Neal Goswami

Reporter

Neal is a a reporter for the Vermont Press Bureau. He also files reports for Vermont Public Radio.

Ways to Connect

Courtesy Jonathan Leavitt

Hundreds rallied at the State House Saturday to oppose cuts to the state budget and $10.8 million in labor savings sought by both the Shumlin administration and lawmakers in an event organized by the Vermont State Employees Association.

The state employees’ union was joined by other unions and groups, including the Vermont-NEA, AFSCME and the Vermont Workers Center, to protest the budget plan sought by Gov. Peter Shumlin and lawmakers.

Angela Evancie / VPR/file

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott cast a rare vote in the Senate Thursday to break a tie and kill off proposed changes to legislation passed last year that allows the state to regulate “chemicals of concern to children.”

Scott, a Republican, said he has cast fewer than six votes in the Senate since taking office in 2010. The state’s constitution requires the lieutenant governor, the presiding officer of the Senate, to vote when there is a tie.

Screen shot / Vermont Health Connect

The Shumlin administration is working with the state’s health insurance carriers to reconcile millions of dollars in billing discrepancies resulting from Vermont Health Connect’s lack of key functions.
 

The Vermont Senate passed an election day registration bill Wednesday after defeating an amendment that would have required voters using the provision to provide photo identification.

The legislation, which passed on a voice vote, would allow residents to register to vote on the day of an election. Under current law, a person who wants to cast a vote on Election Day must be registered to vote by the previous Wednesday.

Proponents said the bill will provide greater access to voting booths for Vermonters.

A lobbyist’s comments late last week to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have launched a new round of attacks against the group Gun Sense Vermont and frustration for lawmakers looking to advance a gun bill in the Senate.

The committee heard testimony Thursday on an amendment to S.141, a bill that seeks to make it a crime in Vermont for some convicts to possess firearms and would require that people found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others be reported to a federal database.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR File

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill ahead of the Legislature’s Friday evening deadline for non-money bills on a 5-0 vote, ensuring the full Senate will consider a scaled back gun bill this year.

The legislation, supported unanimously in the committee Friday, seeks to ban some convicted criminals from possessing weapons and will require people found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others to be reported to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It would take effect on Oct. 1.

The Shumlin administration has asked state agencies and departments to identify up to 325 state jobs to be cut to obtain $10.8 million in labor savings.

Agency of Administration Justin Johnson made the request in a memo sent to agency secretaries and department commissioners Wednesday. The memo was first reported Thursday by Seven Days.

Angela Evancie / VPR File

Lawmakers are making a final effort to push gun legislation through the committee process ahead of a Friday deadline, but significant hurdles remain.

The Senate Judiciary Committee began considering new legislation Wednesday that would prohibit a person convicted of a violent crime from possessing a firearm. Crimes in the proposal include the state’s so-called "listed" crimes — more than 30 serious offenses with hefty prison terms and fines. The proposal also includes any offense involving sexual exploitation of a minor and trafficking of certain drugs.

A list of potential budget cuts totaling about $29 million was revealed Thursday by the Shumlin administration and key lawmakers that may be used to help close a budget gap in the 2016 fiscal year that has grown larger during this legislative session.

Vermont’s Tax Department has put a temporary hold on issuing income tax refunds to taxpayers who have already filed returns because of suspicious activity with a third-party tax filing program.

Returns sent electronically to the Tax Department through TurboTax, filing software made by Intuit, have had an unusually high amount of alerts, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday. As a result, the state decided to halt issuing returns on Wednesday night, he said.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

A state senator has sent a letter to each of the seven ski resorts utilizing state land asking them to renegotiate leases, but the closing paragraph he included has some lawmakers concerned he has issued a thinly-veiled threat to raise their taxes if they do not agree.

Chittenden County Sen. Tim Ashe, a Democrat and the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, sent the letters on Senate letterhead last week to Bromley, Okemo, Killington, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, Burke and Jay Peak. He signed each letter as chairman of Senate Finance.

Carolyn Box / AP

The Vermont House passed a bill Tuesday to ban microbeads in beauty products that have been found to cause harm to fish and other wildlife.

The House gave preliminary approval to H.4 with a unanimous voice vote. It was passed unanimously by the House Fish and Wildlife Committee on Friday.

The legislation, first brought to the attention of the House Fish and Wildlife Committee by Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, has broad support across the political spectrum.

Tom Kavet, an economist working for the Vermont Legislature, says there are challenges to forecasting the economic effects of a $15 minimum wage.
Taylor Dobbs / VPR File Photo

Gov. Peter Shumlin and lawmakers crafting the 2016 fiscal year budget will have to dig a little deeper after state economists provided a downgrade to the general fund revenue forecast Tuesday, despite positive signs in the economy related to lower oil prices.

A new advisory commission created by Gov. Phil Scott this week will focus on the issue of marijuana legalization in Vermont.
labuda / iStock

A study on marijuana legalization in Vermont released Friday has found that the state could get as much as $75 million in new revenue by taxing and regulating the drug, but it would come with some consequences and other expenses.

Angela Evancie / VPR

Police arrested a group of 29 protesters who staged the sit-in in the well of the House chamber into Thursday evening.

The group said their intention was to extract a commitment from Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith for a public hearing on the single payer health care public financing plan and report presented by Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration last month.

No such commitment was made.

Smith said Thursday afternoon that hearings will take place in the House Health Care and House Ways and Means Committees, but did not promise a public hearing.

Calais voters on Saturday again rejected a move to Australian ballot for funding requests from Montpelier’s Kellogg-Hubbard Library at a well-attended special town meeting where debate focused on the merits of the town’s voting practices.

With just days to go before Election Day, Republican House and Senate candidates remain focused on an economic message in the hope they can snatch a handful of seats from Democrats.

“I’m thinking Franklin, Washington and Rutland (counties). I think those are the strong spots,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia. “We have a sleeper candidate in Orange. He may surprise some people.”

The GOP stands a smaller chance of grabbing a seat in Chittenden County, where Republican challenger Joy Limoge faces the “toughest uphill battle of the bunch,” Benning said.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Vermont Democrats gathered Friday evening for the state party’s largest annual fundraiser, where Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren decried the Republican Party for favoring the rich over low- and middle-income Americans.

Warren, a first-term Democrat, was the guest speaker at the party’s 15th annual David W. Curtis Leader Awards dinner at the Champlain Valley Exposition. One of the more progressive members of the Democratic caucus, Warren has been outspoken on economic and banking issues and has been encouraged by some to run for president.

The Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations is investigating the death of a second child in Vermont within the past few months, raising ire among some lawmakers about the lack of information shared with them by state officials.

Sen. Dick Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-chairman of the special Senate Review Panel on Child Protection, learned Wednesday through the media of the death of a 14-month-old boy in Winooski on or around April 4.

State officials and the contractor for the Vermont Health Connect website have agreed on a new schedule for launching missing functions that includes additional financial penalties for missed deadlines.

Under the amended contract signed Tuesday, tech giant CGI must deliver "change of circumstance" functionality by May 21. By July 2, small business functionality must work. Failure to deliver by those dates will result in penalties in addition to the $5 million in "liquidated damages" the state has already claimed for CGI's incomplete work.

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