House member surveys federal threats to funding, policy

Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas

MONTPELIER — As the administration of President Donald Trump settles in, one Vermont lawmaker is attempting to survey the landscape and determine where the state could be harmed by changes in federal policy and funding. Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, a former House majority leader, is attempting to create a rapid response plan if the president’s policies have a significant impact on Vermont. So far, however, there are still many question marks about what the Trump administration is planning. “There’s nothing rapid about it so far because right now a lot of what I’m doing is trying to get a handle on the landscape — what do we hear might be coming down from Congress, what do we hear might be coming in the form of executive orders,” she told the Vermont Press Bureau. Copeland Hanzas is keeping in touch with the state’s congressional delegation to stay abreast of what could be coming. Continue Reading →

Lawmakers seek reworked budget

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson

MONTPELIER — Leaders of the House and Senate are delicately rejecting the governor’s budget proposal as they hunker down on crafting a spending plan of their own that is likely to include budget cuts and, perhaps, some new revenue. Gov. Phil Scott released his budget proposal last month, which addressed the state’s projected $70 million budget hole in the 2018 fiscal year by moving some general fund obligations to the education fund. The proposal relies on local school districts level-funding their 2018 fiscal year budgets to avoid a massive increase in property taxes. But lawmakers have already rejected one key portion of Scott’s proposal — moving school budget votes from Town Meeting Day to May 23. The Senate Education Committee and the full House held votes rejecting the change in the voting date. Continue Reading →

PFOA liability bill clears the Senate

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MONTPELIER — The Senate passed legislation Tuesday that will force those responsible for contaminating water supplies with a specific chemical to cover the cost of extending municipal water lines to impacted areas. The bill, S.10, was passed unanimously on a voice vote Tuesday and will now head to the House. It requires those who release perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, into the air, groundwater, surface water or soil to be liable for the costs of extending water supply lines from a public water system to impacted properties. The secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources would have to determine a potable water supply on a property contains perfluorooctanoic acid or is likely to become contaminated. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Dick Sears and Sen. Brian Campion of Bennington County after PFOA was found in Bennington and North Bennington around a former factory now owned by Saint- Gobain Performance Plastics. Continue Reading →

Battle of Bennington debate still rages

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MONTPELIER — The Battle of Bennington was vigorously defended on the Senate floor Tuesday as the chamber sought to commemorate another Revolutionary War battle. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, rose to amend a House resolution commemorating the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Hubbardton. It was the resolution’s final “whereas” clause that drew Sears’ ire. It states that “the Battle of Hubbardton was the only Revolutionary War military engagement fought in Vermont, as the Battle of Bennington, despite its name, occurred in nearby New York…”

Sears rose to amend the resolution by stripping out the clause. Historians seem to agree that the battle was fought across the border in Walloomsac, N.Y., on Aug. Continue Reading →

Holcombe to stay at Agency of Education

Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe (Courtesy photo)

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced Monday that he is re-appointing Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, who was previously appointed by former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. Holcombe is the final cabinet-level appointment for Scott, who took office on Jan. 5. Scott had asked the State Board of Education to launch a search for an education secretary as part of the transition from the Shumlin administration to the Scott administration. The board provided the governor with three recommendations, including Holcombe, who was first appointed by Shumlin in January 2014. Continue Reading →

Scott administration discourages fraternizing with lawmakers, lobbyists

Jason Gibbs (Courtesy photo)

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and a top aide are directing administration officials and staff in the governor’s office to avoid fraternizing with lawmakers and lobbyists at restaurants and bars during the legislative session. Chief of Staff Jason Gibbs said the “informal directive” was relayed to most people hired or appointed by the governor as Scott worked on putting his administration together. “When folks are hired they’re encouraged to exercise great discretion, particularly as it relates to going out in Montpelier during the legislative session and participating in after-hours activities,” Gibbs told the Vermont Press Bureau. Gibbs said he discussed the idea with the governor prior to Scott taking office last month and both agreed that staff and appointees should be directed to limit their after-hours interactions. “It was a conversation that started between me and him about whether we wanted to provide some guidance to members of the team about the governor’s expectation for their participation in the after-hours scene associated with the legislative process,” Gibbs said. Continue Reading →

Vermont officials push back on Trump orders with legislation

Gov. Phil Scott, left, and Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, right, discuss proposed legislation in response to executive orders signed by President Donald Trump. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Vermont state officials flexed their muscles Thursday, unveiling proposed legislation to prevent law enforcement agencies in Vermont from cooperating with federal authorities on immigration enforcement in response to executive orders from Republican President Donald Trump. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, appeared at a news conference Thursday with Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and a tri-partisan group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate in an extraordinary show of cooperation. They worked collaboratively to craft legislation they say will address the federal government’s “overreach” in a series of executive orders signed by the president. Scott has emerged as one of the highest-profile Republican governors to buck Trump’s efforts to boost immigration enforcement and enhance border security. “We can’t pick and choose what pieces of the Constitution we defend and that is why we are here today,” the governor said. Continue Reading →