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May 2013

May 14, 2013

As Vermont Senate Nears Adjournment, Nunchucks Are Swung

White.AyerIt's difficult to capture the loopiness of the 48 hours preceding adjournment of the Vermont legislature.

Confusion reigns. Recesses abound. Tensions rise and fall. Pizza is eaten. Budgets are passed. Reporters get confused and quickly lose interest. 

Such is the state of affairs at 8 p.m. Tuesday as the House and Senate labor to finish the people's business and get the hell out of Dodge. 

We'll have (slightly) more serious coverage of the 2013 legislature's thrilling conclusion in Wednesday's print edition of Seven Days, but to give you, dear reader, a flavor of the moment in Montpelier, we give you this gem of a video of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell (D-Windsor) demonstrating his totally sweet nunchuck chops:

[Full disclosure: This video was filmed late Monday afternoon, though we are quite sure the Windsor County senator would be more than willing to stage a repeat performance tonight.]

 

Green Mountain College Joins Growing Divestment Movement

DivestGreen Mountain College today announced that it is divesting its $3.1 million endowment from fossil fuel companies, making the Poultney liberal arts school the fifth college in the nation — and the second in Vermont, after Sterling College — to endorse a campaign playing out on more than 300 campuses across the country. 

The goal isn't necessarily to hit companies like Mobil, Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell in the pocketbook; most divestment advocates agree that even the wealthiest universities won't make much of a ding in these corporation's profits by divesting. 

“I don’t think financially we can cripple them. They’re so big and so rich,” Vermont resident and environmental activist Bill McKibben told Seven Days in December, as the divestment campaign was gaining steam. Rather, McKibben said divestment represents an “inherently moral call, saying if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”

GMC's board of trustees voted on Friday to immediately divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies targeted in the nationwide divestment campaign headed up by the environmental activism organization founded by McKibben, 350.org. Currently 1 percent of GMC's endowment is tied up in these companies, which collectively own the vast majority of the world's coal, oil and gas reserves.

"We see this as another step in an ongoing effort to connect our investment decisions with our ideals,” said GMC president Paul Fonteyn in a statement released today. "Investing endowment funds on the basis of social, economic and environmental criteria is one of the ways Green Mountain College expresses its values."

Continue reading "Green Mountain College Joins Growing Divestment Movement" »

May 13, 2013

Hardy Macia Fights for Medical Marijuana as He Fights for His Life

HardyMacia

Update, 6:08 p.m.: Hardy Macia passed away late this afternoon, according to a source close to his family. Friends and fellow activists alike have already begun posting remembrances on his Facebook wall. "Rest in peace, Hardy," wrote one friend. "We will never forget how you went out fighting. You have been such a positive influence on so many people — will miss you, man."

______

Hardy Macia is a hardcore activist. The 43-year-old software developer and native Vermonter is a longtime Libertarian; he served on the Grand Isle Selectboard and ran as the Libertarian candidate for governor in 2004 hoping to cut taxes, lower the drinking age and legalize pot. In 2007, he moved to New Hampshire, where he was active in Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson's 2012 presidential campaign.

Now Macia is back in Vermont, fighting for his life. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in August 2012. It's typically a treatable form of cancer, but Macia's has not responded the way he and his doctors had hoped. He was recently hospitalized in New Hampshire, then transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington to be closer to family. He's since been moved to a family member's home in Westford.

In a private Facebook message to me this morning, he summed up his prognosis: "My time is short," he wrote, "the doctors are saying I have days left."

His condition might be a private family matter but for the fact that he's seized this opportunity to continue his campaign to change New Hampshire's marijuana laws. A week ago, he made a 4-minute video in his New Hampshire hospital room and posted it to YouTube. Speaking in a whisper because of a collapsed lung, he implores Gov. Maggie Hassan to help patients like him access medical marijuana. The New Hampshire legislature is currently considering a medical marijuana bill, and it needs the governor's support to pass. "This is about the patients, and doctors," he rasps, "and having the medicine that the patients need." 

Macia explains that he occasionally uses marijuana to ease his pain. "To get to sleep at night, sometimes it's the only thing that helps put me out, versus some of the harder drugs they give me, such as the oxycodone or vicodin or whatever."

Macia's video has been widely shared in Libertarian circles and online — an article appeared on the Huffington Post on Wednesday. The Concord Monitor dispatched a reporter to interview Macia from his hospital room in Burlington last week, as well. 

I asked Macia if Hassan had responded to his plea. Their response, he wrote, was that she will "listen to all sides." 

Take a few minutes, if you can, and listen to Macia's argument. Politics aside, it's hard not to be moved by his drive and dedication to the issue, not to mention his will to live. You can't help but hope he keeps fighting.

Image from Macia's National Youth Rights Association bio.

The Week Ahead: May 13-19, 2013

The Week AheadLegislative adjournment? Ha! It's ain't over till the fat lady sings — by which we mean those svelte legislative leaders, Shap Smith and John Campbell.

Here's what's happening in Vermont news and politics this week — sure to be the last of the legislative session. Got a newsworthy event for next week's calendar? Email by Friday to submit.

Monday, May 13

  • The Legislature couldn't wrap it up on Saturday as planned, which means lawmakers are back in Montpelier for another two days. The House hits the floor at 10 a.m. to take up the latest versions of several bills, including marijuana decriminalization and physician-assisted death-with-dignicide. The Senate's on at 10, too.
  • Congressman Peter Welch is in Vermont today and at 12:30 p.m. he'll be making a "business visit" to the Alchemist Cannery in Waterbury. When you can't find any Heady Topper on the shelf this week, you'll know who to blame. 
  • In Burlington, there's a Board of Finance meeting at 5 p.m. in city hall conference room 12, followed by a city council budget work session at 6.

Rest of the week after the break...

Continue reading "The Week Ahead: May 13-19, 2013" »

Welch (Kind of) Appears on Saturday Night Live

He's a regular on daytime cable news shows, but Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) finally hit the big time this weekend: He was featured on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

Or, at least, his name was.

The show's opening segment parodied last week's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearings on the Benghazi attacks. The sketch featured an overzealous chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), calling as witnesses convicted boyfriend-killer Jodi Arias and accused Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro.

Which was kind of weird — and not all that funny.

Odder still, the two members of Congress sitting on either side of Issa — identified in the script and captions as Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) — sat behind name-plates reading "Rep. Doc Hastings" and "Rep. Peter Welch."

Which was also kind of weird.

You can watch the sketch here:

May 11, 2013

Burlington Telecom Negotiations End in Failure

BurlingtonTelecom

Updated with comment from City Attorney Eileen Blackwood

Negotiations aimed at settling CitiCapital’s $33.5 million lawsuit against Burlington Telecom have collapsed, Mayor Miro Weinberger said on Saturday.

The two sides proved unable to reach an out-of-court agreement in talks that got underway in January. BT and Citi met for only a single two-day negotiating session. They did not hold a second round of talks in March, as had earlier been scheduled, the mayor disclosed in an interview in Battery Park during Kids' Day celebrations.

“It didn’t make sense to continue those talks,” Weinberger said, declining to specify the reasons for the breakdown. Because the dispute remains in litigation, the mayor said it would be improper for him to comment in detail.

The battle for control of the telecom network equipment leased to BT by CitiCapital thus returns to federal court in Burlington for adjudication of the lawsuit filed 20 months ago, after BT ceased making payments on its lease agreement.

The Weinberger administration had hoped to negotiate a deal with Citi that would clear the way for BT to be sold to private interests or to a co-op that some Burlington residents are forming. No buyer is likely to take the financially troubled utility off local taxpayers’ hands until the fight with CitiCapital is resolved. The New York-based creditor wants to be paid $33.5 million it says it is owed for the fiber-optic system or have the court order return of BT's infrastructure.

BT has been making small monthly payments to Citi, but at the current pace, it would take decades to cover the full amount.

It could also take more than a year for the court battle to be decided.

“We will continue to do everything we can to defend the taxpayers against further BT liability,” Weinberger said.

Continue reading "Burlington Telecom Negotiations End in Failure " »

Statehouse Standoff: Shumlin and the Legislature Reignite Tax Fight

Campbell SmithFor three peaceful days this week, Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Democratic legislature appeared to have resolved a months-long feud over taxes. But in a dramatic turn of events on Friday, that harmony dissolved into discord — stalling the legislature's adjournment and prompting the very real threat of a gubernatorial veto. 

Suffice it to say, "Kumbaya" is no longer playing on the Statehouse jukebox.

Dividing the Dems is a push by leaders of the House and Senate tax-writing committees — Rep. Janet Ancel (D-Calais) and Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) — to enact progressive reforms to the tax code in the closing days of the legislative session. While declining to fully describe their plan, they say it would lower income taxes for the vast majority of Vermonters and raise them for a small minority — all in a revenue-neutral manner.

But the governor deeply opposes the plan, saying it violates the terms of an agreement he reached with House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville) and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell (D-Windsor) earlier this week to avoid new taxes and spending. Shumlin claims that despite the legislators' assurances, their "on-the-fly" reforms would result in higher taxes overall and put at risk a recovering economy.

Throughout the Statehouse on Friday, the question on everybody's minds was whether the legislature would complete its business late Saturday and adjourn for the year. To do so, conference committees writing the budget and tax bills had to wrap up their work early Friday afternoon — but that deadline blew by without any signs of progress. 

At issue was whether Smith and Campbell would side with their committee chairs, Ancel and Ashe, and provoke a confrontation with the governor — or whether they'd pull the two back, close up shop and go home. 

Continue reading "Statehouse Standoff: Shumlin and the Legislature Reignite Tax Fight" »

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newThe Scoreboard was scheduled to come out Friday afternoon, but after hours of deliberation, legislative leaders decided to push it off 'til Saturday.

Here are this weeks winners and losers in Vermont news and politics:

Winners:

Gov. Peter Shumlin — After saying "no new taxes" for weeks, the wily gov managed to strike an agreement with legislative leadership Tuesday involving, um, no new taxes. Heck, he's even managed to convince most people he didn't try to raise $32 million in new taxes earlier this year!

Sen. Claire Ayer — The Addison County Democrat seemed on the verge of defeat Tuesday night when she was unable to draw a 16th vote to support her version of "End of Death with Digni-cide Choices" legislation. But the next day, she pulled not one but two rabbits out of her hat and pushed through a compromise on a 17-13 vote. Runner-up winners: Patient Choices Vermont lobbyists Adam Necrason, Amy Shollenberger, Jessica Oski and the rest of their team.

Migrant farmworkers — Who will soon have the right to drive. Runner-up loser: Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, who seems to think that'll help the drug cartels and terrorists.

Rutland — No joke: Rutland hit the big time this week... in The Onion. Runner-up winner: The Rutland Reader's Jim Sabataso for exhaustively chronicling Rutland's previous claims to fame. Most of which, it seems, also involved fleeting references in The Onion.

Losers after the break...

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

May 10, 2013

A Question of Tediousness: Baruth Calls for Galbraith to Simmer Down

Galbraith051013An hour after Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham) took to the floor Friday morning, his colleagues were on the verge of bum-rushing him. 

With the Senate hoping to adjourn the next day, Galbraith (pictured at right) was making good on his pledge to stall the body's business in order to protest a campaign finance bill he has taken to calling "a sham." 

His colleagues, whose criticism of Galbraith is no longer off-the-record nor behind his back, had mostly drifted out of the room. But the Windham County senator kept at it, interrogating to no end his seat-mate and district-mate, Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), who had written an earlier draft of the bill.

White was hoping to send the legislation to conference committee, where discrepancies between House and Senate versions could be worked out in time to be signed into law this year. But Galbraith, who says portions of the bill are unconstitutional and indefensible, was hoping to amend the bill or run out the clock.

All of the sudden, the mild-mannered majority leader, Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden), stood up across the room to make a point of order. Describing it as "an airtight procedural motion," Baruth secured permission from the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, to quote from Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure and the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

"An ancient rule governing debate is that, quote, 'No one is to speak impertinently or beside the question superfluously or tediously,'" Baruth said. "I would rest my motion on the word 'tediously,' which means 'tiresome because of length or dullness.' The reason why I believe it to be airtight is that I believe the senator has spoken tediously, and I believe the lieutenant governor would have two options: to uphold my motion or to rule that this has not been tedious—" 

"Mr. President, is this a debatable proposition?" Galbraith interjected.

"No it's not," Scott said and then declared a brief recess.

Continue reading "A Question of Tediousness: Baruth Calls for Galbraith to Simmer Down" »

With Adjournment Nigh, One Last Tax Battle Looms

When he unveiled a deal Tuesday to balance the budget without raising taxes, Gov. Peter Shumlin seemed to have squelched the legislature's efforts to thrust a greater share of the state's tax burden on wealthy Vermonters.

But proponents of a more progressive tax code appear poised Friday to make one last stand.

In the days since the deal was struck, leaders of the House and Senate tax-writing committees have been talking up the idea of moving forward with proposals to limit income tax deductions that mostly benefit the wealthy. In keeping with the framework of the deal with the governor, any revenue gained by doing so would be returned to middle- and lower-income Vermonters through slightly reduced tax rates.

"The goal of my committee has been to make the tax code fairer, and we believe that can be achieved in a revenue-neutral framework," says Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden). "While reducing the special advantages to some deductions, we can lower taxes for as many as 200,000 people."

While Ashe and House Ways & Means Committee Chairwoman Janet Ancel (D-Calais) have been pushing behind-the-scenes to build support for their proposal, Shumlin has indicated he opposes it.

"I have made very clear that the consensus that has been built in this building, which I have urged, is to not take action on tax policy, but to finish up the work that we have, balance the budget and get home," Shumlin said during a Wednesday press conference. "And I think Vermonters want the legislature to do just that."

Now the question is whether House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville) and Senate President John Campbell (D-Windsor) are willing to risk a final confrontation with the governor by backing Ashe's and Ancel's plan.

Continue reading "With Adjournment Nigh, One Last Tax Battle Looms" »

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