Vermont Legislature

Governor Peter Shumlin will give his annual introductory address to the legislature at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

While the imperative of the State of the State shouldn’t be overstated, it is an important ritual in Montpelier and it can help focus lawmakers attention on an issue.

Governor Peter Shumlin is expected to address what he has called an epidemic of opiate abuse in Vermont, and offer some solutions based on recent reports from the administration.

The state is facing a projected $70 million budget gap for next year and legislative leaders have very different ideas about how to deal with this issue.

Lawmakers have faced sizeable budget gaps for the past few years. They’ve closed these gaps by using federal stimulus money and special state funds, and by reducing spending levels in a number of state programs.

Because the federal money is no longer available, most of the burden of closing the new gap will fall directly on the budget.

Lawmakers have reached a deal that would raise campaign contribution limits to statewide political candidates and allow unlimited contributions from political parties to candidates.

Under proposed campaign finance legislation, all candidates would face increased reporting requirements for their campaign funds, but some would be able to collect more money from individual sources.

What promises to be one of the highest-profile political fights of the 2014 session got underway in earnest Tuesday when supporters of a bill that would require employers to supply paid sick days staged an opening day rally inside the Statehouse.

Dressed in the red T-shirts that have come to signify their organization, members of the Vermont Workers Center, the group leading the push, said it’s time “to hold our legislators accountable to our health and dignity in Vermont.”

Angela Evancie / VPR

In a day marked by ceremony and substance, lawmakers returned to Montpelier on Tuesday, greeting each other like old classmates and then getting right to work on the vexing issue of health care.

House Speaker Shap Smith banged his gavel shortly after 10 a.m. to call the House to order for the second half of the biennium. The speaker made a reference to the first day of school as he reminded the 150 House members to be on time.

Angela Evancie / VPR

Vermont Edition broadcasts live from the statehouse as lawmakers, reporters, lobbyists, and eager constituents all descend on Montpelier to kick off a new Legislative session.

Host Bob Kinzel talks to Speaker of the House, Shap Smith, house Republican leader Don Turner, and Chris Pearson, the chair of the House Progressive caucus.

Listen Tuesday, January 7th at noon and 7 p.m.

Angela Evancie / VPR

The 2014 Legislative session kicks off Tuesday with lawmakers convening in Montpelier for the first day, which is largely ceremonial.

But soon, they’ll be digging into the big issues and challenges facing the state. VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb and Bob Kinzel discuss some of what lawmakers will be looking at this session.

State Budget

The Vermont Legislature is getting ready to kick off its 2014 session.

The Senate is due to convene at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Later, Gov. Peter Shumlin is scheduled to brief the health care committees from the House and Senate about the progress of Vermont Health Connect, the office helping to implement the health overhaul efforts in the state.

VPR/ Peter Hirschfeld

Two years ago, the proposed merger of Vermont’s two largest electric utilities triggered a debate over the adequacy of the state’s regulatory system. Now, a bill borne out of that dispute will look to give regular Vermonters more sway in the rate-setting process.

Vermont is one of three states that don’t require their elected officials to disclose their financial interests. But a new organization being bankrolled by a former Wall Street executive says that needs to change.

Bruce Lisman came on the political scene in Vermont only about two years ago. But he’s trying to use his personal fortune to fast track his influence.

Changes in the federal tax code could make it harder for economists to predict how much Vermont will collect in state revenues next year.
Angela Evancie / VPR file

Governor Peter Shumlin delivers his budget address Wednesday, January 15 at 2 p.m.  You can listen on VPR's live stream from the Vermont House.

Lawmakers have a busy agenda when they return to Montpelier this month, and you can count on VPR for comprehensive coverage of the Statehouse during the 2014 session.

Vermont Edition will broadcast live from the Statehouse on Tuesday, January 7 at noon for interviews with the House leadership. 

When the 2014 legislative session convenes next week, there will be one more woman taking a seat. Marjorie Ryerson, of Randolph, is replacing Representative Larry Townsend, who died in June.

With her appointment, Vermont becomes the fourth state legislature in the nation where women hold the majority in the party that holds the majority—in this case, the Democrats. Also, 41 percent of all Vermont’s lawmakers are now women, and that’s the highest percentage in the nation. But if you ask Ryerson herself how important all that scale-tipping is to her, you get a mixed answer.

Toby Talbot / AP

The Vermont health care exchange came out of the starting blocks this fall limping badly and it’s not clear yet how long it will take Gov. Peter Shumlin’s bureaucrats to get it back on track. It’s not too early, however, to try to assess the effect the troubled launch will have on state politics in 2014 and on the fate of the Shumlin reform initiative out into the future.

Patti Daniels / VPR

When local homeless shelters are full, state government provides vouchers for homeless Vermonters to stay in motels for short term housing.

Last year that program cost the state $4 million dollars. The legislature cut the budget this fiscal year, allocating 1.5 million dollars to the program.

Commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, David Yacavone, says the program is already over budget and is projected to cost the state about 4.2 million dollars this year.

AP/Toby Talbot

The problem of student loan debt is one that state Senator Anthony Pollina is trying to crack.  He's our guest on the next Vermont Edition to discuss his plan to ensure that students don't graduate from college with a crushing student debt load.  It's a plan similar to one being tried in Oregon.  We also discuss Pollina's idea to create a Vermont state bank and an alternative economic benchmark to the GDP.

As a new school year gets underway in Vermont, thousands of students are newly eligible to receive free lunches.

A law passed by the legislature provides students who previously received reduced price lunches with the free meals. 

Under the old reduced lunch program meals cost 40 cents.  Now that all students from income eligible families will receive free lunches, the state expects greater participation. 

Laurie Colgan is Child Nutrition Program Director for the Agency of Education. 

The State of Vermont is getting ready to implement a new law that allows terminally ill people to get life ending drugs.

After a fierce legislative debate, lawmakers reached an unusual compromise in order to pass the legislation.

For the next 3 years, there will be a detailed process for a terminally ill patient to get the life ending drugs.  Then in 2015, a streamlined procedure will be put into place. It’s one that basically gives doctors legal immunity if they write a prescription for these drugs.

Governor Peter Shumlin signed a group of bills Wednesday designed to crack down on prescription drug abuse and related crimes. But the measures don’t focus on increased penalties for drug abusers, in fact, quite the opposite. Instead, the so-called “Good Samaritan” law makes Vermont just the 13th state in the nation to offer limited immunity from prosecution to people reporting a potentially deadly drug overdose.

Gov. Peter Shumlin is planning to sign a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The bill would replace criminal penalties with civil fines similar to a traffic ticket for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.

The bill signing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon at the Statewide Criminal & Juvenile Justice Training Conference at the Inn at Essex in Essex Junction.

Gov. Peter Shumlin is set to sign a bill that would allow immigrant farmworkers who are in the country illegally to drive in Vermont, with a new type of driver's privilege card.

The bill is designed to allow workers who are in the country illegally but providing crucial labor on Vermont's dairy farms to get a new type of state driver's license.