Dick Sears

Recent Posts

Commentary: Reversing the trend of rising incarceration rates


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


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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Gun bill advances in Senate

MONTPELIER — The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill ahead of the Legislature’s Friday evening deadline for non-money bills on a 5-0 vote, ensuring the full Senate will consider a scaled back-gun bill this year. The legislation, supported unanimously in the committee Friday, seeks to ban some convicted criminals from possessing weapons and will require people found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others to be reported to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It would take effect on Oct. 1. The legislation is a scaled back version of another bill, S.31, that Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, declared “dead,” because it included an expansion of background checks for private gun sales, something that was vehemently opposed by gun rights activists. Continue Reading →

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Race on to advance gun legislation

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers are making a final effort to push gun legislation through the committee process ahead of Friday’s crossover deadline, but significant hurdles remain. The Judiciary Committee began considering new legislation Wednesday that would prohibit a person convicted of a violent crime from possessing a firearm. Crimes in the proposal include the state’s so-called listed crimes — more than 30 serious offenses with hefty prison terms and fines. The proposal also includes any offense involving sexual exploitation of a minor and trafficking of certain drugs. Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said 49 other states have a similar law on the books. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin signs new law aimed at sex offenders

MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law on Wednesday legislation that enhances reporting requirements for sex offenders when they are released from prison. The new law, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, requires sex offenders to report to the Department of Public Safety Sex Offender Registry before they are released from prison. Offenders previously had up to three days after their release to report information about their intended residence. The Department of Corrections could not compel an offender to provide such information before release. The law also requires sex offenders to report to the Sex Offender Registry within 24 hours of being released from probation, parole, furlough or a supervised community sentence. Continue Reading →

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Consideration of child protection law delayed a day

MONTPELIER — Legislation aimed at boosting the state’s child protection laws was pulled from the Senate floor Tuesday to allow senators more time to understand the bill. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, requested the one-day delay in order answer persistent questions from constituents about the bill’s contents. It’s undergone several changes since the Legislature reconvened in early January. A special legislative panel, the Committee on Child Protection, was formed last year after the deaths of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, in February 2014, and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski, in April 2014. Both were ruled homicides, and murder charges have been filed against family members. Continue Reading →

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Major changes to Vets Home on table to help balance budget

MONTPELIER — Major changes to the Vermont Veterans Home are once again being considered as the state looks to address a large budget gap in the 2016 fiscal year state budget. Shumlin administration officials say privatizing the state-run facility in Bennington, or even possibly closing it, are on the table with many other ideas to trim state spending. But those ideas are only concepts at the moment and not serious proposals. The 2016 fiscal year budget gap has ballooned from $94 million in early January to at least $112 million following a revenue downgrade late last month. The Veterans Home relies on several million dollars from the state’s general fund to operate. Continue Reading →

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Marijuana bill revealed but not expected to move this year

MONTPELIER — Legislation to legalize marijuana in Vermont was unveiled at the State House Tuesday, but a key lawmaker said it will not be taken up this year. Chittenden County Sen. David Zuckerman, a Progressive and Democrat, has drafted a bill that would allow Vermont residents 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, two mature plants, seven immature plants and any additional marijuana produced by the plants. Growing would only be allowed indoors. Under the legislation, nonresidents could possess one-quarter of an ounce of marijuana. Criminal penalties would remain in place for anyone possessing more than the amount allowed under. Continue Reading →

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