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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" »

January 16, 2014

A Crowded Field Emerges to Replace Fox in the Senate

At least five Democrats are campaigning to fill a Chittenden County Senate seat opened up last week by the death of Sen. Sally Fox. 

The candidates include two incumbent House members, a former state party chairman, a major philanthropist and the runner-up in the 2012 race to represent Vermont's most populous county. More contenders could yet emerge.

While the decision ultimately rests with Gov. Peter Shumlin, he is likely to choose from a list of candidates — typically three — sent to him by the Chittenden County Democratic Committee. That group plans to meet next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Fletcher Free Library to make its selection.

All five declared candidates have been calling and emailing the 80 county committee members eligible to vote. Only members who live within the district — which includes most of the county, but excludes Colchester, Huntington and Buel's Gore — can cast a ballot.

So who's running? Here's the list, thus far, in alphabetical order: 

Continue reading "A Crowded Field Emerges to Replace Fox in the Senate" »

Campaign Finance Bill Passes Senate; Shumlin Expected to Sign It

Galbraith.1.16.14Nearly eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out Vermont's campaign fundraising and spending limits, the state is poised to adopt a new set of rules.

By a vote of 20-8, the Vermont Senate on Thursday passed compromise campaign finance legislation approved last week by the House. It now heads to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who "will want to review the language but expects to sign the bill," according to spokeswoman Sue Allen.

The legislation would double to $4,000 the amount individuals and corporations can donate to statewide candidates in a two-year election cycle and would quintuple to $10,000 the amount they can donate to political parties. 

At the same time, it decreases to $1,500 the amount those entities can contribute to Senate candidates;  to $1,000 for House candidates. Those limits currently stand at $2,000.

Continue reading "Campaign Finance Bill Passes Senate; Shumlin Expected to Sign It" »

January 15, 2014

In Budget Address, Shumlin Seeks to Avoid Offense

Shumlin budget addressWhat a difference a year makes.

When liberal lawmakers and low-income advocates exited the House chamber last January after Gov. Peter Shumlin's 2013 budget address, they were downright apoplectic.

Summoning the spirit — or at least the rhetoric — of Ronald Reagan, Shumlin vowed to take on the so-called welfare state. He proposed capping Reach Up benefits for needy families and diverting a portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to fund other priorities. The Democrat-dominated legislature quickly rebelled, and many of Shumlin's proposals died a slow death.

This year, Shumlin sang a different tune. 

Not far into the governor's 2014 budget address, which he delivered Wednesday afternoon to the Vermont House and Senate, Shumlin called on legislators to spend $4.3 million more next year to "move Vermonters out of poverty."

"In these challenging times, as the federal government continues to make shortsighted cuts that hurt our most vulnerable, our state must do what we can to blunt the damage by allocating our limited resources wisely," he said.

To that end, Shumlin proposed doubling the state's investment in rental subsidies and increasing funding for homeless shelters and child-care centers. Notably, he pitched spending $650,000 more on substance abuse and mental health treatment for Reach Up recipients. 

It was as if he was pushing the reset button.

Continue reading "In Budget Address, Shumlin Seeks to Avoid Offense" »

January 14, 2014

Wife of Man Fatally Shot by Police says Burlington Must Do More for Mentally Ill

DSC_0869Barbara Brunette, the wife of a man fatally shot by police in November, implored the Burlington City Council Monday night to invest resources into taking better care of the mentally ill.

A police officer shot Wayne Brunette on Nov. 6 after receiving a call from his parents who said their son was acting irrationally. Police say that Brunette, a 49-year-old who struggled with schizophrenia, threatened two officers with a shovel before he was shot. 

 The Vermont State Police and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office have both cleared the two officers involved of any criminal wrongdoing.

The city council meeting was part eulogy and part plea for more resources.

“My husband was a very caring, poetic, loving, romantic man. He was a fantastic father,” Brunette, pictured above, told the council.  “Policies have to be changed.”

Continue reading "Wife of Man Fatally Shot by Police says Burlington Must Do More for Mentally Ill" »

January 13, 2014

Mayor Endorses College Duo's Ambitious Plan for Moran Plant

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Two college kids may get their chance to breathe new life into a long-dormant coal plant on Burlington’s waterfront. Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Monday that he would like the city to invest $6.3 million in a proposal — concocted by two University of Vermont students — to convert the Moran Plant into the site of a performance space, restaurant, glassblowing studio and “educational brewery,” among other uses. 

Efforts to refurbish the eyesore beside Lake Champlain have repeatedly failed during the last three decades.

If 22-year-old Tad Cooke and 23-year-old Erick Crockenberg and their team prove effective at scrounging up a lot of cash — the total cost is pegged at $26 million, much of which would have to be raised through donations — Weinberger will ask the city to pitch in $4.2 million worth of tax-increment financing, plus $2.1 million that had been previously allocated to the plant.

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January 10, 2014

Champlain College Announces New President

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Today, the Champlain College board of trustees announced that Donald Laackman will be replacing David Finney as the school’s president. Since March 2011, Laackman (pronounced “Lock-man”) has served as president of Harold Washington College, one of Chicago’s city colleges.

“I cannot think of a person who could better embody Champlain College's ‘radically pragmatic’ approach to higher education,” said Mary Powell, chair of the board of trustees, in an announcement to students, faculty and staff in the college’s Alumni Auditorium this morning. “Don's extensive business experience will help further Champlain's work in providing an outstanding academic experience that is directly connected to developing high-functioning members of society.”

Prior to serving as president of Harold Washington, Laackman (pictured) was a principal at the Chicago-based Civic Consulting Alliance and a managing director at Accenture, a global technology consulting and outsourcing firm. He received a bachelor’s degree and master's in public policy from the University of Chicago. His wife, Allyson Laackman, is vice president and CFO at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. They have two kids. 

Continue reading "Champlain College Announces New President" »

Sally Fox, Chittenden County State Senator, Dies at 62

SallyFoxSen. Sally Fox died early Friday morning after a two-year battle with lung cancer. She was 62.

An attorney, advocate and veteran legislator, Fox earned a reputation as a tenacious advocate for children, the disabled and low-income Vermonters.

"Her heart was as big as the state," said Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell. 

Since she was diagnosed with sarcoma during the 2012 legislative session, Fox fought to continue serving her Chittenden County constituents in the Senate. According to Campbell, he offered several times to move her off the time-intensive Senate Appropriations and Senate Health and Welfare committees, but she declined.

"She said, 'No, I have work to do and I will do it until I can't,'" Campbell recalled.

Continue reading "Sally Fox, Chittenden County State Senator, Dies at 62" »

January 09, 2014

House Overwhelmingly Approves Campaign Finance Compromise

House floor 1.9.14In the seven and a half years since the United States Supreme Court struck down Vermont's restrictive political fundraising rules, lawmakers have struggled in vain to replace them. 

But on Thursday afternoon, after just 25 minutes of debate, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a campaign finance compromise hammered out over the legislative off-season by House and Senate negotiators.

The vote was 124-15.

If passed by the Senate next week and signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin, the legislation would double to $4,000 the amount statewide candidates could raise from a single person or corporation. And it would quintuple to $10,000 the amount political parties could raise from the same sources.

Candidates for the House and Senate, both of whom can currently raise $2,000 from such entities, would be restricted to donations of $1,000 and $1,500 respectively. (See this week's Fair Game for more on the bill.)

Continue reading "House Overwhelmingly Approves Campaign Finance Compromise" »

Shumlin Pushes Tough Penalties Along with Treatment for Drug Crime

Immediate reaction to Gov. Peter Shumlin's state of the state address yesterday focused on his declaration that drug addiction is a public health crisis that should be tackled with prevention and treatment rather than "simply doling out punishment."

Advocates for criminal justice reform were overjoyed that the governor used his bully pulpit to declare that drug crime is primarily a "health crisis," not simply a law enforcement problem.

"I think this is profound,' said State Rep. Bill Lippert, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, in an interview. "This is a really big deal. There is a fundamental shift that's been articulated."

But Shumlin's speech also included little-noticed proposals that came from the more traditional tough-on-crime playbook.

Continue reading "Shumlin Pushes Tough Penalties Along with Treatment for Drug Crime" »

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