From the Bernie Files: “These politicians are sold like soap…”

Bernard Sanders, c. 1981

Bernard Sanders, c. 1981

We’re looking through the Rutland Herald archives for news clips from Bernie Sanders’ past, and will post the more telling or interesting ones as we find them. One theme that stands out so far is that Bernie Sanders, 1970s Liberty Union Party leader, is not too far off Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent. They say basically the same thing.
From an article by Rutland Herald reporter Barney Crosier, published on Nov. 7, 1976, which was based on an interview Sanders gave to a local Springfield radio station:

“…he said a major goal of the Liberty Union when it gets the governor’s chair will be to involve ordinary working people, those with low incomes, and the elderly, in the decisions of state government.
“”We’d be delighted to ask 50,000 people to come to Montpelier to say what they think about a system that robs people blind,” he offered.
He claimed the working person, at a job 40, 50 or 60 hours a week, doesn’t have time to go to Montpelier and can’t afford to have an attorney represent him there.
Sanders contended the people of the state are beginning to see through the election process, in which the Liberty Union candidate says a candidate can spend $100,000 and “buy” the election.
“These politicians are sold like soap,” he added. And it doesn’t matter how dumb they are.”
Sanders chided past administrations for their decision to spend time and money luring tourists to Vermont, saying it was a good way to get Vermont working people jobs at the minimum wage, making beds for tourists.
He also hit at the move of General Electric Co. from Ludlow to Rutland, saying the people of Rutland had to pay for water service to the new plant site, thuse subsidizing one of the nation’s rich corporations, of which the major stockholder is Chase Manhattan Bank.”

All this came after he claimed Vermont was a two-party state, as there was little to no difference between the Democrat and Republican parties, leaving the Liberty Union as the opposition.

Sanders makes his case on ‘This Week’

Sen. Bernie Sanders made his first appearance on a Sunday morning talk this past weekend as a declared presidential candidate. Vermont’s independent junior senator defended his brand of democratic socialism to ABC’s This Week host George Stephanopoulos. Watch his full appearance below.


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Sanders donors respond to campaign announcement

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders says he has raised $1.5 million online in the first day since launching his Democratic presidential campaign.

The independent senator says he has received contributions from 35,000 donors, and more than 100,000 people have signed up on his website.

Sanders filed papers to run for president on Thursday, becoming the first major challenger to enter the race against Hillary Rodham Clinton. She opened her campaign earlier this month.

Clinton is heavily favored but Sanders has positioned himself as a liberal who intends to promote economic and environmental issues and oppose contentious trade legislation.

Sanders plans to make stops Saturday in New Hampshire, the home of the nation’s first presidential primary. It will be his 10th trip to New Hampshire in the past year.

Shumlin signs new gun law

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin privately signed new gun legislation Friday afternoon without any fanfare and announced the move in a statement.

The new law, which passed the Legislature as S.141, creates a new misdemeanor state-level crime for possession of firearms by people with certain criminal convictions. The law also requires the reporting of names to a federal database when people are found by a court to be in need of mental health treatment and a danger to themselves or others.

Shumlin had spent much of this legislative session resisting and new gun laws, saying Vermont’s current laws were sufficient. But a controversial element — expanded background laws for all gun sales — was stripped from an earlier version of the legislation. That was enough to secure his signature.

“Vermonters know that I feel that Vermont’s gun laws make sense for our state. We in Vermont have a culture of using guns to care for and manage our natural resources in a respectful way that has served us well,” the governor said in a statement. “The bill delivered to me today is a shadow of the legislation that I objected to at the beginning of the legislative session. It makes common sense changes, similar to the ones that I supported to prohibit guns on school grounds, and that is why I signed it.”

Gun rights groups that initially opposed the bill, including the Vermont Federation of Sportsmens Clubs, dropped their objections after the legislation was scaled back.

Just hours earlier on Friday, Shumlin told the Vermont Press Bureau in an interview that his office had not yet received the bill and he had not thought about whether there would be a public signing ceremony. He declared his intention to sign the bill in an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau a week ago.

Shumlin’s office received the bill around 11 a.m. along with three other pieces of legislation awaiting the governor’s signature, according to staff. The office then sought out Rep. Sam Young, D-Glover, to be present for the signing because of the passionate speech he delivered on the House floor in favor of the bill.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, an original sponsor of the legislation, nor any of the other original Senate sponsors, were present. Campbell said Friday he was disappointed in the way Shumlin treated the signing.

“I am very, very disappointed on behalf of myself and the other senators who worked very hard to pass that bill that he didn’t have the common decency to alert us that he was going to sign that bill, No. 1, and, No. 2, that he didn’t invite anyone from the Senate to be there,” Campbell said.

Shumlin defends late budget push

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday he is asking lawmakers to cut an additional $10 million from the budget because they have rejected his proposal to institute a payroll tax to help pay for Medicaid costs.

Shumlin summoned the chairs of Senate money committees Wednesday — one day before the Senate took up the annual budget bill — to tell them they needed to cut more and tax less. The move frustrated lawmakers who are grinding toward adjournment, which is to come in mid-May.

On Thursday, administration officials presented a list of $8 million in further cuts to the Senate Appropriations Committee and made clear the third-term Democrat did not favor their tax plans.

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at a recent State House news conference.

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at a recent State House news conference.

“I really feel strongly that the tax packages being contemplated in this building will hurt our economy and hurt Vermonters,” Shumlin said in an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau on Friday. “I believe that the current budget framework needs to cut more and tax less.”

At the heart of the matter, Shumlin said, is how lawmakers have chosen to fund Medicaid case loads, which expanded under the federal Affordable Care Act to the tune of $16 million. The governor’s budget proposal used a 0.7 percent payroll tax on Vermont businesses to raise $90 million to cover that cost as well as to boost payments to Medicaid providers.

Lawmakers have rejected that, however, and funded Medicaid case loads through various taxes. But Shumlin, while now acknowledging his plan is unlikely, wants lawmakers to cut deeper rather than raise taxes.

“That idea has been an uphill slog and it looks like it’s possible that it may not come to fruition,” he said. “Unless they suddenly … see the light, which doesn’t seem extraordinarily likely, but I’m still hopeful, we have a $16 million budget challenge that we didn’t have, that we had taken care of.”

Shumlin said his proposal created an ongoing, dedicated source for Medicaid. Lawmakers, meanwhile, have created a host of new taxes to balance the general fund, he said.

“They want to take away your home mortgage deduction because you bought a home, they want to take away your charitable deduction because you want to support charities in your community, they want to take away the catastrophic health care deduction,” he said. “They want to tax soda and everything else with sugar in it because they say that drinking that stuff isn’t healthy for you, which it probably isn’t, but they also want to tax water. Tax water? Really? I thought you just said you shouldn’t drink sugary things, now they’re saying we’re going to tax water.”

Lawmakers are not amused with the governor’s late push to adjust their work. House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, noted that lawmakers used the same amount of new revenue to support the general fund as Shumlin did in his proposal, but their challenge was even greater since the state saw an additional $18 million revenue downgrade after his budget address.

“We closed the $113 million budget gap with the same $35 million that the governor closed his $94 million gap. The same amount, not the same kind of revenue. So, to have the governor suggest that we are spending too much and raising too much in taxes is really perplexing,” she said. “I don’t know where they’re doing their math, but $35 million is $35 million.”

Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas

Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas

Hanzas said the governor should have made his pitch earlier — before the House passed its budget and sent it to the Senate.

“Where were you on Jan. 20 because it’s three months later and we’ve been through the painful process of vetting all of our painful priorities,” she said. “We would have appreciated them in January, not so much now.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s frustrating that he’s had opportunities for the last three months to weigh in on the budget and we don’t have a balanced budget proposal from him. He’s choosing to sort of nit-pick at different things,” Johnson said.

Both Johnson and House Speaker Shap Smith said Friday that the House-passed budget does fully fund the Medicaid case loads, but does not do it the way Shumlin sought.

Shumlin dismissed criticism of his timing, saying previous governors have also pushed for priorities late in the process.

“I don’t know where they’ve been. I’ve served under [Former Gov. Howard] Dean, [former Gov. Jim] Douglas, and I cannot remember as a legislative leader right before we’ve passed the budget not having the governor sit down with us and explain their concerns about budget and taxes. That’s what governors do. So, I understand it’s a time of year where folks get emotional,” Shumlin said.

Late-season requests are part of the budget process, Shumlin said.

“Folks get frustrated this time of year, I understand that, and I’m sympathetic to it. I’ve been on both sides of it in the governor’s office and the legislative leadership end of it,” he said. “The only thing I want to point out is this is not unusual and we shouldn’t be fearing frustration we should be fearing raising taxes on Vermonters at a time when they’re having a difficult time paying their bills, and we should be fearing passing a budget that isn’t sustainable for the years going forward.”

“I believe that my judgement is correct. We should cut $10 million more from the budget and not raise taxes on Vermonters by that $10 million,” Shumlin added.

The Senate appeared ready Friday to reject most of the $8 million in cuts the governor proposed this week. A $1.3 million savings pharmacy costs looked likely, but bigger ticket items, including an additional $2.8 million in labor savings on top of the $10.8 million Shumlin previously requested, appeared to lack support.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Capitol Beat with the Governor 5-1-15

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Gov. Peter Shumlin chats with Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami about his budget disagreements with lawmakers.

Shumlin steps into Senate budget process

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration is pushing back against the Senate’s budget plan as the chamber prepares to take it up on the floor Thursday.

“Less spending and fewer taxes,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday morning.

Administration officials were preparing to meet with the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday morning to discuss further cuts and ease back some of the tax increases included in the Senate’s budget and tax bills.

“There’s not a set number for anything,” Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson said. “This is not an uncommon conversation for the end of the legislative session.”

A House-passed budget bill closes a $113 million projected gap in the 2016 fiscal year budget. It uses $53 million in spending cuts, $35 million in new revenue and about $25 million in one-time funds to balance the budget.

The Senate version balances the budget in a similar way.

But Shumlin is not pleased with the direction lawmakers have chosen.

“He’s not loving all the revenue. We think that in order to keep taxes down — tax increases down — we have to have a budget that’s as efficient as possible,” Johnson said. “We know that our growth is forecast over the next few years to be around 3 (percent) and the expenditures have been around 5 (percent). We’d like to get them under 5. It’s not a problem you’re going to solve all at once but one that we can solve over time

Johnson said the administration’s late-stage interest in negotiating different terms in the budget and tax bills is not out of the ordinary.

“It’s just sort of putting some pressure back on to make sure we do the best we can,” he said.

House votes to maintain safeguards, fends off repeal of Act 39

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House on Wednesday voted to maintain safeguards in place under the state’s aid-in-dying law after defeating an effort to repeal it entirely.

On a 83 to 60 vote, the chamber defeated an amendment by independent Barre Rep. Paul Poirier to repeal Act 39, which was signed into law in 2013. The law allows terminally ill patients to receive a prescription for lethal medication.

Any patient seeking to take advantage of the law must live in Vermont and have a prognosis of less than six months to live. A doctor must also find that the patient has the capacity to make the decision to obtain the medication voluntarily.

Some provisions, however, are set to expire in July 2016 if the law is not amended. Among those are that a second doctor must concur on the prognosis, and a doctor must tell the patient in person and in writing about the nature of the diagnosis and effects of the lethal medication.

Also set to expire is a requirement that the patient must make two oral requests for the lethal drug at least 15 days apart followed by a written request with two witnesses attesting that it was made voluntarily.

Those protections built into the law are scheduled to expire because two former senators had made that a condition of their support for the law.

The House voted by voice Wednesday, after defeating Poirier’s amendment, to repeal the sunset and maintain the safeguards. The Senate approved the measure last month after fending off similar efforts to repeal the underlying law.

Poirier said Wednesday his objection to the law is philosophical.

“I don’t believe that the state of Vermont, as a government, has the right to take away the life of another human being,” he said on the floor in support of his amendment. “State sponsored end of life measures could lead us to a very, very slippery slope. Where does it end?”

Poirier said the state’s palliative care options have improved. He said all 14 hospitals in the state, as well as the Vermont Veterans Home and most nursing homes, have approved policies disallowing the aid-in-dying option for patients in their care.

“We live in a society where we respect life. We respect life even for those who are suffering,” Poirier said.

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, was more forceful in her attacks on what she labeled an “incredibly badly written law.”

She said most of the protections originally considered by the Legislature in 2013 were whittled away to secure the support of enough lawmakers to pass it. Among the things tossed aside, she said, were most data gathering and reporting requirements.

“How, today, can we say it’s working as intended?” Donahue said. “We don’t have the information.”

Rep. Sandy Haas, P-Rochester, said the House Human Services Committee amended the Senate version of the bill to require more data gathering and reporting. Under the changes, which the House approved Wednesday, the Department of Health will be able to identify which patients fill prescriptions under the law. And beginning in 2018, it will have to generate a biennial statistical report of information collected.

“We believe that this will increase public confidence that the law is being properly followed,” Haas said.

Donahue further charged that doctors were being shamed into participating in the voluntary program and patients are being bullied into requesting the medication. She also said the law lacks an informed consent provision.

“It is a myth that doctors and other providers do not have to participate in any way if they don’t want to and it is a myth that patients are not being pressured to consider using a prescription,” she said.

Haas, meanwhile, said state law already requires informed consent for all health care decisions so it was not necessary to include it in Act 39. And no complaints have been filed with the attorney general’s office or the Department of Health, she said.

The legislation is up for final approval in the House on Thursday. Additional amendments are expected.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Sanders sounds alarm on GOP budget

MONTPELIER — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders warned governors in all 50 states Monday of pending cuts headed their way if a GOP spending plan being negotiated this week by House and Senate conferees is approved.

In separate letters to each state, the independent Sanders, ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, characterized the potential cuts as ‘devastating.” He said they would impact working families, the elderly, the sick, the poor and children.

“It is an embarrassingly disastrous document,” Sanders said of the budget proposal in a telephone interview Monday.

According to Sanders, who is mulling a run for president to promote progressive ideals, Vermont could face dire consequences under the House and Senate budget resolutions that outline federal spending for the next decade. House and Senate conferees were working Monday to reconcile differences between the two chambers and are expected to reach agreement early this week.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Among the potential impacts in Vermont that Sanders outlined in his letter to Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin are:

— 32,000 people could lose health coverage
— 5,000 jobs could be lost as a result of cuts to education, transportation and other programs
— Cuts to Pell grants could lead to higher tuition for 12,000 college students
— Investments for roads and bridges could be reduced by as much as $261 million

The cuts to programs and services that serve the poor “will be devastating for the middle class and working families of our country,” Sanders wrote in his letter.

“At a time of massive income and wealth inequality the Republican budget will make the very rich even richer, while causing increased pain and suffering for the middle class and the most vulnerable people in our state as a result of draconian cuts to important programs,” Sanders wrote.

Similar letters were sent to the other 49 governors outlining potential cuts in their states.

“I will do my best to see that (the budget plan) is defeated and I hope that some of these governors that we have written to will weigh in on this discussion,” Sanders said.

The GOP spending plan looks to “terminate” the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and cut $40 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years, according to Sanders. Doing so, he said, would mean a loss of health coverage for millions.

“They’re just going to throw another 27 million people off of health insurance with no plan to address that. None,” the senator said. “That will be a disaster for states who will have to figure out what to do. There is no question that people will die as a result of that.”

The plan that the GOP is finalizing drops a previous proposal to institute a voucher system for Medicare that would provide the elderly with subsidies to purchase private insurance.

Sanders also decried a nearly 100 billion cut to Pell grants for college students, cuts to nutrition programs and the elimination of the estate tax, which he said would provide about $270 billion in relief to the richest 0.2 percent of Americans over the next 10 years.

“It is a budget that is so bad that I think it’s hard for people to believe it’s true, but it is,” Sanders said.

Shumlin released a statement Monday expressing confidence that the state’s congressional delegation will advocate for a budget that serves Vermont well.

“As Senator Sanders outlines, the effects of federal budget decisions on Vermont are real and will have an impact on the services Vermonters rely on,” the governor said. “As we await the final budget from Washington, we do so knowing that we have fighting for us on the Budget Committee one of America’s greatest champions for the middle class in Bernie Sanders. Combined with Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch, Vermont is well represented in Washington by the best Congressional Delegation in America.”

The budget resolution provides a broad spending plan but does not actually appropriate funds. Its passage would pave the way for spending bills that do appropriate funds to advance.

Sanders said he will look to prevent such spending bills from passing.

“I will certainly do everything I can to urge the president to veto any piece of legislation that comes out that has this framework in it,” he said. “Whether the president vetoes it or not, that’s another story. I certainly hope he will.”

According to Sanders, the impacts he identified are based on an evaluation of House and Senate versions of the budget resolutions by the Office of Management and Budget, the Economic Policy Institute and the Institution of Taxation and Economic Policy. Some data was generated based on projections from the Census Bureau and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Read Sanders’ letter to Gov. Peter Shumlin below:

Lawmakers look to retirement bonuses to save the state money

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has proposed a retirement incentive package for state employees that could save the state $2.5 million, providing most of the retirees are not replaced.

Monday morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed a proposal that would offer financial bonus to as many as 300 employees who are already eligible to retire, with the goal of leaving 75 percent of those positions vacant after the employees retire.

The offer would be open to employees who are at least 62 years old and have put in at least 5 years of service; employees with at least 30 years of service; and employees whose age and years of service totals 87 or more.

The proposal would pay employees who have worked at least 5 years and less than 15 years a bonus of $750 for every year worked. Employees who have 15 or more years would receive $1,000 for every year worked.

Bonuses would be capped at $15,000 per employee and would be paid out either in one lump sum or in two payments, with no additional money for employees who choose to take two payments.

Currently, there are 915 state employees who are eligible for the incentives. The proposal would cap the maximum number of people who could take advantage of the incentives at 300. If more than 300 workers want to take the retirement bonus, the state will hold a lottery.

Committee Chairwoman Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, asked why the offer isn’t being made to employees who have been with the state the longest. Sec. of Administration Justin Johnson said the state needs to be very careful not to give the appearance of engaging in any behavior that could be construed as age discrimination.

Sen. Richard McCormack, D-Windsor, questioned the message some people might take from a proposal that ultimately looks to reduce the state’s work force by as many as 225 employees.

“Are we assuming their work was not being done efficiently?” McCormack asked. ““Either we’re saying these people weren’t pulling their weight in the first place, or their work was not essential.”

The retirement proposal is part of a plan by administration to save $10.8 million in state employee costs, one possible step to close the state’s $113 million budget gap. Shumlin has proposed reopening the state employee contract for renegotiation, a move opposed by the employees’ union.

The administration has warned that failing to reopen the contract could result in hundreds of layoffs, but on Monday, Johnson said that is not what the administration wants.

“It’s important that we don’t do across-the-board cookie-cutter cuts,” Johnson said.

Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees Association, said the proposal — which could reduce the number of employee layoffs to fewer than 50 — has the support of his organization..

“We brought the issue of voluntary retirement incentives to the table for negotiation with the Shumlin administration,” Howard said. “While were not thrilled that we might see 300 fewer positions, we like the idea that this might result in fewer (layoffs).”

State Treasurer Beth Pearce warned that savings from offering retirement bonuses will only be found with a commitment to leave unfilled the positions vacated by the retiring employees.

In 2009, the state offered retirement bonuses to employees under a system that Johnson said “mirrors” the current proposal. A total of 243 people took advantage of the incentives.

However, that proposal was coupled with the plan to leave one-third — or 81 — of the positions unfilled. Instead, during the next four years, the state added 543 positions, according to Pearce.

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, referred to the 2009 round of retirements as “disruptive.”

“Will we ever get to the point when we have the right number of employees in the right places?” Snelling asked.

Capitol Beat 4-27-15

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Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman talk about the developments last week in the State House, including education, health care, vaccines and gun legislation.

Capitol Beat with the Governor 4-24-15

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Gov. Peter Shumlin and Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami discuss competing health care plans, the governor’s intention to sign gun legislation and the merits of lowering the state’s sales tax by expanding it to services.

Shumlin says he will sign gun bill

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday he intends to sign a gun bill passed by both chambers after it is reviewed by his administration’s legal team.

Shumlin, a third-term Democrat, had remained noncommittal through Friday on whether he would sign the measure that cleared its final legislative hurdle on Thursday. The bill awaiting the governor’s signature makes it a crime at the state level for some convicts to possess a firearm. It also requires that the state report to a federal database the names of people found by a court to be mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others.

The Senate concurred Thursday with changes to S.141 made by the House that removed a waiting period of 18 months for those reported to the federal database to apply to have their names removed. The waiting period was a concern, according to Shumlin, who said Friday he was glad to see it removed.

After review Shumlin said he intends to sign the bill.

“I always like to read the bills and make sure that what I’ve been told is actually in there. But, if what I have been told is in that bill I will sign it,” Shumlin said in an interview Friday. “We always have our lawyers review them.”

The bill is a far cry from what was initially proposed. The original legislation, backed strongly by Gun Sense Vermont, included an expansion of federal background checks. Gun rights advocates turned out in force to a public hearing and the background check provision was scuttled.

But advocates of the legislation were able to keep the bill’s other components alive and guide it through the legislative process. In the end, one of the groups that opposed the bill most, the Vermont Federation of Sportsmens Clubs, the National Rifle Association’s state affiliate, dropped its objections.

Shumlin said the bill was scaled back enough for him to drop his own objections.

“I am very happy that the bill is a shadow of the bill that I objected to in the beginning. [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick] Sears and others took out the parts that I really objected to. I think, now, most reasonable people would agree that it makes some common sense changes, similar to the kind of changes that I voted for when we didn’t allow … folks to take guns to schools,” the governor said.

While Gun Sense Vermont has indicated they view the legislation as a first step, Shumlin said he is no hurry to revisit the debate on expanded background checks.

“I feel that Vermont’s gun laws serve us well. I’d probably feel differently if I was the mayor of Chicago or the mayor of New York where you have all kinds of challenges. But, we in Vermont have a culture of using guns to manager our natural resources. We have a culture of hunting and caring for our natural resources that has served us well. We have a traditional respect for guns,” Shumlin said. “It’s different in a small rural state where you have a culture like Vermonters where we take care of each other, look out for each other. So that’s just what I feel and you’re not going to change my feelings.”

A full story will appear in Saturday’s editions of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and the Rutland Herald.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Senate approves “revenge porn” bill

MONTPELIER — A bill that would outlaw the disclosure of explicit images without the subject’s consent is one step closer to becoming a law.

Senate lawmakers Thursday passed a House bill that would create criminal penalties for individuals who share explicit images of a person without his or her consent, and stiff penalties for those who do so for profit or who host such images on a website.

Under H.105, a person who shares an explicit image — defined as genitals, buttocks, pubic hair and breasts below the areola — without a person’s consent can face a penalty of up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

The penalty for disclosing such images with the intent of causing damage to the subject of the image carries a stiffer maximum penalty: two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.

The toughest penalties are for those individuals who share such images with the intent to profit from them, or who operates a website where such images are hosted: up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The images include those taken with or without a person’s consent; under the terms of the bill, posing for a photo does not mean the subject is consenting for the image to be shared.

If signed into law, Vermont would join 13 other states that have enacted laws against what is referred to as “revenge porn” or “cyber exploitation.”

California — one of the states where such behavior is against the law — had its first criminal conviction in December when a man received a 1-year prison sentence after he posted a topless photo of his ex-girlfriend on her employer’s Facebook page.

This week, lawmakers in Maine and North Carolina are taking testimony as they mull the creation of similar laws.

Karen Tronsgard-Scott, executive director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, welcomed the bill’s passage by the Senate.

“We know that both the Senate and the House took a really good look at it, and they crafted a good balance between free expression and the rights of victims to privacy,” said Tronsgard-Scott, who noted a rise in the frequency with which explicit images are being posted to the Internet without the subject’s consent.

“Ten years ago, this wasn’t much of an issue, but it’s really exploded,” Tronsgard-Scott said. “When you think about when you’re applying for a job, people Google you, so the impact is devastating. In Vermont, we’re drawing a line in the sand and saying this is wrong.”

Allen Gilbert, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont, said his organization continues to oppose the bill.

“We think issues of this kind really should be handled through civil lawsuits rather than through criminal action,” said Gilbert, saying the bill limits free expression as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“If someone had written in words that they are now posting in images, would you have made a crime around that?” Gilbert said. “Because it’s image, it takes on more power.”

Senate Ed approves school district merger bill

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a bill intended to merge some of the state’s nearly 300 school districts.

Late Tuesday night, the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved their version of a bill that would provide financial incentives to school districts that merge voluntarily, and would force the merger of districts that do not meet criteria regarding quality and staffing ratios.

In some ways, the Senate version of the bill takes a somewhat softer approach to school district mergers than the proposal approved by House lawmakers earlier this month. While the House version calls for the creation of Pre-K-12 districts with a minimum of 1,100 students, the Senate bill offers more flexibility.

While the Senate bill calls for districts with at least 900 students — an ideal, not a mandate — it also acknowledges the variability across the state in terms of geography and student populations, and proposes a number of acceptable governance structures, including supervisory unions.

Much like Act 153 of 2010 — which has resulted in two school district mergers in five years — the Senate bill offers financial incentives for districts to merge voluntarily. The bill also calls for the Agency of Education to create merger plans for districts that do not meet certain criteria, both in terms of academics and student-to-staff ratios.

While academic performance will be measured by the state’s Education Quality Standards, the student-to-staff ratio threshold will be set later.

At 4.7 to 1, Vermont’s student to staff ratio is the lowest in the country. According to the Joint Fiscal Office, having a student-to-staff ratio of 5 to 1 would result in the elimination of 1,239 full-time positions and would save the state $75.7 million.

The Senate bill also eliminates a proposal from House lawmakers to cap education spending.

While there are differences between the Senate and House proposals, there are also similarities. Both bills look to eliminates small-school grants and the hold-harmless “phantom student” provisions, unless the school is involved in a merger.

Just prior to approving the bill, the Senate Education Committee held a two-hour hearing to take testimony from the public, some of whom traveled from distant corners of the state for a chance to be heard.

“We fear this bill could eliminate our school, harm our children and destroy our community,” said Susan Edgerton, who serves on the Readsboro School Board, overseeing a small K-8 school.

David Giddings, of Readsboro, noted that while the intent of the bill is not to close small schools, the elimination of small-school grants and the hold-harmless “phantom student” provision would cause sufficient financial pressure to force the school to close.

Jon Guiffre, chairman of the Roxbury School Board, also spoke in opposition to the bill.

“Our broken education system cannot be fixed with incremental changes and half measures,” Guiffre said. “Please, let this bill die.”

The merger proposal also drew many supporters, including Brett Blanchard, principal at Fair Haven Union High School.

“We have way too many administrators, like myself. We need to make sure every district has a single governing board,” Blanchard said. “Should there be a need to close some schools, a single board would be more apt to do that.”

Lee Sease, a retired educator from Randolph, argued that the current debate is focused on the wrong people.

“The discussion today is more about adults than it is about students,” Sease said. “It’s about power, who has the power and who keeps the power.”

The bill still needs to pass through Senate committees on Finance and Ways and Means before coming up for a vote before the full Senate.