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February 06, 2014

This Week's Issue: A Neighborly Noise Feud in Burlington, 'Border' Security and Maple Saplings

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Find these news and politics stories in this week's Seven Days...

February 05, 2014

Rural Vermont: Farmers Sold 53,000 Gallons of Raw Milk

LM-RawMilk-SPAs some farmers push for more freedom to sell raw milk, an  advocacy group reports that nearly 2,000 customers bought more than 53,000 gallons of the unpasteurized product in a recent 12-month period. 

For those of you interested in following the raw milk debate, head over to the website of Rural Vermont, which  released its annual raw milk report Wednesday morning. Because Vermont doesn't require farmers selling raw milk to register with the state, the Rural Vermont report is the best snapshot we have of what raw milk sales look like on the ground.

To recap, raw milk is unpasteurized. In Vermont, it's sold directly by farmers to consumers, and in almost all cases consumers have to travel to the farm to purchase this milk. Vermont passed regulations in 2009 covering the sale of raw milk, setting out guidelines for farmers intended to protect public health. People who love raw milk really love raw milk — but conversely, public health officials stand firm in their conviction that consuming unpasteurized milk (which hasn't been treated to kill off pathogens and bacteria) could make people sick.

Continue reading "Rural Vermont: Farmers Sold 53,000 Gallons of Raw Milk " »

January 31, 2014

Lisman's Group Accuses House Democrat of Solar Conflict

01.30.14 CFV Ltr to Speaker Rule 75A group founded and funded by retired Wall Street banker Bruce Lisman has accused a St. Albans Democrat of violating House rules by voting for legislation that would help his employer.

In a letter (see below) to House Speaker Shap Smith, Campaign for Vermont lobbyist Shawn Shouldice took Rep. Mike McCarthy (D-St. Albans) to task Thursday for supporting legislation that would expand Vermont's net-metering program.

Net metering encourages Vermonters to produce electricity at home and work, in exchange for a break on their power bills. Shouldice said that the bill would benefit SunCommon, the Waterbury-based solar leasing company for which McCarthy works as a community organizer.

The legislation increases the amount of renewable energy utilities can buy from customers from 4 percent of the companies' peak demand to 15 percent. The bill won preliminary approval Wednesday by a 136-8 margin and final passage Thursday by voice vote.

In her letter, Shouldice said the episode demonstrates the need for ethics reform, a cause Lisman and Campaign for Vermont have been trumpeting lately.

Continue reading "Lisman's Group Accuses House Democrat of Solar Conflict" »

On Paid Sick Leave, Top Vermont Dems Are Noncommittal

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John Dubie, owner of Burlington's Pearl Street Beverage, testified against paid sick leave legislation Thursday at the Statehouse.

With a reference to the world of Don Draper, President Obama renewed his call for mandatory paid sick leave Tuesday night in his State of the Union address

"A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship," he said. "And you know what, a father does, too. It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode."

But the president's full-throated support for the idea isn't exactly echoed by Vermont's Democratic leaders. As a committee in the Vermont House takes up legislation that would require businesses to provide employees up to seven days per year in accrued, paid sick leave, top Dems have been hesitant to take a side.

Continue reading "On Paid Sick Leave, Top Vermont Dems Are Noncommittal" »

January 28, 2014

Senate Committee Advances Shoreland Protection Rules

LM-land-katieAfter striking some compromises between environmentalists and property rights advocates, the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee unanimously approved legislation on Friday that would tighten the rules governing shoreland development in Vermont. The bill is scheduled to come before the full Senate next week.

Big picture? The proposed rules are designed to improve water quality by limiting clearing and development on the very edges of Vermont's lakes and ponds; keeping shorelands more intact would prevent runoff and maintain critical habitat at the water's edge. Vermont passed some shoreland development rules in the 1970s, but they expired a few years later and were not reinstated. Today, according to the Agency of Natural Resources, Vermont is the only northeastern state without a statewide lakeshore protection rule on the books.

That may be about to change.

Continue reading "Senate Committee Advances Shoreland Protection Rules" »

January 27, 2014

Shumlin Names Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, to Vermont Senate

Sirotkin.FoxGov. Peter Shumlin on Monday named South Burlington attorney and lobbyist Michael Sirotkin to replace his late wife, Sally Fox, in the Vermont Senate. 

Sirotkin was one of three candidates recommended to the governor last Wednesday by members of the Chittenden County Democratic Committee. The others were Williston Selectboard member Debbie Ingram and Burlington management consultant Dawn Ellis.

"There were several exceptional candidates interested in this Senate seat," Shumlin said in a written statement. "But Sally wanted her husband to fill her seat after her death, and recognizing Sirotkin's strong qualifications, I'm honoring that request. I'm confident that Michael will continue the great work Sally did for the district and the state."

Continue reading "Shumlin Names Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, to Vermont Senate" »

January 22, 2014

This Week's Issue: Aging Prisoners, Woodstoves and Public TV Trouble

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A new issue of Seven Days hits the newsstands today. Here's what you'll find inside:

Get all these stories and more in print, online or on the app.

Cover photo by Tom McNeill

Updated: Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, Expresses "Interest" in Her Senate Seat

SirotkinUpdated below with news that former Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson and Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) have dropped out and endorsed Sirotkin. Rep. Tim Jerman (D-Essex Junction), meanwhile, says he will stay in the race. Gov. Shumlin says he's "thrilled" Sirotkin is interested.

In a move likely to upend the contest to fill a Chittenden County state senate seat opened up by the death of Sally Fox, her husband of 36 years says he's interested in succeeding her.

Michael Sirotkin, a longtime lobbyist and well-known figure in Montpelier, wrote Chittenden County Democratic Party chairman David Scherr late Tuesday to raise the possibility.

"Please accept this letter as an indication of my interest in being appointed to Sally's Senate seat," Sirotkin wrote. "Sally had months ago expressed an interest in my doing so, although clearly our first preference was always that the choice would never present itself. After much soul searching and encouragement from others, I decided I would welcome the opportunity if given such honor by your Committee and the Governor."

Sirotkin's decision comes just hours before an 80-member committee of Chittenden County Democrats is set to winnow the field to three candidates, whose names will be forwarded to Gov. Peter Shumlin. The governor is free to appoint a replacement from that list, or he can select his own candidate. 

Continue reading "Updated: Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, Expresses "Interest" in Her Senate Seat" »

January 20, 2014

Lawmakers Advance 'Solar Standoff' Solution

SolarWhen some Vermont utilities started rejecting proposed home-grown solar installations last year, it looked like a plan to increase solar production in Vermont had been too successful.

Utilities were bumping up against a cap on so-called net-metered projects far faster than the lawmakers who'd designed the rules ever anticipated. Those utilities said it was time to put on the brakes; solar energy advocates argued that doing so would cripple solar development just as the industry was hitting its stride in Vermont. 

Now a plan to breakup that solar standoff is gaining traction in Montpelier. The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee advanced legislation on Friday that would relax the cap on homemade power to better match the demand for residential solar generation. The bill will head to the full House on Thursday. 

Continue reading "Lawmakers Advance 'Solar Standoff' Solution" »

January 17, 2014

Bill Would Give VT Judges New Tools for Dealing With Brain-Injured Defendants

Localmatters-pion2Defendants who argue compellingly that they committed a crime as a consequence of a past traumatic brain injury often go free in Vermont. That's because the state's courts have no way of dealing with such cases.

Judges cannot order defendants with TBI to be incarcerated, hospitalized or placed under state supervision — in contrast to those found incompetent to stand trial due to a mental illness or cognitive deficiency. As Seven Days reported last March in "Why Brain Injured Defendants Often Go Free," judges often have no choice but to let a defendant with TBI walk, even if he or she has committed numerous violent or sexual offenses and remains a threat to public safety.

But that could change this year. On Friday, Rep. Warren Van Wyck (R–Ferrisburgh) presented legislation to the House Judiciary Committee that would let judges order a brain-injured defendant to be committed to the custody of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, just like someone diagnosed with schizophrenia. And, like a person with mental illness, he or she could be tried for the crime if later deemed competent to stand trial.

Continue reading "Bill Would Give VT Judges New Tools for Dealing With Brain-Injured Defendants" »

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