Dick Sears

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Senate Judiciary advances pot bill on 4 to 1 vote

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4 to 1 Friday to advance a bill that legalizes marijuana. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The legalization of marijuana in Vermont received its first affirmative votes from lawmakers Friday as the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation on a 4 to 1 vote. The downsized legislation to allow the legal possession, consumption and sale of marijuana in the state is now headed to the Senate Finance Committee, which will attempt to determine how legalized marijuana will be taxed. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, worked to amend a bill introduced by Sens. Jeanette White, D-Windham and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, to create a bill that he would support and met the conditions laid out by Gov. Peter Shumlin. The governor called for the legalization of pot in his State of the State address earlier this month. Continue Reading →

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Story & Video: Shumlin and Sears outline bill to “cautiously and deliberately” legalize pot

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https://youtu.be/Vx5grntvLI8

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears announced legislation Tuesday to “cautiously and deliberately legalize marijuana in Vermont.”

Shumlin said the “war on drugs” had failed when it came to marijuana prohibition. “The black market is failing Vermont. When you have 80,000 Vermonters who admitted to buying pot … every single month in the last year, and you can assume that since it’s illegal that number is higher, you know we’ve got a problem to solve,” the governor said a State House news conference Tuesday, flanked by Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn and Sears, D-Bennington. Shumlin called for the legalization of marijuana in his State of the State address earlier this month, with some conditions, including:
— A legal market must keep marijuana and other drugs out of the hands of underage kids. With 83 percent of Vermont youth saying that marijuana is easy or somewhat easy to obtain, the current system doesn’t do this. Continue Reading →

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Donegan: Legal pot market will have difficulties with banking, insurance

Susan Donegan, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, testifies before the Senate Juduciary Committee on Thursday about proposed legislation legalizing marijuana. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — Vermont Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Susan Donegan says banking services will be limited if Vermont legalizes marijuana for businesses in the market but it could also present some opportunities for institutions in Vermont. Donegan provided testimony Thursday to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is reviewing two bills that would legalize marijuana. The federal government still considers the drug to be illegal, however, which has created issues for Colorado and Washington where marijuana has been legalized at the state level. Businesses selling marijuana in the those states have not been able to access the federally insured banking system. How Vermont businesses would fare in a legal marijuana market in the state was immediately raised by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, on Thursday. Continue Reading →

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Senate gives preliminary approval to privacy bill

Sen. Tim Ashe

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers offered a ringing endorsement Wednesday for a bill intended to protect personal privacy in the face of technological advances. With a unanimous vote Wednesday afternoon, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill intended to limit the way law enforcement can use technology ranging from drones and license plate readers to cell phones and computers to gather information on people. “Together, they do a thing we think is important, which is reinvigorate the conversation about how to protect individuals personal and private lives at a time of rapidly expanding technology,” said Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden of the provisions within the bill. Ashe noted how the concept of privacy has changed during the last 25 years, recalling when a person sending a letter would be “almost guaranteed” nobody would read it aside from the intended recipient, compared with privacy breaches today that lead to disclosure of email. Ashe also noted high-tech companies that are using satellites to photograph every inch of the planet. 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 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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Commentary: Reversing the trend of rising incarceration rates

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or most of the last two decades, Vermont’s prison inmate population has been rising. Between 1997 and 2008, it grew by 86 percent. Projections made in 2007 said that Vermont’s inmate population would grow to 2,619 by November 2015. After years of work to reform Vermont’s criminal justice system that trend has been reversed, and today Vermont has 1,734 inmates, 885 less than projected. When I first ran for Governor I made reforming the criminal justice system a priority because it is the right thing to do. Continue Reading →

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VSEA presents security requests

Trissie Casanova, left, and Nancy Lynch present the Vermont State Employees Association's request for additional security measures for Department for Children and Families workers. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees Association is calling for a cap on case loads for social workers and added security measures in the wake of the slaying of a Department for Children and Families worker in August. Nancy Lynch, a legislative specialist for the VSEA, and Trissie Casanova, a social worker and chairwoman of the group’s Labor Management Committee, presented the union’s proposals to the Joint Legislative Child Protection Oversight Committee Wednesday morning. Worker safety has been a major concern for state workers following the August slaying of Lara Sobel, who was gunned down in the parking lot outside a DCF office in Barre. Casanova told the panel that VSEA wants to cap case loads for social workers at no more than 15 per worker. In addition, the union wants to limit investigations per worker to no more than 17 at a time and have one administrative assistant for every 12 social workers. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers take on privacy issues

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MONTPELIER — How much privacy should Vermonters expect in a world brimming with new technology? The Senate Judiciary Committee is trying to determine exactly that. The committee held the first of four pre-session hearings Tuesday to consider an omnibus privacy bill that addresses four major privacy concerns and could include more by the time lawmakers finish their work. The bill, S.18, looks to regulate the use of drones and license plate readers by law enforcement, and to require police to obtain warrants before a company can release electronic data. It also looks to establish “a private right of action” for people whose health care records are improperly released. Continue Reading →

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State officials address security of state workers

Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn speaks to the Joint Legislative Child Protection Oversight Committee.

MONTPELIER — Threats against Department for Children and Families have spiked since the killing last month of a social worker, state officials told a legislative committee Friday, as the Agency of Human Services and DCF work to boost security measures for employees. DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz told the Joint Legislative Child Protection Oversight Committee Friday that 17 threats have been made against his staff since 48-year-old Lara Sobel was gunned down outside her office building in Barre on Aug. 7. The alleged killer, Jody Herring, 40, has also been charged with murdering three family members in the killing spree that law enforcement officials say was driven by a custody dispute Herring had with the state. Schatz said 16 of the threats since Sobel’s death have been made against family services workers while one was made to a worker in the department’s economic services division. Continue Reading →

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