Dick Sears

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Senate passes bill to limit Trump’s executive orders

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 — The Vermont Senate advanced a bill on a unanimous vote Thursday that aims to keep state, county and local law enforcement agencies from helping federal authorities enforce immigration laws. All 30 senators — including seven Republicans — voted in favor of the legislation, sending it to a final vote Friday. The bill was crafted by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and lawmakers in response to a series of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump regarding immigration enforcement and border security. The bill grants the governor sole authority to approve agreements that would, in effect, deputize state, county or local police officers to enforce federal immigration law. One of the president’s executive orders calls for such agreements to help federal authorities. Continue Reading →

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Watch: Capital Beat with Reps. Grad and Burditt and Sen. Sears

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Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami speaks with Reps. Maxine Grad and Thomas Burditt and Sen. Dick Sears about marijuana legalization and expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program. Capital beat airs on Vermont PBS Plus Monday nights at 8:30 p.m. Continue Reading →

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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 →

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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 →

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Gun Sense renews push for universal background checks

Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, speaks at a news conference about his legislation for universal background checks on all gun sales in Vermont. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Proponents of a law to require background checks on all gun sales in Vermont launched a renewed effort Tuesday to achieve their goal, but roadblocks in their way in previous legislative sessions remain. Gun Sense Vermont, a group pushing for universal background checks, hosted a State House news conference Tuesday to rally supporters. They promised to keep pushing for such a law despite stiff opposition from guns rights groups and even Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, introduced S.6, a bill that again calls for universal background checks and has several co-sponsors. Baruth submitted similar legislation in recent years but has been rebuffed. Continue Reading →

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Sears backs Shumlin in Supreme Court legal battle

Sen. Dick Sears

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include comments from Gov.-elect Phil Scott. MONTPELIER — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has filed a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court defending Gov. Peter Shumlin’s authority to appoint a Supreme Court justice before he leaves office on Thursday. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, a close friend and political ally of Shumlin, submitted the legal argument ahead of a Tuesday hearing scheduled by the state’s highest court to determine if Shumlin can make the appointment. Sears is asking the court to dismiss or deny the petition filed by two lawmakers challenging Shumlin’s authority. “Once the vice chair of the committee got involved I thought the chairman ought to get involved,” Sears told the Vermont Press Bureau. Continue Reading →

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Senate tries to spur House into action on marijuana legalization

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MONTPELIER — The Senate on Wednesday attached the language it passed earlier this year creating a legal, regulated marijuana market to a House-passed bill dealing with criminal procedures, a move designed to spur the House into action on legalizing pot. The House has not considered S.241, the Senate’s marijuana legalization bill passed earlier this year, on the floor. After being scaled back by the House Judiciary Committee to only include a commission to examine the issue, the House Ways and Means Committee amended it again to legalize up to 1 ounce of pot and the cultivation of two marijuana plants. The legislation has been stalled in the House Appropriations Committee for nearly two weeks, however. Without the votes to advance it, the committee has opted to let the clock tick down on the legislative biennium. Continue Reading →

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House Judiciary passes stripped down pot bill

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MONTPELIER — The House Judiciary Committee scaled back a marijuana bill even further Friday in order to squeak it through the committee and keep the bill alive, setting the stage for a possible showdown with the Senate over legalization. By a 6 to 5 vote, the House passed a revamped S.241, which came from the Senate approving legalization for possessing up to one ounce of marijuana. But support for the Senate version never materialized in the House committee. A first attempt to pass the bill Friday that sought to decriminalize the possession of up to two marijuana plants failed on a 5 to 6 vote. After stripping out the expanded decriminalization of the drug, the committee turned Rep. Bill Frank, D-Underhill, who helped it advance on the second vote. 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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State officials are investigating water contamination in North Bennington

Gov. Peter Shumlin announces that six wells in North Bennington have tested positive for Perfluorooctanoic, or PFOA, a potential carcinogen. His administration is now working to determine the responsible party and assist impacted residents. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — A possible carcinogen found in a nearby New York town has also been found in several private wells in North Bennington, the Shumlin administration announced Thursday morning after receiving test results just hours earlier. The chemical, Perfluorooctanoic, or PFOA, is the same chemical that was found in the village of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., that has drawn national attention. It was that case that spurred a concerned citizen to reach out to members of the Vermont Legislature with concerns of potential contamination in North Bennington. One company, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, operated factories that made non-stick coatings in both towns under the Chemfab name in recent decades. The New York plant is still operating while the North Bennington facility, which was purchased by Saint-Gobain in 2000, was closed in 2002. Continue Reading →

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