Category Archives: State Government

Video: Vermont this Week on Vermont PBS

Vermont Press Bureau reporter Josh O’Gorman joins Terri Hallenbeck of Seven Days, Johnny Herrick of VTDigger and moderater Stewart Ledbetter on this week’s show.

Capitol Beat with the Governor 1-30-15

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Gov. Peter Shumlin sits down Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami to defend his payroll tax plan and discuss the needs of millennials in Vermont. He also predicts a Super Bowl victory for the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Gov. Peter Shumlin records Capitol Beat with the Governor.

Gov. Peter Shumlin records Capitol Beat with the Governor. (Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

House advances annual budget adjustment

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House gave preliminary approval by voice vote Thursday to the annual budget adjustment bill, which will lower state spending in the current fiscal year by $12 million.

The reduction in spending is needed following a revenue forecast delivered by state economists last week that projects lower revenues than initially thought. In fact, the current, 2015 fiscal year budget is has seen a downgrade of more than $41 million since January 2014 — a 2.8 percent reduction in funds available to support government operations.

The budget adjustment, unanimously approved by the House Appropriations Committee Monday, uses $10 million in spending reductions to cover the downgrade and sets aside $2 million for use in balancing the 2016 fiscal year budget. It brings available revenue in line with spending, and sets 2015 fiscal year spending less than 1.5 percent more than the previous year, said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.

“This budget brings general fund growth to under what average growth in the economy is,” she said.

Rep. Mitzi Johnson

Rep. Mitzi Johnson

The plan approved by the Appropriations Committee covers increased costs for Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace. Overall spending on the exchange is rising by $28.3 million, including $14.6 million in state funds, according to Finance Commissioner James Reardon. It is the first time state funds are being used for operations related to the exchange.

The budget adjustment also includes $2.15 million in additional funds for the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington. And, it funds 110 new opiate treatment slots in Bennington County, which will free up space in Rutland County.

“Though overall spending is down, we were able to make some investments,” Johnson said.

There are several large reductions, too, including $ 1 million in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, $437,000 in mental health housing vouchers and $224,000 in cuts to the Judiciary, which is expected to decrease the availability of judges.

Johnson said a plan to cut $500,000 from the Judiciary presented by Gov. Peter Shumlin was scaled back. Instead, the committee sent a letter to the Judiciary asking officials to find ways to cut costs without diminishing services or slowing justice.

Floor action on the bill came to a grinding halt Thursday afternoon when Rep, Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, sought to introduce an amendment seeking greater transparency in exchange spending. Republicans said the amendment was triggered because of new state spending on the exchange.

House Speaker Shap Smith called for a recess to allow the Appropriations and Health Care Committees to review the amendment and provide time for the parties to caucus.

Rep. Mary Morrissey

Rep. Mary Morrissey

Morrissey’s amendment called for halting the expenditure of funds included in the budget adjustment for VHC unless Lawrence Miller, the governor’s chief of health care reform, provides lawmakers with:

— A full accounting of the state and federal expenditures through 2014 for development and implementation of the exchange
— Projected remaining development and implementation of the exchange through 2015
— Remaining balance of any federal grants awarded to the state for development and implementation of the exchange
— Projected expenditures for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 for the operation of the exchange by funding source and department

House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, said the amendment will force the administration to become more transparent and will provide information to lawmakers that so far has not been forthcoming.

“I think it’s a very good one if you believe in transparent government,” he said.

The Appropriations Committee substituted its own version of the amendment, essentially stripping Morrissey’s fingerprints from the process. The Democratic version, which was approved by the House on a voice vote, removed the threat of halting spending.

“We’re prepared to take action should we not receive satisfactory information,” Johnson said in an effort to placate discontent among Republicans.

The House later agreed to add the amendment to the budget adjustment on a 135 to 0 roll call vote. Democrats said they have already asked the administration for the data sought in the amendment and have already received most of it.

Morrissey said she is “appreciative” that the Democratic majority choice “to copy” her amendment.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Exchange tax documents in the mail, state says

MONTPELIER — State officials are warning Vermonters who obtained health insurance through Vermont Health Connect to be on the lookout for important tax documents that should arrive in the mail by next week.

More than 25,000 1095-A forms have been mailed to Vermonters. The form has the financial information customers provided when signing up for health insurance coverage on the state’s online marketplace.

But Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller said some customers may experience problems because not all change of circumstance requests have been processed by the state. Another batch of changes is expected to be processed by Feb. 20, so some customers may received a corrected 1095-A.

“There will be some that get corrections but that doesn’t necessarily slow anybody down in completing their taxes,” Miller told reporters Thursday. “People may find that they’ve got a discrepancy … and need some help.”

State officials brief reporters on required tax documents for Vermont Health Connect customers.

State officials brief reporters on required tax documents for Vermont Health Connect customers.

Customers could also be required to pay back subsidies if their incomes changed during 2014, or could receive payments from the federal government, depending on whether their income went up or down.

Miller said 36 percent of the 37,239 Vermonters on the exchange had no federal subsidy. Ten percent of customers had only a federal subsidy, and 54 percent received a federal subsidy as well as additional premium assistance from the state.

Everyone who receives a 1095-A form in the mail will need to fill out IRS Form 8962. The 1095-A form includes the financial information needed to do so. Even those that didn’t receive tax credits as part of their coverage must complete the form if they purchased a bronze, silver, gold or platinum plan on the exchange, according to officials.

Customers with questions will see a “substantially faster” connection to the VHC call center than the IRS. Miller said the IRS “received inadequate funding to fully staff its’ call center” and wait times of at least 20 minutes are expected.

“That will be a bigger challenge for folks if they need to call the IRS help center,” he said.

Tax preparation software and accountants and tax preparers should be prepared to help complete required tax forms related to health care.

“Those people have been prepared and folks should expect a relatively smooth experience,” Miller said. “My hunch is, while this seems very new and very complicated, for the majority of people as they go through their taxes, it will be smooth.”

State officials said whether or not customers will owe money back for subsidies received or receive subsidies after-the-fact depends on how close their actual income was compared to what they estimated. That information is unclear to the state until forms are completed and filed.

“No way of knowing. This is the first year its’ been done. It’s hard to know what happens to people’s income over the course of a year. You would tend to assume, that if people based their financial information on their income from last year, most people would have seen a slight increase in their income,” Miller said. “It depends on what they estimated.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Report: Vt. lacks transportation to attract young adults

 The Vermont Transportation Board today released its Annual Report, which documents the comments the Board collected during a recent series of public forums that focused on the Transportation needs and wants of young adults.

 After hearing from some 250 Vermonters during a series of eight public forums that were held during the fall of 2014, the report documents that young adults are not only dissatisfied with Vermont’s transportation services, but believe that the state’s limited public transportation options combined with its limited number of bicycle-and-pedestrian facilities is causing many of their peers to either move away from the Green Mountains or not consider Vermont when choosing a place to live, work and raise a family.

 “Vermont’s population of young adults has been on the decline for decades now,” said Transportation Board Chairman Nick Marro. “The reasons for this trend are multifaceted, but somewhere within this decline lies a transportation nexus. Understanding how young people view the current state of Vermont’s transportation system, and understanding how those views differ from previous generations, is one of the keys to being able to properly plan for the state’s future.”

 Vermont for years now has seen a steady decline of young adults. The number of Vermonters between the ages of 20-39 shrunk 20 percent – a fall from 187,576 to 149,831 – over the 20-year period between 1990 and 2010, according to U.S. Census data. Adding significance to this trend is that Vermont’s overall population grew by 11 percent – from 562-758 to 625,741 – over this same time period.

 A groundbreaking national study published in late 2012 showed that today’s young adults drive motor vehicles significantly less than did young adults of similar ages just one generation ago. The study documented that from 2001 to 2009, the annual vehicle miles traveled by a 16-34 year-old decreased 23 percent from 10,3000 to 7,900. Over this same time period, these same young people took 24 percent more bicycle trips, walked to destinations 16 percent more often, and traveled 40 percent more miles by public transportation.

 “Vermont does not always follow national trends, so the Transportation Board wanted to talk with young Vermonters to learn whether their transportation behavior was in synch with their national counterparts,” Marro said.  “What young Vermonters told us is that they would like to live a lifestyle that is not dependent on an automobile, but that Vermont’s lack of car-free alternatives not only makes that impossible, but also deters many of their peers from considering Vermont as a place live and work.”

 The Board’s report details the reasons young people find Vermont transportationally unattractive. These reasons include a lack of public transportation that both runs at convenient times and stops at the destinations they need to reach, a lack of safe and well-lit bicycle facilities such as dedicated bike lanes in downtown areas or bike paths that reach other destinations, and a lack of well-maintained and well-lit pedestrian facilities like sidewalks that connect their homes to nearby restaurants and shops.

Sorrell outlines state’s GMO case for lawmakers

MONTPELIER — Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell told the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday that he expects a judge to rule on dueling motions in the GMO labeling case within the next three months, which will help lay out a path for the rest of the case.

A host of food industry groups filed suit last year against the state’s GMO labeling law, set to take effect July 1, 2016, claiming it is unconstitutional. Sorrell briefed the committee Wednesday on the status of the case.

The plaintiffs have asked the judge for a summary judgment, claiming the state is restricting their free speech rights by forcing them to label products that contain GMOs. They also claim the state cannot prevent them from calling a product natural if it contains GMOs.

The state has filed a motion for dismissal of the lawsuit. Oral arguments have already been heard, and Sorrell said the state “attacked each count of the plaintiffs’ complaint.”

In some cases, restricting the right to speech can be unconstitutional, according to Sorrell.

“In first amendment free speech arena, there’s the freedom to speak or the freedom to remain silent. So, restricting speech can be a violation of free speech rights,” Sorrell said.

Attorney General William Sorrell testifies before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

Attorney General William Sorrell testifies before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

Under the state’s GMO labeling law, the state is compelling food manufacturers to state whether or not food products have GMO ingredients. “They’re objecting, saying, ‘You are forcing us to speak on labels and we don’t want to,’” Sorrell said.

In this case, Sorrell said the state has argued that it is not unconstitutional, and courts have found such compelled speech to be constitutional in similar cases.

“On the compelled speech issue we suggest that there are legitimate governmental concerns about environmental issues and public health issues as it relates to genetically engineered products, and legitimate governmental interest to accommodate religious considerations for a segment of the population,” he said.

The state’s motion to dismiss cited a case from an appeals court in Washington, D.C., one step below the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the appeals court ruled that meat must be labeled with the country of origin. The court applied a lenient standard for the government to overcome, according to Sorrell.

“We suggest in our argument that this is very much akin to the country of origin required disclosure on meat products that we’re talking about here,” he said. “We should win on the compelled speech piece.”

And, unlike products that contain alcohol or tobacco and require health warnings, the required labeling requires facts to be disclosed, much like nutrition labels.

“Unlike those kinds of warnings, what our statute requires are simply factual assertions without sort of the taint or flavor, if you will, of saying, ‘Caution, these are hazardous to your health,’” Sorrell said. “These are akin to the … kinds of closures that you typically see on products for calories, fat content, salt and sugar and the like. The standard to which we should be held shouldn’t be a higher standard because it is just a factual assertion as opposed to a warning.”

Sorrell said he is also confident in the state’s argument for prohibiting the use of the term “natural” for GMO products.

“There is no first amendment right to make either false or misleading statements,” he said.

The state’s case points to a posting on the website of Monsanto, a biotechnology company that is part of the suit against the state, that describes GMOs as “plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.”

“We say, ‘Listen, there’s no way you can say that this is natural,” Sorrell said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, indicated he believes that posting will harm the plaintiffs’ case.

“They kind of shot themselves in the foot with that post,” Starr said.

The suit also claims an undue burden on interstate commerce. Sorrell told the committee that the law provided more than two years notice to food manufacturers of the pending labeling requirement.

“The state was very accommodating there,” he said.

And GMO labeling is already required in more than 60 countries and two other states, Connecticut and Maine, have passed labeling requirements, but those have yet to take effect.

“This is not Vermont as some island in the world that’s requiring labeling,” Sorrell said.

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss is expected to issue a ruling on the initial motions within the next several months, according to Sorrell. That will inform both sides how the rest of the case will proceed, he said.

“I think we’re hoping to be on a track where whatever evidentiary proceeding we’re going to need to do will be done some time by late fall. Hopefully, a decision at the trial court [will happen], if not within this calendar year, then very early into the next calendar year,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Video: Public hearing on gas prices

Video: Hearing on S.9, protecting children from abuse

Release: Stuart named deputy banking commissioner

Cynthia Stuart has been named deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation’s Banking Division, Commissioner Susan L. Donegan announced today. Stuart has more than 18 years of experience in both the retail and community aspects of banking and brings to the job a wealth of knowledge of current operations and senior management.

She has worked at several federal community banks in New Hampshire and Vermont, including Connecticut River Bank NA in Littleton, NH, where she was senior vice president of Retail Banking and Deposit Operations and most recently Ledyard National Bank in Hanover, NH, where she was senior vice president and senior retail banking officer.

Donegan said she is pleased to welcome Stuart to the department and is delighted to have someone of her high caliber join the staff.

“Cynthia has an excellent understanding of community-based banking and exceptional knowledge of both banks and credit unions in Vermont and New Hampshire, she said, “and she will bring extensive experience to the department.

Stuart said she is enthusiastic about her new career on the regulatory side of banking.

“I am anxious to begin my new role as a regulator and I believe my wide range of banking experience and management skills will be an asset to the department,” she said, “and being a native Vermonter, I have a great appreciation and understanding of the financial needs of the residents of our state.”

Stuart earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College in Burlington and a master’s degree in business administration from Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. She also attended the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University and American Bankers Association Bank Marketing School at the University of Colorado.

She lives in Concord with her family. Stuart began her duties on January 26.

Shumlin says no rush to legalize pot, won’t partake if Vermont acts

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin said Tuesday he has no plans to partake in legal marijuana if the state moves to allow it.

“No,” Shumlin said, when asked during a news conference by Seven Days reporter Terri Hallenbeck if he would smoke legal weed. “Been there, done that.”

Shumlin appeared caught off guard when asked when he last smoked marijuana.

“Oh my God,” he said. It was a while ago. I’m old.”

Shumlin then clarified that he last smoked pot in his late 20s, but gave it up as his responsibilities grew.

“My guess is that a lot of Vermonters of my generation feel like I do about marijuana, which is, it is something that we smoked when we were young,” he said. I found that as I got into my 20s and took on more responsibility, it didn’t have the same desirable effect on me and I stopped smoking it because as I took on more responsibility, or I don’t know what in my late 20s, I just found that it wasn’t much fun anymore.”

“My staff’s going to kill me for this,” he added, glancing at Chief of Staff Liz Miller and spokesman Scott Coriell.

The RAND corp. recently released a report estimating that Vermont could net between $20 million and $75 million annually by legalizing marijuana. The higher end of potential revenue would be possible of surrounding states did not follow suit and out-of-state residents came to Vermont to purchase it.

Shumlin said he is in no rush to beat surrounding states simply for additional revenue.

“I don’t think we should be driven by tax revenue. I think we should be driven by doing the right thing for Vermonters in a way that is better than the current system, which forces an illegal market that isn’t regulated, that isn’t controlled, that anyone can have access to, including kids,” he said. “Kids will tell you that it’s easier to get pot … than it is alcohol. That suggests that the regulatory market works.”

Shumlin said he spoke with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday about the issue. Colorado has legalized marijuana through a ballot initiative and Shumlin said Vermont should take its time and learn from both Colorado and the state of Washington before acting.

“I really think that we can learn a lot from the states that have gone first on this and are learning what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “I’ll continue to evolve and learn from their experiences. I think the report gives us a good road map of choices that we could make should we move to legalization.”

One lesson already learned, Shumlin said, is that Vermont should avoid allowing edible products made with marijuana.

“Edibles are a real challenge for states. I would love to see Vermont avoid those problems if we were to go ahead,” he said.

Release: Public Service Department issues energy comparison

The Vermont Public Service Department has released its benchmarking comparison of electric energy efficiency program performance in Vermont with performance of programs in eight other states. The evaluation shows that Vermont’s electric energy efficiency programs save more energy than comparable programs, with costs that are very similar to their peers.

 “I am gratified but not surprised that Vermont’s Energy Efficiency Utilities show greater benefits for dollars spent than systems in other states” said Chris Recchia, Commissioner of Vermont Public Service Department. “Vermont is a national leader in energy efficiency and this report highlights the success of our programs” Recchia added.

 The Department’s benchmarking analysis compares reported program savings and costs for program years 2011 and 2012. The analysis includes results for energy savings as well as for peak demand; peak demand savings reduce the need to build new electric generators or power lines.

 “Benchmarking is an appropriate tool to ensure Vermont’s programs compare well to programs in other jurisdictions. We are pleased to see Vermont’s Energy Efficiency Utilities perform so well compared to their peers” said Asa Hopkins, Director of Energy Policy and Planning in the Department.

 Burlington Electric Department (“BED”) provides electric energy efficiency services in Burlington. Vermont Energy Investment Corporation provides electric energy efficiency service to the rest of the state as Efficiency Vermont (“EVT”).  Both energy efficiency service providers are referred to as Energy Efficiency Utilities (“EEUs”). The evaluation compared program performance for both EVT and BED to that of twenty-seven other energy efficiency service providers spanning eight jurisdictions (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland and Minnesota).

 Conclusions of the evaluation include the following highlights:

  • EVT’s and BED’s energy efficiency programs have higher energy savings compared to most of the organizations benchmarked. EVT’s programs saved about 2.4% of utility electric sales per year, while BED’s programs saved about 1.9%. The median savings for the benchmarked organizations is 1.7% of sales.
  • EVT’s first year cost of saved energy is slightly less than the median for the organizations benchmarked in this analysis while BED’s is just above the median.
  • EVT’s and BED’s energy efficiency programs have the second and third highest peak demand savings compared to the rest of the benchmarked organizations. EVT’s and BED’s programs each saved about 1.3% of retail peak demand per year, while the median savings for the group of compared organizations is less 1.0% of retail peak demand.
  • EVT’s cost of peak demand savings is less than the median for the organizations benchmarked while BED’s cost of peak demand savings is above the median.

Every three years the Department assesses the EEUs’ performance relative to other entities conducting similar efficiency efforts in other jurisdictions. Such comparisons normalize for program maturity, funding, demographics and other important variables. Benchmarking is also considered in the Overall Performance Assessment conducted by the Vermont Public Service Board every six years. This a review process that considers the effectiveness of Vermont’s EEUs and determines whether it is in the best interest of Vermont ratepayers to solicit competitive bids for delivery of efficiency services, or to re-appoint the incumbent providers.

A copy of the full Benchmarking report is available at:  http://publicservice.vermont.gov/topics/energy_efficiency/eeu_evaluation#Benchmarking

Shumlin heads to D.C. seeking federal highway funds

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin is heading to Washington Wednesday to provide testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works about the need for funding in the Highway Trust Fund.

Vermont and other states rely on the federal fund to complete road, bridge and other infrastructure repairs and projects. But the fund, which is replenished through the federal gas tax, has solvency issues as that revenue source plummets.

The fund is supported with a federal gas tax of 18.3 cents per gallon, and a tax of 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel. But Americans are driving less and the fund is not keeping pace with infrastructure needs across the country.

Shumlin said his testimony will focus on “the desperate need to refill the transportation trust fund so Vermont and the other 49 states can rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks to reporters during a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks to reporters during a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

“I understand there’s tremendous difficulty getting anything done in Congress, but it seems to me the one thing that Republicans, Democrats, independents can agree on, if we let our roads and bridges crumble, we lose our quality of life and we lose our ability to grow jobs and economic opportunity,” Shumlin said at a news conference Tuesday.

Shumlin, who was invited to testify by Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer, according to his aides, will be joined by Republican Gov. Robert Brentley of Alabama, and South Dakota Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist. Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy canceled his appearance to oversee winter storm cleanup.

Shumlin said he was asked by the National Governor’s Association to present the states’ perspective to Congress.

“As I talk to both Republican and Democratic governors, we’re united on this one. The National Governor’s Association feels very strongly that Congress must come up with a solution by May to refill the transportation trust fund or we will lose jobs and we’ll lose our infrastructure, and it’s really critical,” he said.

States need to begin lining up contractors for the summer construction season but cannot commit to projects unless funding is secured.

“We just can’t be constantly in a situation where we say, ‘Hey, we have bridges that are falling apart, we have roads that are crumbling, but we can’t go out there and line up contractors because we just don’t know if the feds are going to get their act together to get us the money that we need to do it,’” Shumlin said.

The governor said he will not tell Congress how to address the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, but would support moving to a tax that is assessed on the number of miles driven rather based on the gallons of fuel purchased.

“I would love to see us move to a vehicle miles traveled tax, but I understand that can’t get done by May. The point is we have both a long-term need to move to a fairer way of raising revenue, because obviously electric cars need to contribute to, but the real challenge we face right now is if we don’t get money in that fund by May, all 50 states will lose the battle against crumbling roads and bridges and I just don’t think there’s an American who believes that’s a good idea,” Shumlin said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

DMV briefs lawmakers on driver’s privilege card fraud

MONTPELIER — Department of Motor Vehicles officials told the House Transportation Committee Tuesday that they are continuing to investigate fraudulent applications for the state’s driver’s privilege cards from out-of-state people.

According to DMV Commissioner Robert Ide, the Department is investigating 144 people that may have obtained a Vermont driver’s privilege card through fraud. It’s unclear how many of those applicants have received the card. Officials said Tuesday that not all of the applicants have been contacted by the DMV.

The driver privilege card was created and approved by lawmakers, and signed in to law by Gov. Peter Shumlin last year, to allow undocumented immigrants to secure the ability to drive.

Workers at the DMV office in Bennington flagged a number of applications for such cards after they noticed that many people were using the same addresses on their applications.

Ide told the committee that 144 possible fraudulent applications “does seem like a very, very big number to us and we’re certainly not pleased with that number.”

“Should it have been caught? We could argue that it perhaps should have been caught sooner,” Ide said. “Clearly, that’s not a good number.”

Michael Smith, the DMV’s operations division director, provided limited details because the investigations are ongoing. However, he said in some cases, the two pieces of mail with a physical address that is among the requirements to obtain a driver’s privilege card appeared to be suspicious.

A sample driver's privilege card provided by the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.

A sample driver’s privilege card provided by the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Two different entities in the top left hand corner mailed to the same person on the front and it’s all in the same handwriting,” he said. “That’s where the questioning starts happening. When you’re in a small office and staff have been in that area their entire life they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, I know where that address is, it’s empty.’ That’s where a referral would be made to enforcement and safety.”

He said the ongoing investigations have also found that in some cases people are “allowing addresses to be used for compensation.”

“There are some people out there taking advantage and charging fees to help people that are not residents of Vermont get privilege cards in Vermont,” Smith said.

Rep. Timothy Corcoran, D-Bennington, said he voted against the creation of the driver’s privilege card last year because he had concerns with potential illegal activity. He questioned why it took so long for DMV workers to notice something amiss.

“How did we get that far and not catch it? It just seems like something blatantly went wrong,” Corcoran said.

Ide said workers are always looking for fraudulent activity, but also assume that applicants are providing honest and accurate information.

“We look for fraud in every area where we do business and we expect honesty from every person that we do business with. Whenever there is a new product there are opportunities for people who think in this way,” he said. “I want to stress that this is a very, very small number, but we are diligent.”

All cases of potential fraud are investigated when discovered, Ide said.

“When we have activity that is in our opinion suspicious we do examine it. Sometimes we find that our suspicions were not properly place and sometimes we find our suspicious are properly placed,” Ide said.

The driver’s privilege card that undocumented immigrants can obtain allows for a larger list of items that can be used as proof of identification than what is asked of those seeking an enhanced identification card that legal Vermont residents can obtain. To obtain the card at least two of the following items are required:

— A valid passport
— A birth identification
— Consular identification

Ide said the program has worked well in most cases.

“There are a number of cards that have been issued to what we all thought was the original target audience that have been issued properly and perfectly and those people are driving responsibly,” he told the committee.

The most problems have occurred in DMV branches closest to large, urban areas in other states. Those areas tend to be in southern Vermont, according to Ide.

DMV officials did not anticipate an influx of out-of-state undocumented immigrants seeking a driver’s privilege card in Vermont.

“The migrant worker in another state is not the audience that any of us thought that we were trying to get to. So, we continue to work very, very diligently and very fairly,” Ide said.

California recently approved a similar driver’s privilege card and officials there expect about 3 percent of applications to be fraudulent.

“I suspect that there will always be a certain amount of fraud in our industry,” Ide said. “It’s not exactly perfect. We wish it were more perfect.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, in an unrelated news conference Tuesday, said he continues to support the use of driver’s privilege cards for undocumented immigrants in Vermont.

“I’m confident that we’re on the right path making it possible for folks not to be isolated on farms, not to be able to get to the grocery store or the doc. Like any new effort, there’s clearly some areas where we need to make improvements and so I’m not surprised, particularly, that there’s a few bumps in the road,” the governor said. “I’ve asked my commissioners and others to work together to fix the bumps so that we make sure that we’re getting the driver privilege cards to the folks that ought to be having them.”

Shumlin said he wants officials to improve the system to prevent out-of-state undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s privilege cards in Vermont.

“We should not let that happen and I think administratively we’ve got some work to do,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Vermont calls more GMO hearings, extends comment deadline

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Attorney General’s office is calling a second public hearing on the state’s rules to implement the ban on genetically modified organisms.

In addition to the second hearing scheduled for Feb. 4 at the Vermont Statehouse, the state has extended by two weeks the deadline for submitting written comments on the proposed rules.

The new deadline for written comments is Feb. 12.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell says officials are worried interested parties wouldn’t be able to get their comments in before the original deadline.

Last year the Vermont Legislature passed the nation’s first law to require the labeling of food made with GMOs.

A number of groups have filed suit to block the law, due to take effect in the summer of 2016.

Tooning In: Newcomb on the state dog

1-28-2015 toon grey