Peter Hirschfeld

Reporter

Peter Hirschfeld covers state government and the Vermont Legislature. He is based in VPR’s Capital Bureau located across the street from Vermont’s Statehouse.

Hirschfeld is a leading Vermont journalist who has covered the Statehouse since 2009, most recently as bureau chief for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. He began his career in 2003, working as a local sports reporter and copy editor at the Times Argus.

Ways to Connect

Thirteen years ago, Kay Curtis transformed the two-car garage attached to her Brattleboro home into a small childcare facility. She calls it Happy Hands: A Little School for Little People. And of the 16 families she serves, 12 pay with childcare subsidies supplied by state government.

But those subsidies haven’t increased much over the past decade. And as a small businesswoman consumed by the day-to-day of caring for small children, Curtis isn’t exactly able to negotiate her compensations rates with the state of Vermont.

Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

The roughest politics in Montpelier are usually found in the Statehouse or governor’s office. But at City Hall this year, a combative race for mayor is as fierce as anything going on under the Golden Dome.

The contest pits incumbent John Hollar against the challenger Gwen Hallsmith, who also happens to be the city’s recently fired planning director. And neither has made much effort to veil his or her contempt for the other.

Hallsmith has had especially cross words for Hollar, whom she says orchestrated her termination from city government last November.

The Vermont Senate has advanced a controversial bill dealing with the involuntary medication of patients with mental illness.

Hospitals, doctors and the families of some patients have asked lawmakers to speed up the process used to determine whether mentally ill patients should be medicated against their will.

They say the existing legal procedure can drag on for months. Bennington Senator Dick Sears said that can unnecessarily delay the recovery of people unable to recognize their need for treatment.

Toby Talbot / AP

 As the Shumlin Administration fine tunes its case to lawmakers for a publicly financed health care system, the governor is tapping a familiar name to help make the sale.

Former House Majority Leader Floyd Nease left the Statehouse in 2011. But he’s maintained relationships with many of the lawmakers he served with. And he’ll put them to good use as the latest addition to the team of administration officials spearheading the governor’s single-payer agenda.

John Dillon / VPR file

The stage is set for a historic vote next year on a public financing plan for single-payer health care. And the head of the Vermont Republican Party says that if Vermonters care about what happens in 2015, then they need to think long hard about how they vote in 2014.

When it comes to elections, all eyes are usually on the high-profile races at the top of the ticket. But David Sunderland is devoting much of his attention in 2014 to races in the House and Senate.

Toby Talbot / AP

Bruce Lisman says his $10,000 donation to the Vermont Republican Party last month doesn’t reflect a partisan bent at the advocacy organization he founded in late 2011.

“Progress ahead of partisanship” has become a sort of motto at Campaign for Vermont, a group that bills itself as “the state’s fastest-growing statewide advocacy organization.” Lisman says Campaign for Vermont remains nonpartisan, his own political donations notwithstanding.

“It’s nothing to do with Campaign for Vermont,” Lisman said Monday of the $10,000 donation.

A long-running legal battle between the state of Vermont and its largest private landowner is headed to the Vermont Supreme Court. And the outcome of the case could have a lasting impact on a popular conservation program, according to a state official.

The case hinges on trees, or rather the lack of them, on a 137-acre parcel of land in a sparsely populated town in the heart of the Northeast Kingdom.

The state’s largest union is throwing its weight, and its money, behind the push for single-payer health care. And the move by the Vermont teachers union lends considerable strength to what will be the heaviest political lift of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s career.

Labor groups have had good reason to be skeptical of single-payer. Their members already tend to enjoy premium health insurance benefits. And many union members fear they’ll be asked to pay more money for fewer benefits under Shumlin’s plan for a publicly financed system.

The technology firm hired to build Vermont’s new health insurance exchange is fighting back against claims that it deceived state officials last year.

Allegations surfaced in a Newsweek story earlier this month that CGI oversold the quality of its product by faking a live connection between the exchange and a federal data hub. The allegation came from an unnamed tipster who claimed to have direct knowledge of the faked demonstration.

Linda Odorisio, vice-president of communications for CGI, says the connection shown in the demonstration was real.

Alyssa Barrett / Green Up Vermont

For the past 43 years, volunteers have spent the first Saturday in May plucking litter from Vermont’s roadsides. Green Up Day has become an unofficial holiday in Vermont, one that embodies the environmental ethic of a state defined by its natural beauty.

But it takes money to put on the event. And if lawmakers don’t come up with more of it soon, then those telltale green garbage bags that appear on the side of the road every spring could disappear for good.

Vermont's health care exchange, Vermont Health Connect, has been in the news regularly since its October launch because of continued technological failures and shortfalls.

But a scathing story last Friday from Newsweek ratcheted up the intrigue. The piece featured an accusation from an unnamed tipster, who came out with a striking allegation against CGI, the tech firm hired to build the exchange.

VPR/Peter Hirschfeld

The federal government is threatening action against Vermont over pollution levels in Lake Champlain. But the Shumlin administration says it’s working on a plan to solve the problem.

Stephen Perkins, director of the Office of Ecosystem Protection at the Environmental Protection Agency in Boston, is one of the people who will decide whether a proposal coming from the Shumlin administration next month will be enough to keep his federal agency from bringing down the regulatory hammer on the state of Vermont.

Lawmakers say it’s time to stop treating drug addicts like criminals. But what happens when criminals become drug addicts?

Vermont’s prisons have become the latest front in the state’s ongoing fight against opiate addiction. And lawmakers are looking to curb the flow of illegal drugs into the state’s correctional facilities.

“Obviously it concerns me that somebody would go into a Vermont prison without an addiction and come out with an addiction to an opiate,” says Sen. Dick Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A top official in the Shumlin administration says a 38-page document (PDF) disproves allegations by an anonymous whistleblower that cast new shadows last week over the state’s health insurance exchange.

The Shumlin administration has alerted lawmakers to a series of privacy breaches on the state’s new health insurance exchange. But a top administration official says the incidents should not undermine public confidence in the security of the website.

Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, said in a memo (PDF)  sent to top legislators Tuesday that the state has had seven privacy incidents since Dec. 22.  

Three days after the publication of a Newsweek story that featured some incendiary claims about Vermont’s new health insurance exchange, the Shumlin administration is firing back with a list of factual errors and misleading statements it says are contained in the piece.

The story, written by reporter Lynnley Browning, most notably alleges that contractors willfully deceived state officials about the readiness of the new website.

The state employees union and the Shumlin Administration are at odds over drug benefits for retired workers. But the fight has become about much more than health care. And the union says the administration is trying to end-run the normal negotiating process.  

With the ink  barely dry on the latest collective bargaining agreement ratified by state workers last week, the Shumlin Administration already wants to alter the terms of the deal. Union officials say the integrity of its collective bargaining  is at stake.

Student safety is always high on the minds of principals, superintendents and school boards. But emergency response plans vary from district to district. And the state of Vermont is stepping in to help schools prepare for armed attacks, natural disasters and other events.

Statistically speaking, the local school is one of the safest places for a child to be. But school shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech and last year in Newtown, Conn., have shown the catastrophic impact one attack can have.

An incendiary allegation at the heart of a Newsweek story on Vermont’s health insurance exchange claims that contractors willfully deceived state officials about the readiness of the new website.

But Commissioner of Vermont Health Access Mark Larson says he doesn’t believe the alleged incident is “based in any truth or evidence.”

AP File/Toby Talbot

The good news is that the biggest construction project in state history is on budget. The bad news is that it might not be on budget for long.

A deal with a construction firm has cleared the way for the rebuild of the state office complex in Waterbury. But lingering uncertainties over the massive renovation still threaten to add to the project's costs. 

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