John Dillon

Senior Reporter, New England News Collaborative

A veteran Vermont reporter, John joined VPR in 2001. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier. John was honored with two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards in 2007 for his reporting on VPR. He was the lead reporter for a VPR series on climate change that in 2008 won a national Edward R. Murrow award for continuing coverage. In 2009, John's coverage of an asbestos mine in northern Vermont was recognized with a regional investigative reporting award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

 

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As lawmakers worked toward adjournment, they turned their focus again to campaign finance reform, public records, and other issues.

The Senate did not agree with a House bill that limits contributions to political action committees.

Campaign finance reform bogged down the Senate in hours of debate. Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, grilled Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Jeannette White, who was reporting the bill. And his lengthy interrogation of his fellow Windham County Democrat appeared to anger his colleagues.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

With the support of some members of the Vermont business community, the House on Friday morning finalized a bill to require labeling food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The vote was 99-42.

Hundreds of businesses and all 17 of the state’s food cooperatives have expressed their support for GMO labeling.

It’s the last days of pressure at the Vermont Legislature, the time lawmakers decide if bills live or die.

One piece of legislation that didn’t make it was a bill allowing child care workers to form a union.

Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, has worked on the issue for several years. His latest effort was an amendment included in a bill dealing with a variety of education issues. But Lt. Gov. Phil Scott ruled that the union amendment was not germane to the underlying bill.

VPR/John Dillon

With the end of the legislative session looming, lawmakers are considering a number of bills ranging from food labeling to child care.

The Senate took up an omnibus education bill on Thursday that includes legislation that would extend the right to organize a union to child care workers. An earlier version of the bill died in committee, when one of its sponsors, Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Washington, voted against it.

VPR/John Dillon

A last minute compromise means a bill allowing terminally ill patients to get a doctor’s help to end their lives will likely become law this year.

The compromise was structured to win over just one vote.

The end of life issue has evenly divided the Vermont Senate, with 15 opposing legislation allowing terminally ill patients to get a lethal prescription, and 15 who support it.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

After a lengthy debate that got personal at times, the Vermont Senate on Tuesday postponed final action on a bill that allows terminally ill patients to get a doctor’s prescription to end their lives.

The bill has divided the Senate evenly for months. And Tuesday night, the deep divisions continued. Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, an opponent of the legislation, cast the deciding vote to defeat an amendment that supporters said was needed to restore some protections in the bill.

As members of the Senate Health Care Committee struggled to find a political path forward to salvage an end-of-life bill, they ejected reporters and lobbyists from the room.

The unusual move to meet behind closed doors came as Committee Chairwoman Claire Ayre, D-Addison, sought advice on how to proceed when the bill hits the floor in a deeply divided Senate.

“What’s the best strategy to have a death with dignity bill in this state?” she asked. “Are we all in agreement on that?”

A key panel is sending to the House floor legislation that would require labels on genetically modified food sold in Vermont.

The House Judiciary Committee voted, 7-4, on Tuesday to advance a bill that would prohibit the use of the term “natural” on the labels of foods, while exempting meat and dairy that has been fed genetically engineered grains.

The Vermont House is expected to advance today a bill that allows those who may be in this country illegally to apply for the right to drive.

The bill would create what are described as drivers’ authorization cards, allowing the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue IDs that would look different from a regular state license.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

After just raising the gas tax, lawmakers are also looking at whether consumers are getting gouged at the pump.

The focus now is on a bill to give the attorney general’s office the ability to track price data to see if companies are manipulating the market.

Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, sponsored the bill. He wants to know if gas distributors in Chittenden County and Northwestern Vermont have used their market clout to keep prices high.

Lawmakers and Gov. Peter Shumlin have very different views about how taxes affect the economy.

The governor remains adamantly opposed to the tax bills passed by both the House and Senate. He underscored his resistance again at his weekly news conference Thursday.

“It’s always tougher for this Legislature to take existing money and spend it more wisely, than it is to turn to taxpayers and say, ‘Hey, we’re just going to dig into your pockets for more loot,’” he said.

The Vermont House has approved a bill that allows terminally ill patients to end their lives with doctor-prescribed drugs.

The final vote Wednesday was 81-64.

The end of life bill approved by the House is vastly different from the one passed by the Senate.  The focus now shifts to a reaching a deal that would avoid deadlock at the end of the legislative session.

The House debate stretched on for hours, but the end of life bill cleared numerous attempts to weaken it or delay it.

AP/Toby Talbot

The Vermont House is expected to give final approval to a bill that would allow Vermont doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it.

The likely final passage of the bill sets up a clash with the state Senate, which passed a different proposal.

Rep. Sandy Haas, P-Rochester, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the bill, which is modeled after a law in Oregon, gives patients a choice to end their pain and suffering.

A deal is being finalized that would resolve financial issues related to the cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee  nuclear plant.
Jason R. Henske / AP

Federal regulators say they’re confident the public is not in danger from the tons of radioactive spent fuel stored in an above-ground pool at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

The comments by Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials came after a nuclear critic told Vermont lawmakers that the fuel rods should be moved because of the potential threat.

The NRC releases an annual safety report card on Vermont Yankee. The agency says Yankee’s grades this year were good.

A deal is being finalized that would resolve financial issues related to the cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee  nuclear plant.
Jason R. Henske / AP

A nuclear engineer is warning the Legislature that Vermont Yankee could close before its federal license expires and leave the state with a huge clean-up bill.

But that testimony was disputed by another nuclear expert who said the federal government would step in to help the state.

The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee is considering a bill to require Vermont Yankee to reserve $40 million to restore the Vernon site to its pre-industrial condition.

Entergy Vermont Yankee has sued the state again in federal court, claiming the state has delayed approval of a back-up emergency generator.

Entergy has brought a familiar claim to the latest court action. It says federal law trumps state law on issues of safety.

In 2012, Entergy won a similar federal preemption case in a suit that challenged two Vermont laws that required legislative approval to operate the plant after its state license expired.

The Vermont House this morning approved a compromise transportation bill that will raise gas and diesel taxes on May 1.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Pat Brennan, R-Colchester, said the bill strikes a middle ground between the House and Senate versions.

“With a little back and forth I think we’ve come to a place where we can actually make this tax package a little more palatable, if that’s possible,” he said.

Toby Talbot / AP/file

Legislation that began with a proposed moratorium on wind development has been whittled down to a legislative review of how all electric generation projects are sited.

The vote in the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee to approve the much-reduced bill was unanimous. And both sides in the fight over ridgeline wind development say they’re happy with the outcome.

Despite the bill’s brevity, Committee Chairman Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said the extensive discussion led to a meaningful outcome.

Deputy state’s attorneys would be allowed to join a public employees union under a bill advanced today by the Vermont Senate.

The bill was sponsored by Chittenden Democrat Philip Baruth. He told senators that the legislation covers 101 employees, including the deputy prosecutors and victims’ advocates.

Officials from Vermont’s largest banks are speaking out against a Shumlin Administration tax proposal.

The bankers warn that a proposed hike in the bank franchise tax could slow down lending or lead to possible lay-offs.

The tax plan was put on the table by Gov. Peter Shumlin as he tries to strike a compromise with the Legislature to fund state government without raising broad-based taxes. Administration officials last week proposed a hike in the franchise tax paid by the state’s five largest banks.

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