Tag Archives: John Campbell

Lawmakers strike tax deal without gov’s approval

MONTPELIER — House and Senate negotiators were nearing a deal on a $30 million revenue package early Saturday morning that will help balance the 2016 fiscal year budget and close a projected $113 million gap — but includes provisions Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he does not support.

The bulk of the new revenue comes from changes to the income tax code. Both the House and Senate have agreed with the governor to raise $15 million by eliminating taxpayers’ ability to deduct their prior year local and state taxes on their state returns.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, briefs reporters late Friday night on a tax plan. (Photo by Erin Sigrist)

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, briefs reporters late Friday night on a tax plan. (Photo by Erin Sigrist)

But the House and Senate are also looking to raise about $10.5 million by making changes to how much taxpayers can deduct. Under the plan lawmakers were nearing agreement on, income tax deductions would be capped at two times the standard deduction — about $25,000 for a couple. The plan exempts charitable donations and deductions for catastrophic health care costs, however.

In total, lawmakers are looking to raise $26 million in new income taxes with the changes.

Shumlin has spent much of the week restating his opposition to lawmakers’ plans to limit deductions. He made that case again to the Vermont Press Bureau in an interview Friday morning.

“The reason states don’t tend to cap these deductions … is because they all provide an important role in ensuring you have a strong economy and a strong state and an economy that works for every single member of that state,” Shumlin told the Vermont Press Bureau in an interview. “Among the tax choices that are going to be made, let’s not make illogical choices.”

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, has said Shumlin has threatened to veto the revenue bill because of his opposition to deduction limits.

But that didn’t stop lawmakers from forging ahead.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, said he worked with the House to complete a revenue plan both chambers could agree on.

“The governor’s made no hesitation to say that he would prefer that the only income tax that’s raised be the $15 million that he raised,” Ashe said. “We arrived at what we thought was a fair way to raise the money and that we could reach agreement with the House.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Janet Ancel, D-Calais, echoed Ashe’s comments, saying the revenue plan is one that both sides have agreed to.

“We’re trying to get a revenue bill and trying to get out of here,” Ancel said.

House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, acknowledged the tax deal was arrived at without the governor’s approval.

“That is true, yes,” the speaker said.

But the plan addresses many of the concerns Shumlin has raised, according to Smith.

“We’ve responded to a number of the concerns that the governor expressed, particularly around the health care and the charitable deduction. We tried to address that. So, my hope is that in addressing those things we can move closer together. I’m eternally optimistic, but perhaps it is unwarranted in this instance,” he said.

The deduction cap included in the deal is fair, Smith said.

“You’re going to get a $25,000 cap on your itemized deductions. That’s a significant amount of allowable deductions, including, on top of that, charitable deductions and for medical. It seems to me pretty reasonable,” he said.

Lawmakers planned to complete the deal early Saturday morning and return later in the day to have both chambers vote on it. Smith declined to comment on how lawmakers would address a potential veto by Shumlin.

“We’ll take it one step at a time,” Smith said.

Scott Coriell, spokesman for Shumlin, left the State House around 11:30 p.m. Friday and said the administration was reviewing the proposal and would have no comment until later on Saturday.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, left, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, speak during budget negotiations Friday.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, left, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, speak during budget negotiations Friday.

The revenue plan also includes extending the state’s 6 percent sales tax to soft drinks, which will raise $5.1 million, extending the 9 percent rooms and meals tax to vending machine purchases, and includes a 3 percent minimum tax on taxpayers earning at least $150,000.

“That’s more of a floor payment on people with larger incomes,” he said.

The House and Senate had also agreed in principal to the budget and were expected to sign off on it early Saturday morning.

McAllister’s future unclear, but resignation expected soon

This story was updated at 5:55 p.m.

MONTPELIER — Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said Monday that embattled Sen. Norm McAllister, who faces multiple sex crime charges, intends to resign within 24 hours. The announcement came as Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislators leaders all called for him to step down Monday morning.

But in a bizarre twist, McAllister, R-Franklin, reached by phone at his home Monday afternoon, said he was not aware that anyone had reached out to Scott to promise his resignation. McAllister said he has made no determination about his future and planned to meet with his lawyer Tuesday. He declined to discuss the case any further, but said he has “had better days.”

“My lawyer has told me not to talk to anybody about any of this,” McAllister said. “I’ll be talking to my lawyer tomorrow.”

His lawyer, Brooks McArthur, did not return a message seeking comment.

Sen. Norm McAllister

Sen. Norm McAllister

Later in the day, Scott confirmed that Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, served as the messenger. Scott said Flory was in touch with McAllister throughout the weekend and relayed the message of his pending resignation. Flory spoke again with McAllister Monday afternoon and he is still expected to resign, according to Scott.

“I stand by what I was told and I still believe that I will receive his letter tomorrow morning,” he said.

Scott said he decided to reveal McAllister’s intention to resign after Shumlin and others called for him to step down.

“To be clear, I wouldn’t have announced it this morning without having it physically in my hand — until I heard the governor demanded his resignation and I thought, ‘Well, actually, he’s said he’s going to resign,’ and I thought it was important that I get that information out,” Scott said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten involved but I just felt I had that and I should let people know because it was (McAllister’s) idea.”

McAllister, a second-term senator who previously served five terms in the House, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of sexual assault and prohibited acts. Detailed court documents allege that McAllister forced women to have sex with him in exchange for rent and used sex as a punishment, among other things.

Seven Days reported over the weekend that one victim, who worked for the 63-year-old McAllister on his farm as well as an assistant or intern in Montpelier, alleged that she was possibly as young as 15 when he first assaulted her.

The charges and explicit details about the allegations released Friday in police affidavits have shaken many inside the State House as they work toward adjournment this week.

Scott, a Republican, told reporters McAllister promised early Monday morning to resign within 24 hours.

“I received word earlier this morning that within 24 hours I’ll be receiving his letter of resignation,” Scott told the Vermont Press Bureau.

Word came through a representative of McAllister’s, later revealed to be Flory at 7:30 a.m. “I have not spoken directly to him,” Scott said.

If a letter of resignation is received, Scott said he will hand it over to Senate Secretary John Bloomer who will then notify the governor and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor. The governor will eventually need to appoint someone to fill the remainder of McAllister’s term.

Scott said Monday that McAllister’s resignation is needed.

“I read the affidavit. The allegations are very serious, very troubling, to say the least. I feel that Sen. McAllister is making the right decision at this time. I think the people of Franklin County deserve a legislator that can devote themselves to their needs and I don’t think he can do that at this time,” the lieutenant governor said.

Earlier Monday, Shumlin, a Democrat called on McAllister to resign now that he is going through the judicial process.

“Given, the incredibly troubling allegations made against Sen. McAllister over the past several days, the right thing for him to do would be for him to resign from the Senate,” Shumlin told the Vermont Press Bureau in an interview. “Sen. McAllister will go through the legal process like any other accused individual, but for the good of Vermont he should not do so as a sitting senator.”

Continue reading

Capitol Beat 5-11-15

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Barre-Montpelier Times Argus Editor Steve Pappas and Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami discuss the sexual assault case against Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, the last week of the session and Bernie Sanders.

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.

Lawmakers discuss vaccine exemptions for children

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers are considering the elimination of the philosophical exemption for parents who wish to send their children to public school without being vaccinated.

Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, introduced an amendment to a bill that modifies how the Department of Health handles information in its vaccine registries. 

Mullin said the amendment addresses concerns both immediate and long term.

“We’re one plane ride away from measles hitting Vermont,” said Mullin, noting a measles outbreak in December in California that spread to 16 other states, including New York.

Mullin’s other concern is the decline in the number of children who are being vaccinated in Vermont.

By one measure, Vermont has one of the lowest rates of child vaccination of any state in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the 2012-13 school year, 6.1 percent of children entering kindergarten in Vermont did not receive one or more of 34 vaccinations recommended by age 6 by the CDC.

And not only is Vermont’s rate near the top for the country, it is growing. During the 2011-12 school year, 5.7 percent of incoming kindergartners did not receive one or more vaccinations.

The philosophical exemption is the most common one invoked by Vermont parents who do not want to vaccinate their children. During the 2012-13 school year, 371 children who entered kindergarten without one or more vaccinations claimed a philosophical exemption, compared with 30 children claiming a medical exemption and only 14 claiming religious exemption.

Mullin’s amendment — which includes support from co-sponsors Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington; and Senate Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor — met with opposition from lawmakers who might otherwise support eliminating the philosophical exemption.

Sen. Richard McCormack, D-Windsor, who had a family member with polio and who was a “polio pioneer” by being among the first children to receive the vaccine, said that while he supports vaccination, he opposed the amendment because it was introduced without first being discussed by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, concurred with McCormack, noting that while the issue came up for debate three years ago, there has not been any debate this session.

“I voted for this in the past but I won’t vote for it today,” Cummings said. “The people have a right to be heard, not two years ago or three years ago, but today.”
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, spoke in support of eliminating the philosophical exemption, while suggesting it doesn’t go far enough.

“I’m not even sure there should be a religious exemption,” White said. “If it were up to me, I’d eliminate the religious exemption, too.”

Mullin said that, based on past testimony taken from parents who use the religious exemption, that eliminating it “raises the specter of a court battle.”

In the end, lawmakers decided to take testimony on the issue, which will be limited to new scientific studies issued since the last time they took testimony, and will revisit the issue Wednesday.

McCormack noted that, regardless what decision he and his fellow lawmakers make, parents will be unhappy.

“No matter what we do, large numbers of Vermonters will feel we erred and did an injustice to the people,” McCormack said.

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.

Sears, who wrote the original draft of the revised bill that looks to keep guns out of the hands of some convicts, said he supports the idea because Vermont is the only state in the nation without such a statute. The federal government also has a similar law, but federal prosecutors often do not prosecute because of limited resources, advocates argued.

The committee voted unanimously Friday to merge the Sears-crafted language with the mental health reporting component, which came as a proposal from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. That committee’s chairwoman, Claire Ayer, D-Addison, urged the Judiciary Committee to include it in its provision earlier this week. It was also part of S.31.

Those found by a court to be a danger to themselves will, if the bill is signed in to law, be reported to the federal database beginning Oct. 1. Anyone reported to the database could be removed from the database after three years if a court rules they are no longer a danger.

The committee labored over which crimes to include in the ban Friday morning before voting on the measure. Most major crimes in Vermont are included, but the committee agreed Friday to remove lewd and lascivious conduct, several motor vehicle crimes and all misdemeanors except domestic violence.

The committee’s action Friday was hailed by Gun Sense President Ann Braden, who helped launch the effort for new gun laws in January. She called the vote “an historic victory.”

“This is a gun violence prevention bill that’s going forward despite the opposition of the gun lobby. It shows that second amendment rights [and] respect for the 16th amendment in the Vermont Constitution goes hand-in-hand with gun violence prevention,” Braden said.

Although Sears declared Friday that S.31 — and expanded background checks for private gun sales — is dead for this year and next year, Braden said her group will continue to push for it.

Sen. Dick Sears

Sen. Dick Sears

“I think these are really important measures that are definitely going to keep guns out of the wrong hands. In terms of background checks, we still want that to happen. We knew that this was going to take a long time,” she said.

Evan Hughs, legislative liaison for the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said his group will also continue its effort to ensure that gun rights are not infringed upon.

“It’s one more step in an evolving process of legislation. As the federation we’re concerned about the interests of the hunting and shooting community in the state of Vermont,” he said following Friday’s vote. “At this point we still have things that concern us but we’re willing to participate in getting the bill right.”

The meticulous attention the committee paid to the bill Friday illustrates the delicate process — and political challenges — involved in passing gun legislation. Sears said he felt “extreme pressure from all sides.”

“When I announced that I wasn’t supporting the background portion of the bill that pissed off most of the more liberal members of my caucus as well as the leadership of my caucus as well as many of my constituents back home,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, an original sponsor of S.31, pushed Sears hard to advance a bill. He spent considerable time in the Judiciary Committee, often seated near Sears, monitoring its progress.

“I think his behavior has been fascinating,” Sears said.

His attention was bothersome to Sears, and prompted the veteran lawmaker, who is known to express his displeasure at times, to offer Campbell total control earlier this week.

“There was one point where I asked him if he really wanted to chair the committee,” Sears said.

Campbell, a deputy state’s attorney in Windsor County and a former police officer, said he was pleased with Friday’s vote, but noted it is only “one small battle won.” The extra attention, he said, was a result of its importance.

“When you see the effect that heroin and other drugs have had on our families here in Vermont, I was willing to do anything I needed to do to try to come up with an answer,” he said. “In addition to being the pro tem I am also one of the senators. This is a bill that I actually sponsored, and as such, it was one where I felt I had not only a duty but an obligation to shepherd it in any way I could.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, listen to testimony on a gun bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, listen to testimony on a gun bill.

Campbell said he was aware of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s discussions with members of the committee and was trying to counter that force.

“The governor made it very clear how he feels about this bill. He doesn’t support it,” Campbell said. “The governor is very powerful and the administration is very powerful. As such, I guess I had to step up my involvement.”

Shumlin, who strongly opposes any new gun laws, was pushing his message. Sears said he had conversations with Shumlin, including a call Thursday night from the governor to inquire about the bill’s status.

“He asked me what I was expecting to have happen,” Sears said. “He never said, ‘Don’t do it,’ but he’s been pretty clear publicly.”

The governor has adopted a wait-and-see stance. He acknowledged in an interview Friday that he has been speaking with committee members “over the last weeks,” but will not declare if he intends to veto the legislation if it clears both chambers and reaches his desk.

“If a bill comes to my desk, I will look at it when it gets to me. These bills have a long way to go. My feelings I’ve made clear. We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Let’s give them the latitude to do what they think is right and the governor will do what I think is right.”

Sears said the bill, as crafted, is narrow and could end up with the governor’s support.

“If we can get it through without adding something on in either the Senate or the House, I suspect he’s going to be comfortable with the idea that there’s certainly people that probably shouldn’t possess firearms,” Sears said. “It’s up to him. He’ll do what he wants.”

Shumlin, however, is far from offering his support.

“These are tough bills. (Sears is) trying to come out with one that he thinks is sensible, but we may well agree to disagree,” Shumlin said.

Campbell, despite warnings from some opponents of the bill that his efforts would cause him political harm, said he decided to push away.

“The price that I will end up paying for this is one that won’t be known for a couple years. I’ve had people tell me, quite frankly, that my political career is over for pushing this bill. As I’ve said before, that’s fine, I’m ready to deal with that.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Read the legislation below:

Capitol Beat 2-27-15 with Pro Tem John Campbell

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Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell sits down with Vermont Press Bureau Chief Neal P. Goswami to discuss the legislative session, the state budget and guns.

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Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell records Capitol Beat

Health advocates propose tax on sugary drinks

MONTPELIER — Health advocates are calling for a tax on sugary drinks that could raise as much as $34 million in new revenue.

Members of Alliance for a Healthier Vermont — a coalition of more than 30 state organizations — gathered Tuesday at the State House to urge lawmakers to pass legislation that would impose a tax of 2 cents an ounce on sugary drinks.

“Some of you may have seen stories on a report that claims Vermont is the second-healthiest state in the nation. But beyond that happy-sounding headline, there is a sadder reality that deserves to be reported,” said Anthony Iarrapino, campaign director of Alliance for a Healthier Vermont. “The reality is, Vermont is not immune from obesity and the preventative diseases it causes.”

According to the state Department of Health, 60 percent of Vermonters are overweight or obese; for children, that number is 29 percent. Obesity is not just unhealthy, it’s expensive. In the United States, 21 percent of health care costs are spent on obesity-related conditions.

Alliance for a Healthier Vermont argues that raising the price on sugary drinks will result in a decline in consumption, which has risen 500 percent in the United States during the past 50 years. In January 2014, Mexico — the largest consumer of sugary drinks in the world — implemented a sugary-drink tax, and saw consumption decline 10 percent during the first six months of the year.

Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, has joined lead sponsor Rep George Till, D-Jericho, on a bill to tax sugary drinks. The bill is being crafted and is expected to be introduced next week.

“I’m a big support of — instead of paying for the problem, which is what we’re currently doing, for the obesity and the diabetes and all the issues that surround high-fructose corn syrup and sugar-sweetened beverages — I would rather tax its consumption,” Clarkson said. “I’d rather put the money into prevention than paying for the problem at the far end.”

According to the medical journal “Obesity Research,” obesity -related health issues cost Vermonters $200 million annually, including $41 million in Medicare costs and $57 million in Medicaid costs.

A tax on sugary drinks has been proposed in past sessions and has failed to garner much support among lawmakers.

“I don’t know what the current support is within the House. I think the challenge on this kind of revenue source always is this: you are building a revenue source that you hope is going to decline, because it will change behavior,” said House Speaker Shap Smith. “Great health benefit, but from a revenue perspective it’s problematic. We don’t need more declining sources of revenue in the general fund.”

Senate Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, voiced his opposition to the idea of a sugary drink tax, saying it will hurt merchants who operate along the state border in his county.

“I believe very strongly in advancing policy that will help Vermonters lead healthier lives. However, the proposal to tax beverages containing added sugar is not the way to address our shared goal,” Campbell said. “Taxation is not the way to encourage healthy behavior. This proposal will not only increase the cost of living for working families, it will also harm the businesses that produce these beverages and those who bottle, distribute and sell them.”

Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Retailers & Grocers Association, voiced his opposition to taxing sugary drinks.

“A two-cents-per-ounce tax on certain beverages puts local businesses at a disadvantage to neighboring communities and will have a negative impact on family budgets,” Harrison said. “Politicians should focus on what matters most — education, jobs and the economy — and leave the grocery shopping to us and our customers.”

josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com

House, Senate poised to withdraw controversial tax plan, pave way for copacetic adjournment

Speaker of the House Shap Smith

Shap Smith

House and Senate Democrats look poised to end their veto showdown with Gov. Peter Shumlin by withdrawing an income-tax overhaul that would have delivered tax cuts to more than 200,000  middle-class Vermonters.

Neither House Speaker Shap Smith nor Senate President John Campbell have made any definitive announcements today about the status of their battle with Shumlin over the tax reform proposal. But in an interview on WDEV’s the Mark Johnson show this morning, Smith seemed to indicate that he didn’t want to escalate the standoff.

“It’s going to be a good proposal if it’s passed this year, or if it’s passed (next year),” Smith said.

Since the impacts of the reform proposal wouldn’t begin taking effect until fiscal year 2015 anyway, Smith said, “our feeling is we can still do it (next) January if we decide not to go forward with it today.”

The tone telegraphed the withdrawal of the proposal – an official announcement will be coming later this afternoon – a concession that would signal the end of a late-session battle that has pitted the Democratic governor against a House and Senate controlled by members of his own party.

Smith and Campbell had sought to cap itemized deductions, and used the resulting revenue to bring down marginal income-tax rates across the board. The changes would have had the effect of increasing taxes on about 15,000 wealthier tax filers, and decreased obligations modestly for about 240,000 people, mostly in low- and middle-class tax brackets.

Janet Ancel

Janet Ancel

Rep. Janet Ancel, chairwoman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, championed the plan as a revenue-neutral way of delivering tax relief to working Vermonters. Shumlin, however, said the proposal violated the no-new-taxes pledge he entered into with lawmakers last week, and made it clear he would veto the bill if it made it to his desk.

Shumlin also criticized the plan for coming so late in the session, and said it hadn’t been sufficiently vetted.

Smith this morning said that if there’s going to be a fight over the proposal, he wants it to be over the merits of the policy, not over whether it came too late in the session, or whether it reneges on any deals.

“We don’t think something that’s pretty good policy should be clouded by technical arguments, and we don’t want to fight about anything other than, is this a good idea?” Smith said.

In the months between now and the second half of the biennium, Smith said, he believes he can help Shumlin learn to appreciate the rightness of the House and Senate’s thinking.

“We think this is a fair tax policy that’s going to lower taxes for over 200,000 Vermonters, and we think we can take the time and convince the governor that this makes sense to do,” Smith said. “We think this is something the governor and the Legislature should be out championing, not fighting about.”

The dispute over tax policy may the most contentious issue standing between lawmakers and a Tuesday adjournment, but it isn’t the only area of disagreement in the building.

An effort to insert into the budget language previously stricken from a bill dealing with mountaintop wind development has tripped up negotiations around the $5.3 billion bill. House lawmakers are trying to desperately to salvage pieces of an education-funding reform bill that has stalled in the Senate. And the House floor this evening – and perhaps well into the night – will have one last debate over an end-of-life-choices bill that appears all but certain to win final passage.

Nine-person committee to recommend tax for single-payer – in 2015

The Shumlin administration and top legislative leaders will delegate to a nine-person panel the task of coming up with a way to finance single-payer health care.

The issue of financing has followed the Democratic governor since he made single-payer the cornerstone of his gubernatorial agenda in 2010. The single-payer law enacted five months after his election directed his administration to deliver a financing plan by last month. Shumlin, however, said it was still premature to tell Vermonters what tax he’d use to pay for the universal system.

The decision to form the new panel defers until 2015 the unveiling of an official financing recommendation.

The panel will includes two appointees each from Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President John Campbell. The three men will then decide together who should fill the three remaining seats.

“They will really dig into the issue of what the cost of the system will be and how the system is currently financed, and what a system going forward would like if you financed it a different way,” Smith said today. “I would see them putting forward a financing plan that supported a single-payer plan, or as close to single-payer as we could get under law.”

For more on this story, check out tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

Campbell wins uncontested race for pro tem

John Campbell, D-Windsor

John Campbell, D-Windsor

John Campbell’s biggest adversary just turned into his best friend.

In a surprise move moments ago, Chittenden County Republican Diane Snelling withdrew her candidacy for Senate President Pro Tem and instead nominated her would-be rival John Campbell.

“This may seem surprising to some, however I have been promised nothing more and nothing less than a fair and accountable process and productive Senate,” Snelling said on the floor of a packed Senate chamber.

Snelling last year made little effort to veil her contempt for the chaotic scheduling and procedure blamed for casting the body into disarray.

Campbell has apparently convinced her it won’t happen again. More on his victory speech coming soon.

House, Senate getting ready to kick off 2013

This year will feature plenty of contentious debates over things like the budget, health care, renewable energy and drug policy.

But today will be more style than substance as lawmakers settle in for the rituals of the new biennium.

The House chamber is already beginning to fill up in anticipation of the election of Shap Smith to a third term as Speaker of the House. Smith will then deliver a speech to the 150-person body before presiding over the swearing in of new members.

The Senate ceremonies will go down in much the same way, though Senate President John Campbell faces a challenge for pro tem in the form of Republican Diane Snelling.

Advocates will try to make an early mark on elected officials. A coalition of environmental groups convened a press conference earlier this morning to seek assurances from lawmakers to improve the quality of Vermont’s waterways. The Vermont Workers Center is holding a rally at 11:30 this morning telling lawmakers to “Put people first.” The group tends to come out in large numbers, and will be seeking a budget geared toward the interests of low- and working-class Vermonters.

A couple unions – 1199SEIU and AFSCME – are on hand today in advance of their legisaltive push to organize about 6,000 home-care workers in the state.

Stay tuned here at www.vermontpressbureau.com for live updates from the festivities.

 

 

 

Senate waits with bated breath for 2013 committee assignments

The palace intrigue continues today in the Senate, where a rumored shake-up in some key committee chairwomanships has set off a wave of speculation about who will end up where.

Sen. Dick Mazza, one of three members on the powerful ” Committee on Committees,” said he, Senate Pro Tem John Campbell and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott are hoping to ink a final roster by Thursday. They’ll probably announce the decisions to members on Friday morning – “so they have assignments before they go home for the weekend,” Mazza said.

The Friday news drop serves another key function: giving spurned senators 72 hours to ice their brusied egos before returning to Montpelier for the first full week of the session.

“There are going to be some happy folks and some unhappy folks,” Mazza said this morning. “But you deal with it and within a week or so people usually move on.”

Mazza, Campbell and Scott – the lite guv always gets a spot on the committee on committees – have been working for weeks on a roster of committee assignments. Sen. Ginny Lyons, longtime chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, is rumored to be on the chopping block – she had earlier this year pondered a run against Campbell for pro tem.

Sen. Ann Cummings won’t continue as chairwoman of Senate Finance – she requested last month to be pulled from the plum assignment, something that likely would have happened anyway given her very public dressing-down of Campbell at a Senate caucus last month.

Vince Illuzzi’s departure fom the body opens up another chairmanship in the Committee on Economic Development, House and General Affairs.

The Committee on Committees has done a pretty good job keeping people guessing – some of the senators who will be most directly impacted by its chioces still don’t know what’s coming. It’s the kind of inside baseball that no one who works outside Montpelier will probably care much about, but the committee compositions will signal changes in the Senate’s evolving power dynamic, and could have an effect on prospects for some key pieces of legislation.

Senator wants sway over Public Service Board, and more from the first bills of 2013

Forget about broad-based taxes, death with dignity, marijuana decriminalization and probitions on mountaintop wind: the first House bill of the new biennium aims to simplify judicial bookkeeping.

In a sure sign that the new session is nearly upon us, legislative staff have unveiled the texts of bills that are ready for introduction.

H1 is a gripping bit of statute that would repeal a provision requiring superior court clerks to “keep a book of judgments separate from the originals.”

Like most of the 1,000 or so bills introduced in a given biennium, H1 won’t generate much talk outside the committee to which it’s assigned. But in addition to the mundane work of legal bookkeeping, lawmakers will consider scores of bills this year that could have a real impact on the lives of the Vermonters they represent.

Take H6, introduced by Rep. Paul Poirier, the Barre City Independent who late last month dropped his insurgent candidacy for Speaker of the House. Poirier’s legislation would add “mental injury” to the list of job-related afflictions for which employees are entitled to workers’ compensation.

In the Senate’s first piece of new legislation, Sen. Tim Ashe, a Chittenden County Democrat/Progressive, wants to require judges “to consider the approximate financial cost” of a sentence before handing down a ruling.

It won’t the first go-round in Montpelier for many of the bills under consideration in 2013. Already on the calendar in the Senate is a bill relating to concussions in youth sports. Lawmakers failed to reach consensus on a proposal last year; S.4, introduced by Ashe, Sen. Dick Sears and Senate President John Campbell, would, among other things, prohibit a coach from letting a child reenter a game after suffering a concussion.

Sen. Robert Hartwell, a Bennington Democrat and vocal critic of the Public Service Board, promises to spark a lively debate with his first piece of legislation of the biennium. Hartwell, an opponent of ridgeline wind development and wireless “smart meters,” want to give the Senate more influence over the composition of the three-person panel responsible for regulating those technologies.

Hartwell’s S16 would require the governor’s appointments to the Public Service Board to first win consent from the Senate.

You can scroll through the first 24 bills of the session yourself at

http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/serviceMain.cfm, and expect to see many more added in the coming days.

Dems pick Philip Baruth as next Senate Majority Leader

One of the more vocal critics of Senate leadership over the past two years was elected by his Democratic peers Saturday to help fix it.

Sen. Philip Baruth, a second-term Chittenden County Democrat, will serve as his 23-member caucus’ next majority leader. During his first two years in office, Baruth often chided Senate President John Campbell for a top-down leadership style he said was used to subvert the will of the majority.

Baruth on Sunday said he thinks he and Campbell are primed to improve the dynamic.

“A lot of problems were caused by bills that had lot of support in the caucus but then didn’t have quite enough support to get out of committee,” Baruth said. “We have had very good discussion about that at (the Senate Democratic caucus Saturday) and talked about ways to massage that situation so we wouldn’t have quite so much pressure build up around certain issues.”

Baruth named the childcare unionization bill specifically as one of piece of legislation blocked from seeing a floor vote last year. Does that mean the controversial legislation, opposed by Campbell, is headed for an up-or-down vote on the floor in 2013?

“I wouldn’t want to say anything definitive on any specific bill, but it certainly seems as though discussions are moving in that way,” Baruth said.

A professor of English at the University of Vermont, Baruth said even Republican lawmakers will have a voice in the Democratic caucus. Sen. Diane Snelling, a Chittenden County Republican, is running against Campbell for a Senate presidency that will be decided this week.

“I know John Campbell is not taking anything for granted, and I am very sure he’s talking on a regular basis with Republicans that have been in the body for awhile, as well as those just coming in,” Baruth said. “In the Senate, it’s less about R’s versus D’s and it’s more about wrangling over the vision for ideal government, and then how you pay for that ideal government.”

Baruth, who won the post in a unanimous voice vote, had voiced interest last fall in being a member of the leadership team, but said he’d cede the top spot to a more senior member of the body. No one else emerged to take the job.

Sen. Claire Ayer, an Addison County Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, will serve as assistant majority leader.

From his more experienced No. 2, Baruth said he’ll seek “advice and guidance.”

“Claire is an extremely experienced and savvy person,” Baruth said. “And what I need from her is mostly her advice.”

Lawmakers will convene in Montpelier on Wednesday for the opening of the 2013 session. Gov. Peter Shumlin delivers his State of the State address on Thursday.