Kevin Mullin

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Accuser in McAllister sexual assault case takes the stand

Sen. Norm McAllister in court Wednesday.

ST. ALBANS — The accuser in the sexual assault case of a sitting state senator described her experience with the man as “hell.”

Wednesday marked the first day of the trial of Sen. Norm McAllister, who is facing the possibility of life in prison over two felony counts of sexual assault.

During more than four hours of testimony, the alleged victim — now 21 years old — wore a plaid green shirt and blue jeans and shifted back in forth in her chair as she recounted numerous instances of McAllister assaulting her when she was 16 years old. “I was in hell,” she said, describing the first time McAllister allegedly assaulted her in a barn near his farm in Franklin. McAllister — a two-term Republican senator from Franklin County who is seeking re-election — watched his accuser intently as she described working for him as a farm hand, saying he sometimes made her feel uncomfortable. “Just the way he looked at me, eyeballing me up and down like a person does, undressing someone with your eyes,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Jury set for McAllister sexual assault trial

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ST. ALBANS — The jury is set for the sexual assault trial of Sen. Norman McAllister. Following hours of questioning from attorneys representing the prosecution and the defense, a field of 84 prospective jurors was weened down to seven men and five women. The Republican senator from Franklin County is facing two counts of sexual assault — each count carries a potential life sentence — following his arrest at the State House in May 2015. His trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday and run through Friday. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers question refugee plans

MONTPELIER — Rutland City’s mayor says the 100 Syrian refugees coming to the city could be just the first round, even as lawmakers from the county expressed their displeasure for being left out of the loop. Mayor Chris Louras surprised many people Tuesday when he announced the city would begin taking in refugees in October. On Wednesday, Louras spoke with Rutland County’s senators and representatives about the resettlement plans, and offered an apology of sorts for keeping lawmakers in the dark, while at the same time saying he didn’t regret his actions. “There had to be conversations for which this many public officials could not be involved, and while I appreciate many of you feeling blindsided — and man, I’d feel blindsided too, if I were you — I’m owning it,” Louras told the dozen or so assembled lawmakers. “However, sometimes information needs to be controlled during a review process and during a decision-making process,” Louras said. 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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State start-up costs for legal pot: $2.2 million

Finance Commissioner Andy Pallito outlines the state's start-up costs to regulate legal marijuana.

MONTPELIER — State officials estimate the state’s start-up cost for legal marijuana to be $2.2 million dollars, paid for by future receipts, or what one lawmaker referred to as “deficit spending.”

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee took testimony on what would be needed for the state to implement legal cannabis, with a target legalization date of Jan. 1, 2018. At $920,000, the largest of the expenditures would be for the Vermont Department of Taxes, which would be charged with developing a system to collect excise taxes from distributors. Also included is $500,000 for the Department of Health to do educational outreach to teens, including specific efforts to reach out to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered teens. According to the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey, these populations are more likely to use marijuana than their peers. Continue Reading →

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Senate panel zeroes in on paid sick leave bill

The Senate Committee on on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs works to finalize a paid sick leave bill. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — A Senate panel is zeroing in on a paid sick leave bill that amends the version passed by the House last year to make it more palatable for the business community. The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs is expected to vote on the amended legislation Thursday morning after clarifying the expense it will have on the state as an employer. The bill is expected to easily clear the committee, according to Chairman Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland. The committee delayed a vote on Wednesday until the state Department of Human Resources could detail how much its bill would cost the state. The Senate bill looks to exempt the state from the mandate, except for temporary hourly workers. 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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Vaccine debate heats up with a star witness

MONTPELIER — Action in the House on a bill that seeks to remove the state’s philosophical exemption for vaccines will be delayed until next week while a House Committee takes testimony on the issue. Dylan Giambatista, chief of staff for Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith, said the House Health Care Committee will take testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday, and possibly Thursday. Currently, the committee is scheduled to hear from state health officials, medical professionals and advocates on both sides of the vaccine issue. One of those advocates will be Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of former presidential candidate, U.S. attorney general and New York. Sen. Bobby Kennedy. Continue Reading →

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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. Continue Reading →

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Election-day voter registration moves forward

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers are taking a step that could increase voter participation. By a vote of 20 to 7 Thursday afternoon, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow residents to register to vote on the day of an election. Currently, an individual who wishes to cast a vote on a Tuesday must have registered to vote by the previous Wednesday. “Those of us in this building spend a lot of time thinking about elections, but most people don’t,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham. “People move or go into long-term care facilities in a town where they were not originally registered to vote and didn’t get engaged until the last moment. Continue Reading →

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