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House sends pot legalization bill to the governor

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House concurred Wednesday with a Senate-passed bill to legalize marijuana, becoming the first Legislature in the country to send a recreational marijuana legalization bill to a governor to become law. The bill, S.22, was passed by the House on a 79-66 vote after appearing to be dead several times since the legislative session began in January. It followed an untraditional path through the Legislature to make it to Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who said Wednesday he remains unsure if he will veto it. While other states have already legalized marijuana, those states were compelled to act by voter-approved referendums. The Vermont General Assembly is the first legislative body in the country to have two chambers approve legalization for recreational marijuana use. Under the legislation, people 21 and older will be allowed to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana beginning July 1, 2018. Continue Reading →

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Dems fend off push to alter teacher health care negotiations

MONTPELIER — The House and Senate are continuing to wrangle with crucial money bills as they aim to adjourn the first half of the legislative biennium Saturday. They have plenty of work left to do, however, and a showdown with Republican Gov. Phil Scott looms large at the end of this legislative session over his main priority for this year. Late Wednesday night, Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson cast a rare vote to fend off a Republican-led amendment to fundamentally change the way teachers in the state negotiate their health care benefits. Johnson, D-South Hero, cast her vote after the House voted 74-73 to embrace a plan pushed by Scott to move negotiating for teachers’ health care benefits from the local school district level to one statewide contract. With her vote against the measure, the House was knotted at 74-74 — close, but not enough for the GOP and 16 Democrats who bucked their own leadership to secure a majority. Continue Reading →

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House advances pot legalization

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House narrowly passed a marijuana legalization bill late Tuesday night after hours of debate, but the legislation is not expected to advance further this year. The bill. H.170, passed around 11:30 p.m. on a 74 to 68 vote, after two attempts to send it back to committee and several amendments aimed at weakening or delaying it. The bill allows for the legal possession of up to 1 ounce of dry marijuana and the cultivation of up to two mature marijuana plants and four immature plants. The vote was a victory for proponents of legalization, but the legislation is not expected to advance beyond the House this year. Continue Reading →

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GOP pushes governor’s teacher health care savings

MONTPELIER — The House postponed action on an education financing bill Monday as Democrats and Republicans continued to posture over Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to save $26 million in the Education Fund by changing how teachers negotiate their health care benefits. Scott is looking to capitalize on a unique situation this year that has all teachers in Vermont negotiating new health care benefits. That’s because the Vermont Education Health Initiative, which provides health care plans to teachers, is changing its offerings in response to the federal Affordable Care Act. Scott’s plan seeks to save $26 million by removing negotiations for health care from the local level and having them take place on a statewide level with his administration. If teachers agree to pay for at least 20 percent of their health care premiums the savings are attainable, according to the governor. Continue Reading →

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House advances ethics commission

MONTPELIER — The House has approved creation of an ethics commission to oversee political entities in Vermont following a lengthy debate on the floor. The bill, S.8, was passed on a voice vote after about two hours of debate Monday. Some lawmakers raised concerns about having to disclose certain information, particularly the sources of income of spouses or domestic partners. Rep. Maida Townsend, D- South Burlington, chairwoman of the House Government Operations Committee, told her colleagues Vermont is among a small group of states that do not have a central ethics policy or an ethics commission. She said Hawaii became the first to enact such measures in 1968. Continue Reading →

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Scaled-back paid leave plan clears tax committee

MONTPELIER — The House Ways and Means Committee passed a paid parental and family leave bill Thursday that would provide six weeks of paid time off to Vermonters, but the bill still faces long odds. The committee’s version of the paid leave legislation was drastically scaled back from what the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee passed earlier this year. That committee’s version, which was sought by interest groups, included 12 weeks of 100 percent paid time off and a 0.93 percent payroll tax, which raise about $80 million to pay for the benefits. The Ways and Means Committee version passed Thursday — on a 7 to 4 vote — offers six weeks of paid time off and includes a 0.141 percent payroll tax on the first $150,000 of wages. It will cost about $17 million per year. Continue Reading →

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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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Lawmakers push for Liquor-Lottery merger

MONTPELIER — Two lawmakers are proposing an amendment to merge the Department of Liquor Control and the state’s Lottery Commission in January as the House prepares to debate legislation Tuesday that creates a working group to study the issue. The legislation up for debate Tuesday comes on the heels of a resolution passed by the House last week that nullified an executive order from Republican Gov. Phil Scott that would have merged the two entities beginning this week. Scott signed the executive order in January, but state law allows either the House or Senate to nix such a restructuring of the executive branch with a resolution. While the Scott administration has questioned whether that de facto veto power of the executive branch is constitutional, it has not yet moved to challenge it. On Tuesday, Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, who was appointed to the House by Scott last week to fill a vacancy, is sponsoring an amendment along with Rep. Jim Condon, D-Colchester, to merge the Department of Liquor Control and Lottery Commission beginning Jan. Continue Reading →

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Watch: Capital Beat with Jason Gibbs and Rep. Helen Head

Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, the chairwoman of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, and Jason Gibbs, chief of staff for Gov. Phil Scott, discuss a proposed merger of the Department of Liquor Control and the Lottery Commission. The House voted this week to reject an executive order signed by Scott that seeks such a merger. Continue Reading →

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Ashe: Legalizing pot this year will take a ‘miracle’

MONTPELIER — The prospect of legalizing marijuana this year is likely over, “barring a miracle,” according to Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe. Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, made that comment in a briefing for reporters Tuesday on legislation the Senate still hopes to pass this year. Ashe, and Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said they are hoping to find some way to make progress on legalization this year as the House continues to see its bill languish in committee. But progress means passing something “that reflects the Senate’s interests,” according to Ashe. He said he is not inclined to support any legislation that does not at least include a commission tasked with creating a legal market, he said. Continue Reading →

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