Monday night as a more modest compromise plan was being drafted for consideration. House Speaker Shap Smith and other leaders worked over the weekend and throughout Monday to craft a proposal that could get through the House. The Senate, which passed a bill earlier this year to create a legal, regulated retail marijuana market, attached its plan to a House bill that was expected to be considered by the House Monday. Gov. Peter Shumlin has been calling publicly for the House to vote on the Senate bill, but the House has not been willing to act. Smith has been saying for weeks that his chamber did not have the votes to pass any legalization bill, but relented to a floor vote as he faced withering criticism for holding up the bill. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin administration releases emails it sought to delete

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MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has released the first batch of emails sent and received by five former staffers that it sought to destroy last month, a request that drew heavy criticism because it came just days before state and federal fraud charges against two Northeast Kingdom developers were revealed. The first batch of emails — about 5,500 — that were slated for deletion was released to the Vermont Press Bureau Friday as part of a public records request. The administration agreed to release the emails after they were reviewed to redact protected and privileged information. Scott Coriell, spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin, said all members of the governor’s staff, excluding the governor, have spent the past week completing the request, which required about 200 staff hours. There are tens of thousands of emails that are subject to the records request, according to Coriell, and the administration has no precise timeline for when the remaining records will be released. Continue Reading →

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Peep the duck will stay at East Montpelier home

Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter

MONTPELIER — The state has issued a possession permit to an East Montpelier woman to keep a wild wood duck at her home after the duck’s fate captured the attention of Vermonters and even lawmakers. Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter said the permit will allow Kim Stevens to keep the duck named Peep at her home. The Department of Fish and Wildlife sought to remove the duck in March after it came to the department’s attention that she was keeping the animal as a pet. Steven’s dog found Peep as a baby and brought it home. Stevens cared for the animal and it has been allowed to roam outside, but it always returns. Continue Reading →

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Independent contractor bill gets new lease on life

Rep. Bill Botzow

MONTPELIER — A bill seeking to clarify who can be classified as an independent contractor by employers was recalled to the House floor Thursday by Democrats after they got wind of a Republican effort to do the same. The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development passed the bill out of committee unanimously in March, but was it recommitted to the committee after House Speaker Shap Smith said the bill would face opposition on the House floor and had a slim chance of passing in the Senate. The issue has been brewing for several years, but legislation clarifying the difference between an employee and an independent contractor has never made it to the finish line. Representatives of labor and business groups have been unable to find common ground. On Thursday, Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, was preparing to make a motion to relieve the committee of the bill and return it to the House. Continue Reading →

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Senate tries to spur House into action on marijuana legalization

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MONTPELIER — The Senate on Wednesday attached the language it passed earlier this year creating a legal, regulated marijuana market to a House-passed bill dealing with criminal procedures, a move designed to spur the House into action on legalizing pot. The House has not considered S.241, the Senate’s marijuana legalization bill passed earlier this year, on the floor. After being scaled back by the House Judiciary Committee to only include a commission to examine the issue, the House Ways and Means Committee amended it again to legalize up to 1 ounce of pot and the cultivation of two marijuana plants. The legislation has been stalled in the House Appropriations Committee for nearly two weeks, however. Without the votes to advance it, the committee has opted to let the clock tick down on the legislative biennium. Continue Reading →

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VSEA, Democratic candidates call for funding labor contract

Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Steve Howard calls for lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract at a State House news conference. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees Association and the three Democratic candidates for governor are calling on lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract for state workers recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board, but Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin says it is too costly. The VSEA and the candidates — Matt Dunne, Sue Minter and Peter Galbraith — held a State House news conference Wednesday calling on the Legislature to include a 2 percent salary increase for state workers in the 2017 fiscal year state budget and a 2.25 percent increase in the 2018 fiscal year budget. That increase was recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board Tuesday in a 3 to 2 split decision over the Shumlin administration’s proposal for a 1 percent increase in 2017 and a 1.25 percent increase in 2018. VSEA President Dave Bellini said Wednesday the union has been seeking a fair contract through collective bargaining since last August that respects state employees. “You show respect and support by putting your money where your mouth is — funding our contracts, our retirements, making investments in safety for the hardworking Vermonters who are state employees,” he said. Continue Reading →

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VSEA prevails with the Vermont Labor Relations Board

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MONTPELIER — The Vermont Labor Relations Board ruled in a split decision Tuesday in favor of the Vermont State Employees Association in its contract dispute with the Shumlin administration. Both parties agreed to seek a two-year labor contract to succeed the current deal that is set to expire on June 30. The two sides had difficulty agreeing to terms, however, and reached in impasse. A deal was still elusive after mediation efforts, resulting in the appointment of a mutually agreed upon fact finder who held two hearings in January. Both sides submitted their last best offers to the Vermont Labor Relations Board last month and it was tasked with choosing between them. Continue Reading →

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Story & Video: Gubernatorial candidates pounce on alleged EB-5 fraud, call for transparency and release of documents

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith calls for an independent commission to investigate the state's role in EB-5 projects that are the subject of civil fraud litigation. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

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MONTPELIER — Candidates seeking to succeed Gov. Peter Shumlin are calling for transparency and one is seeking an independent commission to review the state’s involvement as a federal and state fraud case against two Northeast Kingdom developers proceeds. Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith, a former Windham County state senator, held a State House news conference Monday to call for an independent commission appointed by the chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court to investigate the state’s role in the fraud case against Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros. The two men are facing civil litigation filed by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission and the state for allegedly misusing $200 million in investor funds they raised through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. Quiros is accused of using $50 million of investor funds for his own personal gain. Galbraith said the two men have contributed significant amounts of money to Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Democratic Party and it should be determined if those contributions resulted in any favorable treatment for the EB-5 projects led by Quiros and Stenger at the Jay Peak and Q Burke Mountain resorts, and other projects in Newport. Continue Reading →

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