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November 2013

November 16, 2013

Shumlin: "We Can't Build Our Way Out of" Drug-Related Prison Crowding

Gov. Peter Shumlin kicked off a criminal justice reform conference at Vermont Law School Friday morning by calling current criminal justice practices a "miserable failure" in reducing opiate use and making communities safer.

Speaking to a crowd of lawyers, judges and law enforcement officials, the governor urged them to develop alternatives to arrest and incarceration that can be implemented across the state. Building new prison beds to handle an inmate population that has spiked in the past 20 years, Shumlin said, is not the answer.

'If we don't get it right soon it will change the quality of life in Vermont. We've got the smartest minds in the state here working on a problem that we are botching pretty bad," Shumlin said. "We can't build our way out of it. No way. I am open as a governor to taking risks, to change the parameters and assumptions we have always made so we can turn this around, not tomorrow, not next week, but right now."

Continue reading "Shumlin: "We Can't Build Our Way Out of" Drug-Related Prison Crowding" »

November 15, 2013

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newWho won and lost the week in Vermont news and politics?

Well, ponies, for sure.

Here's the Scoreboard for the week of Friday, November 15:


Vermont's congressional delegation — Gov. Peter Shumlin's been taking the heat for Vermont Health Connect's struggles, but what about the three amigos who voted for the Affordable Care Act? 

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott — After last weekend's election of Scott ally David Sunderland as chairman of the Vermont GOP, it's the lite gov's party now. Runner-up winner: Party treasurer Mark Snelling, who survived Scott's attempted ouster, and who will surely continue giving him headaches. Second runner-up winner: Brian Dubie, whose adviser, attorney Brady Toensing, was installed as vice chairman.

Vermont Democratic Party — Those bored operatives over at the Democratic Party headquarters seem psyched to finally have some opposition in the form of Sunderland. They were quick to fire off a fundraising solicitation and press release this week going after the new GOP chairman. 

Next-gen Progs — The Vermont Progressive Party's leadership transition last weekend drew considerably less attention than the GOP's. But it's worth noting that the lefty baton is being passed from crusty old Sanderistas to fiery young Progs, like the party's new, 33-year-old chairwoman, Emma Mulvaney-Stanak.

Congressman Welch's frequent flier miles — We hear the weather's great this time of year in the Sinai! But maybe next time he should consider Barbados instead. 


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

Back to School in Winooski the Day After a Gunman Scare

Winooski-schoolIt seemed like a normal day at JFK Elementary School this morning when I dropped my kids off for school. The only sign that today was different than any other was the larger-than-usual contingent of staff and administrators waiting to greet us as we approached. They welcomed both my kids by name — my daughter gave principal Mary O'Rourke a hug.

Looking at the scene, you’d never guess that hours before, the school was surrounded by police cars and officers with guns drawn.

About an hour after school let out yesterday afternoon, a home invasion was reported near the Winooski Educational Center, a complex that houses JFK, along with the Winooski Middle-High School. According to school officials, the Winooski Police believed two suspects fled in the direction of the school, prompting a lockdown for the students and staff remaining in the building. During the lockdown, someone inside the school called 911 to report that a gunman was inside.

Multiple law enforcement agencies responded and thoroughly searched the school. News of a possible gunman exploded on social media. Reporters and community members posted numerous updates and photos from the scene. Parents whose kids were in the after-school program raced to the scene, terrified about what they might find.


Continue reading "Back to School in Winooski the Day After a Gunman Scare" »

November 14, 2013

On Trip to North Africa, Welch Monitors Diplomatic Security in Libya, Peace-Keeping in Egypt

Welch.SinaiIn the fourteen months since Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has become an epicenter of outrage over the incident.

Its Republican members have criticized the Obama administration for failing to keep U.S. diplomatic personnel safe and, they allege, for covering up details of the attack.

Last weekend, four committee members — including Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) — traveled to Libya to review the State Department's progress in implementing security improvements to American embassies. It was a rare chance, Welch says, to put aside the partisan rancor and focus on substantive changes.

"The Oversight Committee, I think, unfortunately politicized what happened in Benghazi," he says. "But this trip, I thought, was an opportunity for two Republicans, two Democrats to start looking at this in a broader perspective and hopefully bring that back to the committee."

Joining Welch on the four-day trip to Libya, Egypt and Malta were U.S. Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.). Chaffetz, a conservative Republican who chairs an oversight subcommittee focusing on national security and foreign operations, has been particularly critical of the administration's handling of the embassy attack.

Continue reading "On Trip to North Africa, Welch Monitors Diplomatic Security in Libya, Peace-Keeping in Egypt" »

November 13, 2013

Burlington Telling Drivers: There's Plenty of Parking Spaces Downtown

 Can't find a parking space in downtown Burlington?

You probably haven't looked in the right places.

About 35 percent of the nearly 8500 public and private parking spots in the Queen City are empty even at peak times, attendees at a "parking summit" were told on Wednesday.

BlogWith improved signage, technological innovations and enhanced public-private partnerships, it should be possible to hook up many more motorists with available parking slots, city officials said at the meeting.

Kelly Devine, director of the Burlington Business Association, noted that one downtown garage with room for 100 cars is almost entirely unused after business hours. That facility is located underneath the Main Street Landing building on the waterfront and is accessible by turning right off King Street just before reaching the bike path, Devine explained.

Burlington aims to introduce some major changes in its parking system in the coming years, Devine said in an interview following the event held at the Hilton Hotel on Battery Street.

Continue reading "Burlington Telling Drivers: There's Plenty of Parking Spaces Downtown" »

Lawmakers Review Inmate Suicide Inquiry

An inmate who committed suicide inside a Newport prison in August was not subjected to adequate medical monitoring after he was prescribed an anti-depressant that can prompt extreme emotional swings, the Vermont Defender General's Office concluded in an investigation released yesterday.

Robert Mossey, a 38-year-old Burlington man who hung himself in the Northern State Correctional Facility on Aug. 30, was placed on medication while an inmate, but was not subjected to the strict follow-up reviews received by patients who aren't incarcerated, Defender General Matt Valerio told lawmakers yesterday.

"Some of those medications can make you suicidal, instead of stopping you," Valerio said. "There's no indication from the records that (appropriate monitoring) occurred."

Continue reading "Lawmakers Review Inmate Suicide Inquiry" »

November 12, 2013

Shumlin to Introduce Pro-Choice Crusader at Exclusive Gathering of Liberal Donors

Gov. Peter Shumlin will travel to the nation's capital Thursday to address members of the Democracy Alliance, a fundraising alliance Mother Jones has called "the liberal answer to the Koch donor network."

Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, will deliver remarks at a Democracy Alliance conference, according to DGA spokesman Danny Kanner. He will then introduce two of the DGA's top recruits for the 2014 election: former Trek Bicycle Corporation executive Mary Burke, who is running for governor of Wisconsin, and Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who is running for governor of the Lone Star State.

Davis drew national attention in June when she spent 11 hours filibustering legislation that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and imposed new restrictions on doctors who perform abortions. She's expected to face off against Texas attorney general Greg Abbott to succeed Gov. Rick Perry, who's stepping down after three terms.

Continue reading "Shumlin to Introduce Pro-Choice Crusader at Exclusive Gathering of Liberal Donors" »

Vermont Gun-Safety Advocates Focus on State's Suicide Rate

Gun sense 001

Vermont's high rate of suicide with firearms was the dominant theme of a well-attended and well-mannered forum held Monday night in Burlington City Hall.

Organized by advocates of gun-safety measures in a state with few firearms regulations, the event took place 50 yards from the site of a fatal shooting almost exactly two years ago. Josh Pfenning, 35, died on November 10, 2011, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound while camped in City Hall Park during the Occupy Burlington protests.

The way in which Pfenning died is not unusual in Vermont. With the exception of Pennsylvania, Vermont has the Northeast's highest per-capita rate of gun-related deaths, most of which take the form of suicide, said Eliot Nelson, a pediatrician at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Vermonters are far more likely to kill themselves than one another, noted Sean Ackerman, a Fletcher Allen resident in child psychiatry. The state suicide rate stands at 16 deaths per 100,000 residents and the homicide rate is 1.6 per 100,000, he said, adding that more than half of suicides are carried out with firearms.

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November 11, 2013

Shumlin Says He's "Hopeful" Health Exchange Will Work By December

DSC06015Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday he's "hopeful" the state's ailing health insurance exchange will be able to process payments electronically by the end of November. 

But citing his administration's inability to meet previous deadlines to fix that component of Vermont Health Connect, the governor declined to say when it would be fully functional.

"We're testing it right now, as you know. We're hopeful that those tests will continue to go very well," Shumlin said at a Montpelier press conference Monday afternoon. "As I've told you, I've learned a lesson as governor: I'll never say a date again. But I'm very hopeful that we'll have it up and running by the end of the month. That's my hope. I'm not promising. That's what we're working really hard to try and do."

Continue reading "Shumlin Says He's "Hopeful" Health Exchange Will Work By December" »

November 09, 2013

At Boisterous Party Meeting, Sunderland Elected Vermont GOP Chairman

DSC06004A divided and politically marginalized Vermont Republican Party on Saturday chose a new leader who pledged to turn the state GOP's attentions away from internal conflict and toward winning elections.

David Sunderland, a former Rutland state representative, was elected to succeed outgoing party chairman Jack Lindley, who was sidelined in September by health problems and announced last week he would not seek reelection.

By a vote of 48 to 30, Sunderland (pictured at podium) defeated John MacGovern, the party's 2012 candidate for U.S. Senate, to become the next chairman of the Vermont GOP.

"I think today what we can take away from this is that the Vermont Republican Party has voted for change — a change in direction, a change in tone, and we plan on going forward," Sunderland said after the election.

Continue reading "At Boisterous Party Meeting, Sunderland Elected Vermont GOP Chairman" »

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