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January 2013

January 28, 2013

The Week Ahead: January 28 - February 3, 2013

The Week AheadHere's what's happening in Vermont news and politics this week. Got an event for next week's calendar? Email by Friday to submit.

Monday, January 28

  • At 10 a.m., U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) hosts a press conference at his Burlington office to delve into state politics. He'll oppose calls for a three-year moratorium on wind power, surrounded by reps from VPIRG, National Wildlife Federation, Renewable Energy Vermont and Conservation Law Foundation.
  • At 11 a.m., U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) drops by the Champlain Senior Center in Burlington for a press conference announcing legislation to crack down on phone scams targeting senior citizens. 
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin is on tour today. At 11 a.m., GPS tours new state office space at Montpelier's National Life building and at noon he visits the Darn Tough Vermont factory in Northfield.
  • At 11:30 a.m., yours truly will be on CCTV (Channel 17) to host "Under the Golden Dome" with guests Sens. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) and Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden).
  • At noon, Human Services Secretary Doug Racine will defend the Shumlin administration's proposed welfare "reforms" on Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition."
  • At 7:15 p.m., the Burlington City Council takes up a packed agenda. On the menu: a tri-partisan proposal to jump start the federally mandated ward redistricting plan by changing the composition of the redistricting committee. 

Rest of the week after the break...

Continue reading "The Week Ahead: January 28 - February 3, 2013" »

January 25, 2013

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newThe Scoreboard is still recovering from a tough night out at the American Legion hall last night. Good thing we won big at Texas Poker and Triple Bingo!

Below are the other winners in Vermont news and politics this week — and the losers. Behold, a special budget address edition of the Scoreboard for the week ending Friday, January 25:

Winners:

Republicans — They might not be able to elect a governor in Vermont. Good thing they've already got one! Runner-up winner: Ronald Reagan for making an unlikely appearance in a Vermont gubernatorial budget address.

The Bernie - Gasoline Vallee Bromance — On Tuesday, we got a hearing in the Vermont House featuring the best frenemies: Sen. Bernie Sanders (by speakerphone) and Maplefields magnate Skip Vallee. And on Thursday, Costco got a positive decision on its Act 250 permit to build gas pumps at its Colchester warehouse, drawing praise from corporation-loving Sanders and scorn from environmentalist Vallee. I'm telling you folks; get 'em a reality TV show!

Vermont Fuel Dealers — By going after break-open tickets to fund thermal efficiency, Shumlin's budget proposal avoided taxing home heating fuels. Then again, if there ain't $17 million at the local VFW post, look for legislators to do what Shummy won't.

Smart meters — BREAKING: Smart meters won't kill you. But those tinfoil hats might!

Tax Department auditors — If Shummy gets his way, they'll be hangin' out at bars, collecting proceeds from break-open tickets.

Losers after the break...

Continue reading "The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers" »

Vermont Attorney General Clears State Trooper in Thetford Taser Death

Jul03-taser

Updated below with comment from the lawyer for Macadam Mason's partner, and from the Vermont State Police.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell announced Friday morning that no charges will be filed against David Shaffer, the state trooper who shot a Thetford man in the chest with a Taser in a June 20, 2012 incident. The man, 39-year-old Macadam Mason (pictured), died shortly thereafter as a direct result of the stun gun's electronic jolt, a New Hampshire medical examiner later determined.

"Under Vermont law, a police officer is entitled to use a reasonable amount of force to defend himself or herself or others if he or she reasonably believes that he or she or others are in immediate danger of bodily harm, that the use of force is necessary to avoid the harm, and that the amount of force used was reasonable under the circumstances," Sorrell said in a four-page written statement. The attorney general's review was to consider whether any criminal charges for assault or homicide were warranted against Shaffer.

Continue reading "Vermont Attorney General Clears State Trooper in Thetford Taser Death" »

In Budget Address, Shumlin "Breaks Open" New Funding Schemes

Shumlin.Budget.AddressSure, Gov. Peter Shumlin unveiled a $5.3 billion budget proposal Thursday. And he disclosed the $1.6 billion price tag of his single-payer health care plan. And his transportation secretary outlined a $28 million new gas tax. 

But the question on many people's minds at the Statehouse was this:

What the hell is a "break-open ticket?"

For those who don't hang out at the local American Legion hall Saturday nights, break-open tickets are little scratch-off, lottery-like cards sold by nonprofit organizations. And believe it or not, Vermonters buy somewhere between 135 and 224 million of them a year, the Shumlin administration says.

In his budget address to a joint session of the legislature Thursday, Shumlin proposed slapping a ten percent tax on the tickets, which he said would raise $17 million for low-income heating assistance, home weatherization and clean energy development. 

Ashe.Break-Open"The overall reaction in the audience was 'break-away what?'" said Senate Finance Chairman Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), butchering the name of the tickets Shumlin hopes to tax.

(Pictured at left, Ashe investigating a sample break-open ticket provided by the Department of Liquor Control at a Senate Finance Committee meeting Thursday afternoon.)

That the governor managed to identify a $17 million source of revenue half the Statehouse had never heard of provided legislators a brief moment of levity as they stared down a budgeting process filled with bleak choices.

Beyond break-open tickets, Shumlin's third budget address exposed two great contradictions in his professed approach to governing:

Continue reading "In Budget Address, Shumlin "Breaks Open" New Funding Schemes" »

January 24, 2013

Horse Rescue Group Says Shelburne Case "Worst" It Has Ever Seen

Horse 1An animal welfare group is calling a horse rescue in Shelburne "the worst case of abuse and neglect we have ever seen."

Clarendon-based Spring Hill Horse Rescue issued a press release Thursday saying it was called to a property in Chittenden County last Tuesday, January 15, to help three horses in dire straits. The group said it found two mares and a stallion that had been locked in small, dark stalls for several years.

"They were standing on several feet of built up manure — and were running out of room to stand upright," Spring Hill's statement said. "The bones, hair and hooves of their former herd mates surrounded them. These were the three survivors."

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan said Thursday that his office has opened a criminal investigation into the alleged abuse, and confirmed it took place in Shelburne. Neither he nor Spring Hill Horse Rescue would name the property owner.

Donovan said his office was consulted about the rescue last week but that no search warrant was issued. He said the horses were removed from the property.

"It appears the owner consented to hand them over," Donovan said. "They were not seized."

Animal welfare groups say they've seen a disturbing number of horse abuse and neglect cases lately, and have complained that Vermont law enforcement do not treat animal cruelty cases seriously.

Continue reading "Horse Rescue Group Says Shelburne Case "Worst" It Has Ever Seen" »

Democratic Campaign Aides Win State Government Promotions

After steering Democrats to victory last fall, two top campaign aides have found new jobs in state government.

Gov. Peter Shumlin's chief fundraiser, Erika Wolffing, was promoted last week to deputy commissioner of the Department of Labor.

Wolffing previously served as principal assistant to Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan until June 2012, when she left for Shumlin's reelection campaign. In her political role, she helped the governor raise $1.24 million to win a second term.

Wolffing earned $63,000 a year when she returned to the DOL two days after Election Day, according to Shumlin spokeswoman Sue Allen. Though Wolffing was promoted last week, her new salary is still being negotiated.

The deputy commissioner position has been vacant since Valeri Rickert left the Department of Labor in November 2011, Allen said. Rickert earned a salary of $83,000.

Vermont Democratic Party field director Ryan McLaren also recently returned to state government. McLaren worked as a temporary administrative assistant and then "private secretary" in the governor's office in 2011 before leaving to join the party in August 2011, Allen said. At the VDP, McLaren was tasked with identifying and turning out voters for Shumlin and the entire Democratic field.

Continue reading "Democratic Campaign Aides Win State Government Promotions" »

Middlebury Tiptoes into Divestment Conversation

MiddleburyEnvironmental activist Bill McKibben's latest campaign to lead colleges, foundations and churches to divest their fortunes from fossil fuel companies is catching on like wildfire. McKibben's "Do the Math" tour launched divestment campaigns on more than 200 college campuses, and two colleges and the city of Seattle have already pledged to yank their investments from companies McKibben and his group 350.org charge with environmental destruction.

But McKibben's own Middlebury College, where the Vermont writer serves as a scholar in residence, isn't rushing to jump on the bandwagon. Cautious exploration was the theme of the night on Tuesday, when Middlebury made good on its promise to broach the topic of divestment with a panel discussion about the college's $900 million endowment. The panel discussion follows a heated campus debate this fall about the topic of divestment, which students — along with McKibben, who was on Tuesday's panel — are promoting as the newest tactic in the fight against climate change. At Middlebury, students are also targeting arms manufacturers in their divestment campaign.

According to Alice Handy, the founder and president of Investure, the company that manages Middlebury's endowment, those funds actually make up just a very small portion of the school's $900 million endowment. College president Ron Liebowitz announced in December that roughly 3.6 percent of the endowment — around $32 million — is tied up in fossil fuel companies. Handy further clarified on Tuesday that less than 1 percent of the endowment is invested in arms manufacturing companies, and that slightly more than 1 percent is invested in the 200 fossil fuel companies McKibben's group 350.org is targeting with their national divestment campaign.

Continue reading "Middlebury Tiptoes into Divestment Conversation" »

January 23, 2013

Hines Leaving Burlington City Hall for JUMP

WandaHinesA year after launching her unsuccessful bid for mayor of Burlington, Wanda Hines is leaving city government for a job in the nonprofit world.

Hines was mum about her plans, but Mark Gadue, treasurer of the Joint Urban Ministry Project, confirms that she'll be joining the Burlington-based interfaith organization as program director.

"We're obviously excited about it," Gadue says. "It's a big step for us. We've been mostly an all-volunteer organization, for the most part."

Hines, who previously ran the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, has worked at City Hall since 2007, when former mayor Bob Kiss hired her to direct the Social Equity Investment Project.

"We're sorry to see her go," says Community and Economic Development Office director Peter Owens, who praised her for "fighting for and raising issues within diversity and cultural competency" in Burlington.

"She's done her work and feels like she's moving forward to a new challenge and opportunity," he adds.

Owens says the city does not plan to immediately replace Hines. He said he'd wait to hear recommendations put forward this spring by the Diversity and Equity Committee, which was established by the Burlington City Council last July to study diversity issues in city government.

"It will not be filled until we have a clearer idea of where we're going," Owens says.

Hines, who ran for mayor as an independent last March, won 5 percent of the vote

She says she's looking forward to announcing more about her new job next week.

This Week's Issue: It's All About Vermont Media

Cover012313This week's print edition of Seven Days is our 2013 media issue — which you should also read on your iPhone or iPad with our new free app.

January 22, 2013

Leahy's Lens: Inauguration Photos from Vermont's Senior Senator

Vermont's most powerful photographer was at it again Monday as President Barack Obama was sworn in to a second term.

Armed with a camera and pretty decent seats, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) captured the magic of the inauguration from up-close.

We've posted a few of Leahy's photos below, courtesy of his congressional office.

Also, if you missed last week's Seven Days, be sure to check out Pamela Polston's review of Leahy's ongoing exhibit in the lobby of the Vermont Supreme Court.

PJL_5958

Continue reading "Leahy's Lens: Inauguration Photos from Vermont's Senior Senator" »

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