John Campbell

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Work begins on potential dam purchase

House Speaker Shap Smith speaks at a news conference announcing the formation of a working group to determine if the state should consider purchasing hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers. Gov. Peter Shumlin, left, and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, right, were on hand to announce the working group. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislative leaders announced the formation of a working group Tuesday to explore a potential state purchase of hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers. The announcement came ahead of an afternoon hearing held by the Senate Finance and Government Operations Committees to begin gathering information on the dams, and what it will take to for the state to purchase them. TransCanada put 13 dams located on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers on the market on March 17 as part of an effort to acquire Columbia Pipeline Group, a Texas-based firm that operates a natural gas pipeline between New York and the Gulf of Mexico, for $13 billion. The sale process involves a total of 4,600 megawatts of power in TransCanada’s northeast power portfolio, including the hydroelectric plants in Vermont that total 560 megawatts, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Link. TransCanada purchased the dams in 2005 for $505 million. Continue Reading →

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Senate president pro-tem stepping down

Senate Pro Tem John Campbell

MONTPELIER — No matter what happens during the November elections, there will be new leadership at the State House. Senate President Pro-Tem John Campbell announced Monday he will join House Speaker Shap Smith and Gov. Peter Shumlin in not seeking re-election, choosing instead to head the state association that represents sheriffs and prosecutors. Upon completion of the 2016 legislative session in early May, Campbell will take the position of executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, a job that reflects his work, past and present. “It’s not often that jobs open up in a field in which you have passion for,” Campbell said. “Law enforcement and being a prosecutor are things that are very important to me.”

The eight-term Democrat is a deputy state’s attorney in Windsor County, which he has represented since 2001. Continue Reading →

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Marijuana bill limps out of committee

Sen. Jane Kitchel discusses the marijuana legalization bill Monday at the State House.

MONTPELIER — The Senate’s marijuana legalization bill limped out of its final committee and will come up for a full vote this week. By a 4 to 3 vote Monday afternoon, The Senate Appropriations Committee gave its approval to S.241, which would permit the legal sale of marijuana in 2018. Vermont is looking at becoming the fifth state to legalize marijuana — following Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — and would be the first state to do so through the legislative process rather than though a ballot initiative. To even get out of the committee — the third Senate Committee to review the bill since the start of the legislative session — required the affirmative vote of a Senator who said she will oppose the bill when it comes to the floor Wednesday. “I will vote yes to bring it to the floor, with a clear vote of no on the floor,” said Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden. Continue Reading →

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Paid sick leave mandate heads to Gov. Shumlin’s desk

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MONTPELIER — The House on Wednesday passed the Senate’s amended version of a paid sick leave bill a year after passing its own, sending it to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s desk to be signed into law — a dream that many on the left side of the political spectrum have waited years to achieve. The bill, H.187, had a relatively easy path to passage Wednesday after five separate amendments were withdrawn. All five amendments — including one from Rep. Alyson Eastman, an independent from Orwell, to include an exemption for small businesses — had already been rejected by the House General, Housing & Military Affairs Committee. Reps. Oliver Olsen, an independent from Londonderry, and Paul Dame, a Republican from Essex, also withdrew amendments, noting they were unlikely to pass. Continue Reading →

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Senate passes paid sick leave bill, again

Kevin Mullin discusses paid sick leave on Wednesday.

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers once again approved a bill requiring employers to grant their workers paid sick leave. Wednesday afternoon, the Senate approved H.187, which will require all employers to offer three days of paid sick leave a year, beginning in 2018. “Tens of thousands of working Vermonters who have long lacked such basic protections as paid sick days eagerly await the bill being signed by Governor Shumlin to move us another step forward toward a society that protects health and human rights for all,” said Isaac Grimm, lead organizer at Rights and Democracy. The bill has had a long road, passing the House during the last legislative session before stalling in the Senate. This session, Senate lawmakers took up the bill, culminating with its passage last week. Continue Reading →

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Story +Video: Rules Committee advances resolution to suspend McAllister

Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, sat alone before a Senate Rules Committee meeting Wednesday. The committee voted to advance a resolution to the full Senate that seeks to suspend McAllister from the body because of pending sex crime charges against him. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

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MONTPELIER — The Senate Rules Committee voted Wednesday in favor of sending a resolution seeking the suspension of Franklin County Sen. Norm McAllister, who is charged with several sex crimes, to the full Senate next month. The 3 to 2 vote on the suspension resolution offered by Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, came after the panel rejected another resolution from Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, on a 4 to 1 vote, that would have amended the Senate’s rules to prevent it from acting in any manner until any pending felony charges are settled in court. McAllister, if suspended under the resolution, would continue to receive his pay because it is constitutionally protected unless he is expelled, Baruth said. Sens. Baruth, Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, and John Campbell, D-Windsor, voted in favor of the suspension resolution. Continue Reading →

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Senate bill to legalize marijuana is unveiled

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MONTPELIER — Legislation to be introduced next month when lawmakers return to the State House would allow those 21 and over to grow and possess marijuana as early as July 2016. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Jeanette White, D-Windham, and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, would allow for the retail sale of pot and permitted lounges, in 2017. White crafted the bill following a series of hearings by the Senate Government Operations Committee this fall. The committee could not reach consensus on a bill, she said. Continue Reading →

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Senate Dems leaning toward suspending McAllister

The Senate Democratic caucus met at the home of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell Saturday to discuss several topics, including the potential legalization of marijuana in Vermont. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

HARTLAND — Senate Democrats are moving toward seeking the suspension of a Republican member of the body accused of sexual crimes to avoid interfering with his criminal case. Fifteen members of the Democratic caucus met Saturday at the timber frame home of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, and one on the phone, to discuss how the body should proceed regarding Franklin County Sen. Norm McAllister. The 64-year-old McAllister was arrested at the State House in May and stands accused of sexually assaulting three women, including a legislative intern who allegedly lived with him in Montpelier at times. He has pleaded not guilty to three felony and three misdemeanor charges, and his criminal case is pending. McAllister has refused to resign, despite immense pressure from both Republicans and Democrats. Continue Reading →

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Concern raised with off session legislative work

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

MONTPELIER — Vermont has always had a part-time Legislature comprised of ordinary, civic-minded Vermonters, but one representative says that characteristic is threatened by the growing level of engagement outside of the regular legislative sessions. Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, a Republican, took to social media Friday to lament the extensive work performed by some legislative committees since the official session ended in mid-May. “Is anybody else as frustrated as I with the amount of legislative activity that has happened since our May 16th adjournment? Report, after report, after report has legislative committees meeting and conducting legislative work just about full-time,” Scheuermann wrote. “While there have always been some summer study committees during the off session, I have never seen the amount of legislative work being conducted as I am seeing this year.”

Is anybody else as frustrated as I with the amount of legislative activity that has happened since our May 16th… Continue Reading →

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Senate crafts plan to oust McAllister

John Bloomer (VPR photo)

MONTPELIER — State Senate officials are developing a process to oust embattled Franklin County Republican Sen. Norm McAllister in case he does not resign before the legislative session starts in January. McAllister, 64, was arrested at the State House in May and stands accused of sexually assaulting three women, including a legislative intern who was allegedly as young as 16 at the time. He has pleaded not guilty to three felony and three misdemeanor charges, and his criminal case is pending. In an interview published last week in Seven Days, McAllister adamantly denied the charges and indicated he will not resign. That entrenched position is not sitting well with Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning. Continue Reading →

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