John Dillon

News Director

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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VPR / John Dillon

A year after contaminated compost wilted gardens in northern Vermont, officials are re-assuring the public that commercial compost is safe.

The Agency of Agriculture says chemical herbicides found in trace levels in compost are now being minimized to protect crops.  The agency has released a list of frequently asked questions about the compost issue.

Agency officials say the chemicals that got in the compost were applied legally to feed crops and hay fields both in Vermont and in other states.

Governor Peter Shumlin is defending a controversial land deal in which he acquired his neighbor’s property for less than a half of its assessed value.

The governor said he was trying to help a neighbor who was in financial and legal trouble. And Shumlin said he reached out to his neighbor again this week and promised to improve the deal.

Dogged by headlines over the land deal, the governor spent the afternoon after a tour of flood ravaged northwest Vermont doing damage control with the media.

Vermont and three other states have asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct a more expansive environmental review of storing highly radioactive waste at nuclear power plants.

The petition follows a federal court ruling last summer that found the NRC’s environmental review of onsite waste storage was inadequate.

The NRC staff has since launched a more limited review process. Attorney General Bill Sorrell says the petition asks the commission to overrule its staff.

A Massachusetts developer has proposed a power line under Lake Champlain to carry renewable electricity from northern New York into the New England grid.

Anbaric Transmission has developed several challenging projects, including an undersea power line that connects Long Island and New Jersey via Long Island Sound.

VPR/John Dillon

A bill allowing terminally ill patients to get medication to end their lives became law on Monday with Gov. Peter Shumlin’s signature.

Although the law takes effect immediately, it may be some time before it’s used. Doctors and hospitals say they’re looking carefully at whether and how to participate.

The signing ceremony in the governor’s Statehouse office was both a celebration and a quiet remembrance for those who worked on the issue but didn’t live long enough to see it through.

Jason R. Henske / AP

  A federal court judge has set a hearing date for early June in Entergy Vermont Yankee’s latest legal challenge against the state of Vermont.

The owner of Vermont’s only nuclear plant sued the state last month, charging that state regulators have delayed approval of a back-up emergency diesel generator.

Yankee is under orders from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to install a back-up power source by September. The generator is supposed to be available if the plant is disabled and loses electricity from the transmission grid.

Toby Talbot / AP

Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislative leaders came into the recent session promising to make combating climate change a top priority.

Lawmakers and the governor said a warming world was the defining crisis of our time. They focused on an effort to make homes more energy efficient.

But the reality has not lived up to the rhetoric.

AP/Toby Talbot

Governor Peter Shumlin says the state wants to ease parking problems in Montpelier by encouraging people to take public transportation or share rides in a carpool.

Shumlin says the effort to get state workers to drive less includes discounted fares for buses coming to the capital.

Political leaders came into the 2013 session seeming to outdo each other with promises for election finance reform.

They leave Montpelier with the House and Senate in a stalemate over campaign legislation and the bill dead for the year.

Secretary of State Jim Condos, was frustrated by the political gridlock.

“I think the real loser here is Vermont’s citizens and voters in this state, because what this bill is really about was accountability and transparency,” he said.

A bill allowing dying patients to get a doctor’s help to end their lives is on its way to Governor Peter Shumlin for his signature.

Supporters last night mustered enough votes to defeat several amendments that would have stalled the bill for a year.

The first was offered by Barre Independent Paul Poirier. He says the bill was hastily patched together and may include errors that could jeopardize vulnerable people.

The Vermont House has approved legislation that sets an 18-month time limit on data collected by police agencies using license plate readers.

The readers are tiny cameras hooked up to computers that scan a vehicle’s registration plate. There is now no limit on how long the information can be stored on police computers.

Rep. Michael McCarthy, D-St. Albans City, said the bill was a compromise. Civil liberties groups had called for a 30-day limit on keeping the information.

Toby Talbot / AP

House Speaker Shap Smith is optimistic that legislative leaders will wrap up a budget bill by the end of the day. If that happens, the Legislature is on track to adjourn the 2013 session Tuesday evening.

But the two-day timetable depends on whether Democrats in the House and Senate and Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin can agree on a revenue package.

The tax-writing committees have been busy on an income tax proposal they say is revenue neutral. The plan would lower taxes for 250,000 filers but raise taxes on about 15,000 upper-income earners.

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.

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