State Senate

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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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Senate president pro-tem stepping down

Senate Pro Tem John Campbell

MONTPELIER — No matter what happens during the November elections, there will be new leadership at the State House. Senate President Pro-Tem John Campbell announced Monday he will join House Speaker Shap Smith and Gov. Peter Shumlin in not seeking re-election, choosing instead to head the state association that represents sheriffs and prosecutors. Upon completion of the 2016 legislative session in early May, Campbell will take the position of executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, a job that reflects his work, past and present. “It’s not often that jobs open up in a field in which you have passion for,” Campbell said. “Law enforcement and being a prosecutor are things that are very important to me.”

The eight-term Democrat is a deputy state’s attorney in Windsor County, which he has represented since 2001. Continue Reading →

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Snelling resigns from Senate to head Natural Resources Board

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MONTPELIER — Chittenden County Republican Sen. Diane Snelling is resigning from the body to become chairwoman of the Natural Resources Board, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Tuesday morning. Snelling, who has served in the Senate since being appointed in 2002 to replace a seat vacated by her mother, will replace Jon Groveman on the board. “I am proud to appoint Senator Snelling to this position,” Shumlin said. “Her deep policy knowledge of Act 250 as well as her well-deserved reputation for being thoughtful and non-partisan make her an ideal candidate for this position.”

Snelling’s work in the Senate has involved work on clean water initiatives and shore land protection. She has served on the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Continue Reading →

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Senate approves marijuana legalization

MONTPELIER — Senators made it easier for the little guy to break into the cultivation business when they gave their final approval to marijuana legalization. By a vote of 17 to 12 Thursday afternoon, the Senate approved what has been arguably been the most debated bill of this legislative session, and in doing so, sends it on to House for further discussion. “It’s a relief for me to have it out of the Senate,” said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and someone who became an unlikely advocate for legalization. Sears thanked his fellow lawmakers, including colleagues such as Sens. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, and Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, both of whom voted for the bill while in committee despite their opposition, which allowed the bill to come to the Senate floor for debate. Continue Reading →

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Senate pot vote came down to the wire

Sen. Becca Balint

MONTPELIER — An unknown outcome is a rare occurrence when debate begins in the Vermont Senate, but it remained unclear Wednesday afternoon as senators took to the floor to consider legalizing marijuana if they would, in fact, vote to advance it. “I honestly don’t know,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears said ahead of the vote. “We’ve got a few squishy people.”

In the end, 16 senators prevailed over 13 members who opposed legalization. The preliminary vote Wednesday to advance the legislation to a final vote came after a flurry of activity in the State House by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and others who were trying to win every potential vote. Shumlin hunkered down in his ceremonial office Wednesday morning just down the hallway from the Senate Chamber. Continue Reading →

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Senate gives preliminary approval to marijuana legalization

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MONTPELIER — The question of allowing anyone to grow marijuana dominated a discussion Wednesday in which the Senate gave preliminary approval to legalization. By a vote of 16 to 13, Senate lawmakers gave the initial go-ahead to a bill that would allow for commercial cultivation and the sale of marijuana, setting the possibility for full Senate approval Thursday. On the floor, the bill had the support of someone who, months ago, would have seemed an unlikely legalization advocate: Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “If you had told me, even three months ago, that not only would I be voting yes, but speaking on the floor to defend the bill, I would have told you you were crazy,” said Sears, who said he was persuaded to support legalization following nearly a month of testimony and a series of public forums held around the state. Under the terms of the bill, starting in January 2018, it will be legal to grow and sell marijuana, provided you are licensed by the Department of Public Safety. Continue Reading →

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Marijuana bill limps out of committee

Sen. Jane Kitchel discusses the marijuana legalization bill Monday at the State House.

MONTPELIER — The Senate’s marijuana legalization bill limped out of its final committee and will come up for a full vote this week. By a 4 to 3 vote Monday afternoon, The Senate Appropriations Committee gave its approval to S.241, which would permit the legal sale of marijuana in 2018. Vermont is looking at becoming the fifth state to legalize marijuana — following Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — and would be the first state to do so through the legislative process rather than though a ballot initiative. To even get out of the committee — the third Senate Committee to review the bill since the start of the legislative session — required the affirmative vote of a Senator who said she will oppose the bill when it comes to the floor Wednesday. “I will vote yes to bring it to the floor, with a clear vote of no on the floor,” said Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden. Continue Reading →

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Paid sick leave mandate heads to Gov. Shumlin’s desk

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MONTPELIER — The House on Wednesday passed the Senate’s amended version of a paid sick leave bill a year after passing its own, sending it to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s desk to be signed into law — a dream that many on the left side of the political spectrum have waited years to achieve. The bill, H.187, had a relatively easy path to passage Wednesday after five separate amendments were withdrawn. All five amendments — including one from Rep. Alyson Eastman, an independent from Orwell, to include an exemption for small businesses — had already been rejected by the House General, Housing & Military Affairs Committee. Reps. Oliver Olsen, an independent from Londonderry, and Paul Dame, a Republican from Essex, also withdrew amendments, noting they were unlikely to pass. Continue Reading →

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Senate passes paid sick leave bill, again

Kevin Mullin discusses paid sick leave on Wednesday.

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers once again approved a bill requiring employers to grant their workers paid sick leave. Wednesday afternoon, the Senate approved H.187, which will require all employers to offer three days of paid sick leave a year, beginning in 2018. “Tens of thousands of working Vermonters who have long lacked such basic protections as paid sick days eagerly await the bill being signed by Governor Shumlin to move us another step forward toward a society that protects health and human rights for all,” said Isaac Grimm, lead organizer at Rights and Democracy. The bill has had a long road, passing the House during the last legislative session before stalling in the Senate. This session, Senate lawmakers took up the bill, culminating with its passage last week. Continue Reading →

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Senate to reconsider small biz exemption for paid sick leave

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MONTPELIER — A paid sick leave bill passed by the Senate Wednesday veered off course Thursday after a motion was made to reconsider a failed amendment seeking an exemption for small businesses. Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Washington, made the motion Thursday to reconsider his vote on the amendment introduced a day earlier by Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington. The amendment, which failed Wednesday on a 15 to 14 vote, seeks to exempt small employers with five or fewer full-time workers from the paid sick leave mandate. The Senate, after recessing to consider the matter, voted by voice to reconsider the amendment. A second voice vote postponed that action until Wednesday rather than face immediate consideration. Continue Reading →

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