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Senate to reconsider small biz exemption for paid sick leave

WDoyle

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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Lawmakers mull electronic privacy

David Cahill

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers are mulling ways to protect personal privacy in the face of technological advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee is reviewing an omnibus privacy bill that seeks to limit the ways law enforcement can gather and use electronic data on the public. “The goal is clearly to prescript law enforcement access to electronic communications, and what time will they need a warrant, and what time they could call AT&T and say, we want all of Sears’ phone records,” said Sen. Richard Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which took up the bill Wednesday. Sears said the bill is one the three most-important bills expected to come through his committee this session, along with marijuana legalization and increased protections for Department for Children and Families workers. Already, there is agreement among the committee members on some facets of the bill, such as requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using an unmanned aerial device — or drone — to gather information on an individual. Continue Reading →

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Senate votes to suspend McAllister

Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, pleads his case to his Senate colleagues before the body voted to suspend him on Wednesday. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate voted 20 to 10 Wednesday afternoon in an unprecedented vote to suspend Sen. Norm McAllister until criminal charges pending against him for sexual assault are resolved. “Nobody knows more than me the seriousness of these charges, these allegations. I’ve got people who want to put me in prison for the rest of my life. I’m very much aware what is at stake,” McAllister told his colleagues on the Senate floor before they voted to oust him. The historic vote came after more than an hour of discussion on the Senate floor, mostly by Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, and Republican Rutland County Sen. Peg Flory, a close friend and ally of McAllister. Continue Reading →

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McAllister returns to the Senate as 2016 session begins

Franklin County Sen. Norm McAllister sits alone on the Senate floor Tuesday. The chamber introduced a resolution to suspend him that will be voted on Wednesday. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Embattled Franklin County Sen. Norm McAllister sat silently without expression on the Senate floor Tuesday as an unprecedented resolution to suspend him was introduced. The 64-year-old Republican voted Tuesday along with his colleagues on a handful of routine matters. They could very well be among the final votes he logs. McAllister, who is charged with felony sex crimes, faces a suspension vote Wednesday following his arrest last May at the State House. Despite the pending criminal charges he has refused to resign and he remained steadfast Tuesday, telling reporters he plans to address his colleagues before they vote. Continue Reading →

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Senate committee to take up privacy bill

Sen. Richard Sears

MONTPELIER — While many people are waiting for the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up the question of marijuana legalization, the committee will first take up a bill addressing technology and privacy. When the legislature convenes next week, the first order of business for the committee will be a bill that outlines rules governing the way police gather information and the rights of a person whose medical records have been improperly disclosed, all with an eye to create laws to keep up with advancements in technology. “Overall, there are whole lot things going on, technology-wise and the laws haven’t really kept up,” said committee vice-chairman Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia. The omnibus privacy bill touches on cell phones, unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – and automobile license plate readers as the lawmakers look to strike a balance between personal privacy and giving police the tools they need to do their job, Benning said. For the average person, the bill prevents the owner or operator of a drone from attaching a weapon to it. Continue Reading →

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Story +Video: Rules Committee advances resolution to suspend McAllister

Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, sat alone before a Senate Rules Committee meeting Wednesday. The committee voted to advance a resolution to the full Senate that seeks to suspend McAllister from the body because of pending sex crime charges against him. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

https://youtu.be/p-nMag-n0K0

MONTPELIER — The Senate Rules Committee voted Wednesday in favor of sending a resolution seeking the suspension of Franklin County Sen. Norm McAllister, who is charged with several sex crimes, to the full Senate next month. The 3 to 2 vote on the suspension resolution offered by Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, came after the panel rejected another resolution from Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, on a 4 to 1 vote, that would have amended the Senate’s rules to prevent it from acting in any manner until any pending felony charges are settled in court. McAllister, if suspended under the resolution, would continue to receive his pay because it is constitutionally protected unless he is expelled, Baruth said. Sens. Baruth, Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, and John Campbell, D-Windsor, voted in favor of the suspension resolution. Continue Reading →

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Senate bill to legalize marijuana is unveiled

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MONTPELIER — Legislation to be introduced next month when lawmakers return to the State House would allow those 21 and over to grow and possess marijuana as early as July 2016. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Jeanette White, D-Windham, and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, would allow for the retail sale of pot and permitted lounges, in 2017. White crafted the bill following a series of hearings by the Senate Government Operations Committee this fall. The committee could not reach consensus on a bill, she said. Continue Reading →

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Marijuana bill close to completion

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MONTPELIER — A Senate committee is completing its deliberations on a bill outlining how marijuana legalization would work, but at least two lawmakers say they will not add their names to the bill. The Senate Government Operations Committee has been studying the issue of marijuana legalization, forgoing the question of whether it should happen and instead asking how it would work. Now, lawmakers are putting their final touches on a bill that will come not from the committee itself, but will be sponsored by committee members who support the bill’s goals. “The bill will not be a committee bill but will be sponsored by some of us,” wrote committee Chairwoman Jeanette White, D-Windham, in an email, in which she said the bill must be completed to go to the printer by Friday. “At that time it is given a number and is an official bill,” White said. “It will be on the floor for first reading (introduction) when we come back. It will go directly to Judiciary.”

It will be the task of the Senate Judiciary Committee to review both this bill and the one offered during the last legislative session by Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, which proposes the legalization and taxation of marijuana. Continue Reading →

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Property tax increase projections lowest in three years, but are subject to change

Mary Peterson discusses projected tax rates while Gov. Peter Shumlin looks on.

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin Administration is projecting property taxes will increase by 1 percent in the coming year, with the governor pledging action to fine tune school district spending thresholds within the first month of the legislative session. The Agency of education, the Department of Taxes and the Joint Fiscal Office are projecting an average statewide tax increase of 1.12 percent, the lowest increase in three years, although that figure is a best-guess that will be subject to revision in the coming months. “What we’re anticipating from what were seeing in these numbers is that that the average tax bill be going up by a little more than 1 percent, and education spending is going up by 2.5 percent,” said Mary Peterson, commissioner of the Department of Taxes. On the residential side, the average homestead tax rate is projected to increase by 1 cent, to $1.535 for every $100 of assessed property; however, tax increases will vary from municipality to municipality depending upon how much they spend on education. The non-residential tax rate is projected to increase by 0.3 cents, to $1.538 for every $100 of assessed property. 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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