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Shumlin’s Spending Proposal Outpaces Vermont’s Economic Growth Rate

in Feature/Vermont

By Jon Street | Watchdog.org

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin wants a 5-percent hike in the upcoming budget while Vermont’s economy is growing at just 1.2 percent annually.

The governor’s proposal for fiscal year 2014-15 came Wednesday during a joint-session of the Vermont Legislature, during which he delivered his annual budget address.

Shumlin said his budget proposal not only closes the state’s $70 million budget gap but “invests in areas critical to our most vulnerable and to our future job growth, while rejecting broad-based tax increases on hard working Vermonters.”

But his proposal has left some inside and outside the Statehouse scratching their heads.

Tom Pelham, who served in three governor-appointed positions under three administrations, including as commissioner of finance and management under former Gov. Howard Dean, said Shumlin’s proposed spending levels are “more of the same” because the spending levels are not proportional to the rate at which the state’s economy is actually growing.

The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis reported the rate of increase in Vermont’s Gross Domestic Product from 2011-2012 was 1.2 percent, making it one of 20 states and the District of Columbia with GDP growth rates at or below 1.5 percent in 2012. That’s well below the national average growth rate of 2.2 percent the same year.

Nonetheless, Shumlin’s proposal includes the 5-percent spending increase without any cuts or tax hikes. Compare that with the much lower rate at which the economy is actually growing, and Pelham says the budget gap just gets “wider and wider.”

“I think Gov. Shumlin’s budget is substantially out of sync with what’s going on with the overall economy,” Pelham told Vermont Watchdog.

Even one member of the Shumlin’s own party, Sen. Richard Mazza, D-Chittenden, stopped short of embracing the plan.

Responding to whether he thinks the economic growth rate in Vermont is equal to the 5-percent increase in proposed spending, Mazza said, “Financial forecasters look ahead. You hope they come within it. But again, it could be over. It could be under. That’s the game you play and the chance you take. There’s nobody who can really tell you what’s going to happen.”

Mazza questioned whether Shumlin may have been “too generous” by proposing a 5-percent increase while seeming hesitant to believe 11,000 jobs have been added since the economic recovery began in 2009.

“(Shumlin) said there (are) 11,000 new jobs. I don’t know where they got that figure but we’re assuming there are 11,000 new jobs, which would be great. But we’re still looking at how he came up with that figure,” Mazza said.

Jack Hoffmann, an analyst for the Vermont-based nonprofit Public Assets Institute, said “Understanding the details about exactly where the governor plans to make investments and where the money will come from will require deeper analysis.”

At the same time, the Public Assets Institute suggested Shumlin deserves credit for wanting to make the kinds of investments that have been shown to provide good returns — infrastructure, education, health care and early childhood development.

Indeed, Shumlin proposed considerable increases to each of these areas and several others.

Among the highlights of Shumlin’s sought-after funding increases are $33 million for transportation and infrastructure, $4.3 million in new initiatives to fight poverty, $9.8 million for a 2-percent increase to Medicaid reimbursement, $19.3 million to implement more community-based mental health programs, $6.8 million for teachers’ pensions, $2.5 million for retired teachers’ health insurance, $840,000 for a 2-percent increase in funding for higher education, and $500,000 for downtown tax credits.

That amounts to $77,040,000 in total new spending, about $7 million more than the state’s budget deficit.

Vermont Requests Federal Disaster Declaration

in Feature/News/Vermont

MONTPELIER – On Friday Gov. Peter Shumlin made a formal request for a federal disaster declaration for Caledonia, Chittenden, Essex, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille, and Orleans counties for public infrastructure damage suffered in December’s ice storm.

The Public Assistance disaster declaration, if granted, would allow communities and public utilities in those counties to receive at least 75% reimbursement for debris removal and repairs to the power grid, public roads, bridges, and other infrastructure that was damaged during the storm.

The request was sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for review. FEMA will then send a recommendation to President Barack Obama, who will have ultimate authority to approve or reject the request.

A Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) started on Jan. 2 identified more than $3 million in damages in Vermont during the ice storm. The state must only show $1 million in damages to qualify for a declaration. The seven counties also showed more than the minimum of $3.50 per capita in damage costs required to be included in a declaration. The damages identified in the PDA are only a partial accounting of the total suffered in the ice storm. The final tally will likely be higher.

If the disaster declaration is granted, communities and public utilities will be reimbursed for 75% of the cost of eligible work. Eligible expenses include equipment rentals (and fuel for that equipment), the cost of contractor assistance, employee overtime tied directly to storm response and restoration, and other expenses.

Despite Expert Claims, Shumlin Denies Spike in Health Coverage Premiums

in Vermont

By Jon Street | Watchdog.org

BURLINGTON — Leading experts say health care costs in the Green Mountain State are climbing to new heights, but Gov. Peter Shumlin denies it.

“If it were true, we wouldn’t be doing it,” he told Vermont Watchdog at an annual legislative breakfast at the Sheraton Hotel Conference Center in South Burlington Monday morning.

That was Shumlin’s response to a report published by the Manhattan Institute, a New York-based free market think tank, suggesting some Vermont residents could see up to a 157 percent spike in their monthly premiums thanks to Vermont Health Connect, the state’s health insurance exchange under Obamacare.

The study says young adults are likely to see the sharpest increase. Before reforms took effect Jan. 1, the average monthly premium for adults up to age 27 was $148 per month. The average premium for a person of the same age under Obamacare? They’ll now pay up to $380 per month.

Young adults aren’t the only ones expected to see a dramatic upswing in monthly costs.

Under Vermont Health Connect, residents who fall within the 28-40 age range will pay up to 125 percent more in premiums. Those in the age bracket of 41-64 should expect to pay up to 71 percent more for health coverage.

The pre-Obamacare rates were calculated based on the five least expensive plans by monthly premium in the most populous zip code in each county of Vermont. The rates were then adjusted to account for those who have been denied coverage previously as well as for those who receive a monthly premium surcharge. The institute then determined the weighted average of monthly premiums for 27-year-old males and females, 40-year-old males and females and 64-year-old males and females, all of whom the experts assumed to be nonsmokers.

New rates under Obamacare were calculated based on the same method as the pre-Obamacare rates. Experts at the Manhattan Institute used a website called ValuePenguin, which gathers its data from reports, databases, congressional bills and regulatory filings. Since health insurance providers are now banned from denying anyone coverage based on a pre-existing condition, the institute noted there was no need to determine weighted averages for these new rates.

Stanford University medical expert Jay Bhattacharya said government subsidized health care plans for low income citizens is one of the major factors contributing to higher health costs under Obamacare.

“Taxpayers will for sure be paying more, because those subsidies have to be paid for,” Bhattacharya told Vermont Watchdog.

Mike Noble, a spokesman for Fletcher Allen, one of Vermont’s largest health care providers, pointed out, “We’re not talking about lowering [health care] costs. We’re talking about lowering the rate of increase [in health care costs].”

Noble added that by “bending the cost curve,” health care reform will simply lower the rate of cost growth. Reform will not, Noble said, decrease health care costs.

“By introducing health care reform both at the state and federal level it is hoped that we’ll be spending less than [the current rate of growth], more [money] than we’re spending now, but less than that original projection,” Noble said.

Vermont Watchdog reached out to Shumlin’s office for additional comment, but calls and emails were not returned by the time of this article’s publication. Jeffrey Ross, director of data management and analysis for the Department of Health Access, said he had “no comment” regarding the report.

When pressed on whether insurance premiums are, indeed, climbing, Ross simply responded, “I don’t know” and referred the call to someone within the governor’s office.

Flavored Mints Claiming to be a “Vermont” Product Actually Made in Canada Will Pay the State $30,000 Fine

in Feature/Vermont

NEWPORT — The Vermont Attorney General’s Office has settled a lawsuit alleging that VerMints, Inc., violated the law by labeling its flavored mints as “Vermont” products when in fact they were made in Canada, from out-of-state ingredients. The settlement requires VerMints and its President, Gary Rinkus of Braintree, Massachusetts, to donate $35,000 to the Vermont Foodbank, pay the State of Vermont $30,000, and add corrective labeling to its products for 18 months.

“Use of the term ‘Vermont’ has great economic value, and many businesses go to the expense of sourcing their ingredients and processing within the state in order to market their products as Vermont products,” said Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell. “We need to maintain a level playing field when it comes to claims of geographic origin, and to ensure that consumers who care about where their food comes from get accurate information in the marketplace,” he added.

VerMints’ products come in metal tins, and from 2006 to 2011, they were prominently labeled as “Vermont’s All-Natural Mints.”

Because they were manufactured in Canada from mostly non-Vermont ingredients, the labeling violated the Vermont Consumer Protection Act and Consumer Protection Rule 120, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

The corrective advertising provision of the settlement requires VerMints to add the words “Produced in Canada” to the front of tins sold to states in the northeast United States, to counter the impression that the products come from Vermont.

Vermont Department of Health to Encourage Providers to Screen for Alcohol Abuse

in Feature/Vermont

NEWPORT – High risk drinking is a public health problem in Vermont. Half of all young adults age 18 to 24 drink to excess. The Health Department hopes to educate health care professionals about the importance of asking adults about drinking habits and behaviors as part of a regular checkup or appointment.

Only 9 percent of Vermont adults in the past year were asked by a doctor, nurse or health care professional about their alcohol use. This is far less than the national average of one in six reported in January 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC report shows that alcohol screening and brief counseling can reduce the amount of alcohol consumed, on one occasion, by 25 percent for those who drink too much.

“The majority of Vermonters who drink too much are not alcoholics,” said Barbara Cimaglio, deputy health commissioner. “Over time, binge drinking disrupts lives and leads to life-threatening health conditions: liver disease, certain cancers, heart disease, stroke and other chronic illnesses.”

Vermont’s approach to the problem of high risk drinking has been to fund and support community coalitions to make local assessments and create and share local solutions. The Health Department recently received a $9.9 million Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) grant to help medical professionals provide brief interventions to reduce the risk of substance abuse.

Vermont was one of only five states in the nation selected to receive the 2013 SBIRT U.S. Department of Health and Human Services award. The funds will be distributed through 2018 to help identify, reduce and prevent alcohol and illicit drug dependence and abuse through early screening and intervention.

Brief counseling involves using a set of questions to screen all patients for how much and how often they drink, counseling patients about the health dangers of drinking too much, and referring only those few patients who need specialized treatment for alcohol dependence.

“We anticipate 20 percent of those people who are screened will require a brief intervention and about 3 percent will be referred to treatment,” Cimaglio said. “These may seem like awkward conversations, but as a health care provider, these are important questions to ask, and it could reduce excessive drinking statewide.”

The Health Department also has a campaign called Parent Up campaign that leverages parental influence, and not wanting to disappoint a parent, as the most effective way to reduce underage drinking.

Pressure Mounts for Vermont Lieutenant Governor to Take Single-Payer Position

in Vermont

By Jon Street | Watchdog.org

BURLINGTON — Prominent members of his own party wonder why, after more than 2 1/2 years, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott refuses to take a position on the state’s single-payer health-care law.

Scott said he remains “skeptical.”

In an interview with Vermont Watchdog, that’s the best Scott could offer as the state moves to implement the first-of-its kind law. Scott maintains there isn’t enough information yet to know how much it would cost, how it will be paid for, what it will look like or what it will cover in terms of health services.

“I’m a skeptic when it comes to the single-payer model,” Scott told Watchdog, “but at the same time I try to be objective because I’ve argued that I don’t have enough information to know whether it works here in Vermont. So it’s difficult for me to oppose something when I don’t know what it is,” said Scott.

While passed in 2011, Vermont’s single-payer plan, Green Mountain Care, needs federal approval of its health care exchange to be eligible for federal funding needed to run the program. Green Mountain care might not get off the ground until 2017.

Green Mountain Care aims to provide health coverage to each of the state’s 626,000 residents through a state-run unified health-care system, which, proponents say, would dramatically reduce premiums because of less expensive administrative costs for private insurers.

Republican Randy Brock, a former state senator, state auditor, and nominee for governor, said ample information is available to judge that a single-payer system would be bad for Vermont.

Single-payer will jeopardize jobs by discouraging self-insured employers from either coming to or staying in Vermont because of higher taxes. It would encourage medical professionals to leave the state, discourage medical innovation by eliminating the competition, prohibit Vermonters from choosing their own health plans and rely on a state agency he says has already proven itself incapable of implementation.

“It would not decrease cost, as the administration now admits,” Brock said. “It would result in crippling tax increases and recent studies have confirmed its high cost.”

And Darcie Johnston, president and founder of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, says single-pay health-care will be responsible for the largest tax increase in Vermont history.

“I think Lt. Gov. Scott is very confused on the Republican principles with regard to government-run, socialized health care, “Johnston said.

An independent report published by the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, Avalere Health, suggests a single-payer system would likely cause an increase in the size of government, resulting in new or increased taxes.

Avalere’s report suggests the cost for a single-payer system could be anywhere from $1.61 billion to $2.22 billion. The report points out the amount is comparable to the state’s tax collections from all sources today.

Some of the new tax burden, according to the report, would be offset by the elimination of direct costs for private health coverage, since the government expects to become the health insurer for most residents.

Sen. Bobby Starr, a Democrat who voted against a single-payer system, said even these offsets would not be enough to pay for the health-care overhaul.

“There’s no way we can do it without new taxes … There’s no way possible of generating that kind of money from the existing money as far as I’m concerned,” said Starr.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty generated by the law and its delays is already putting Vermonters at an economic disadvantage, Johnston said. It is this uncertainty Scott said is one of the reasons he remains skeptical.

“My fear is, in many regards, is if we have something that’s so unique that it puts us at a disadvantage from the states around us from a business standpoint,” Scott said. “I want to be sure that we don’t suffer.”

Contact Jon Street at jstreet@watchdog.org

Local Food Movement Pioneer to Talk About Sustainable Food Systems and Climate Uncertainty

in Vermont

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — Some have called him the father of the local food movement. Noted author Gary Paul Nabhan will be speaking at Sterling College on Tuesday, January 28, at 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public as part of the Vermont Table Speaker Series.

The talk, “Tapping Into the Wisdom of Traditional Farmers: Sustainably Growing Food in the Face of Climate Uncertainty,” will discuss adapting diversity of food crops to climate extremes. He will be taking examples from traditional and innovative farmers on five continents and eschewing “climate-ready” GE crops.

Nabhan is the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona, as well as the permaculture designer of Almuniya de los Zopilotes Experimental Farm in Patagonia, Arizona. Widely acknowledged as a pioneer in the local-food movement and grassroots seed conservation, Nabhan was honored by Utne Reader in 2011 as one of twelve people making the world a better place to live.

Nabhan is also a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Award. He has published over twenty books, including “Where Our Food Comes From,” and “Woodlands in Crisis.”

For more information on the College and its mission of environmental stewardship, visit them online at www.sterlingcollege.edu.

About Sterling College

Founded in 1958 in Craftsbury Common, Vermont, Sterling College is a leading voice in higher education for environmental stewardship and the liberal arts. The College was among the first colleges in the United States to focus on sustainability through academic majors in Ecology, Environmental Humanities, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, and Outdoor Education. Sterling College is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and is one of only seven federally recognized Work Colleges in the nation.

Gov. Shumlin Asks Congress to Extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program

in News/Vermont

MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin called on Congress today to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which expired on Dec. 28. The Governor said about 650 Vermonters lost benefits with the program’s expiration, losing an average weekly benefit of approximately $300. Up to 2,300 Vermonters could lose assistance over the first half of 2014.

“Vermont has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, yet many Vermonters continue to look for secure work as we pull out of the worst recession in history,” Gov. Shumlin said. He thanked President Obama and Vermont’s congressional delegation for fighting for the program.

Nationally, more than 1 million jobless workers saw their benefits expire – including 20,000 recent military veterans – and another 1.9 million will lose their unemployment benefits over the first half of 2014.

Gov. Shumlin joined a handful of other Governors in writing political leaders in Congress to urge extension of the program. The Governors noted that failure to extend benefits harms not only the individuals and families who depend on the help to pay for the basics, but states’ economies that are recovering from the recession.

“Our country’s jobless population spends unemployment benefits on rent, groceries, and other key necessities for themselves and their families. Our businesses and local communities benefit from the increased spending, and in turn, the EUC program helps to increase economic activity,” Gov. Shumlin wrote.

“Thus, not only does the EUC program benefit the long-term unemployed, but it also helps to inject revenue into our local economies, which saves and creates critically needed jobs throughout our economy,” the letter continued. “For this reason, economists widely recognize that government spending on unemployment insurance benefits is one of the most effective tools for increasing economic activity in a period of persistently high unemployment.”

Gov. Shumlin also applauded the U.S. Senate for voting to begin debate on the unemployment insurance extension – a significant step forward for the legislation in that chamber.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont Asks NSA if They Are Spying on Members of Congress

in Vermont

BURLINGTON — On Friday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders asked the National Security Agency director whether the agency has monitored the phone calls, emails and Internet traffic of members of Congress and other elected officials.

“Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials?” Sanders asked in a letter to Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director. “Spying would include gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business?”

Sanders said he was “deeply concerned” by revelations that American intelligence agencies harvested records of phone calls, emails and web activity by millions of innocent Americans without any reason to even suspect involvement in illegal activities. He also cited reports that the United States eavesdropped on the leaders of Germany, Mexico, Brazil and other allies.

Sanders emphasized that the United States “must be vigilant and aggressive in protecting the American people from the very real danger of terrorist attacks,” but he cited U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s recent ruling that indiscriminate dragnets by the NSA were probably unconstitutional and “almost Orwellian.”

Sanders has introduced legislation to put strict limits on sweeping powers used by the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to secretly track telephone calls by millions of Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

The measure would put limits on records that may be searched. Authorities would be required to establish a reasonable suspicion, based on specific information, in order to secure court approval to monitor business records related to a specific terrorism suspect. Sanders’ bill also would put an end to open-ended court orders that have resulted in wholesale data mining by the NSA and FBI.

Instead, the government would be required to provide reasonable suspicion to justify searches for each record or document that it wants to examine.

REAL ID Cards Issued at Vermont DMV Jan. 2

in Feature/Vermont

The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles will start offering REAL ID cards on January 2.

To obtain a REAL ID, you will need an original or certified copy of your birth certificate or other proof of identity, proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful presence in the United States, and proof of your Social Security numbers.

Although the Vermont REAL ID FAQ page states that, “Obtaining a REAL ID marked card is your choice,” it also states that, “the federal agency responsible for security of the airport, federal facility or nuclear power plant will determine whether to permit access/entrance or subject you to additional screening as prescribed by that agency. No federal agencies have yet issued any guidance on how they will screen applications after the individual compliance dates. The Vermont DMV will update this information as additional information becomes available.”

It also states that everyone born after Dec. 1, 1964 will be “required” to have a REAL ID by Dec. 1, 2014. Anyone born before, will have until Dec. 1, 2017.

The federal REAL ID Act is designed to promote security by requiring states to meet certain physical and procedural security standards for production and issuance of driver’s licenses and ID cards. It is also supposed to provide certain documentation standards, including authentication and verification standards for proof of identity, date of birth, Social Security number, residence, and lawful status or presence.

Because Vermont already produces cards that meet REAL ID security standards, there will be almost no material difference. The only significant difference will be a star verification mark on the front of the card in the upper, right-hand corner.

The new REAL ID cards have raised concern over privacy issues. The governor of Montana told the Department of Homeland Security to “go to hell.” He went on to call the REAL ID card a “harebrained scheme.”

Some see the REAL ID card as a de facto national identity card that will increase government tracking of innocent citizens.

600 Vermonters Affected as Long-Term Jobless Benefits Expire

in Feature/News/Vermont

BURLINGTON — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday that Congress must restore unemployment benefits that expired today for 1.3 million Americans, including some 600 Vermonters, who have been out of work for longer than 26 weeks.

Unless Congress acts, jobless benefits will lapse during the first half of 2014 for an additional 1.9 million people, including another 2,300 Vermonters.

“It is not only immoral to cut off help for workers struggling to find jobs, it is also bad economics,” Sanders said. “At a time when long-term unemployment is near a record level, cutting benefits will hurt the rest of the economy and cause even more jobs to disappear.”

Failure to extend benefits would be a $25 billion blow to the economy during the coming year and result in the loss of more than 200,000 additional jobs, according to the conservative estimate by the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO also projected a 0.2 percent drop in the nation’s gross domestic product unless the benefits are extended.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.) said: “It’s regrettable that House and Senate Republicans refused to include an extension of unemployment insurance benefits in the recent budget agreement. I have been among those who pushed for this extension, and I have again joined in introducing legislation to extend these benefits. The Senate will vote on our bill as a first order of business in January.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that a measure to restore long-term jobless benefits will be the first bill that the Senate takes up when it reconvenes on Jan. 6. Sanders is one of 21 cosponsors of the bill, but only one Republican senator, Dean Heller of Nevada, has signed on as a supporter.

“The critical question is how many Republicans are prepared to stand with unemployed workers,” Sanders said.

While the jobless rate has declined in recent months, it is still far worse than it was in 2008 when President George W. Bush signed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program into law. Back then the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and the average length of unemployment was 17.1 weeks. Today, the official unemployment rate in November was 7 percent and the average length of unemployment is more than 36 weeks.

Moreover, the official unemployment figure masks the reality that total unemployment stood last month at 13.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number counts workers forced to settle for part-time jobs and those who gave up looking for jobs.

The number of long-term unemployed has been among the lingering effects of the severe recession that began in 2008. Today, there are three job applicants for every one job opening. As a result, 37 percent of all unemployed Americans have been out of work for more than six months.

Because the recession has continued to hurt job prospects, Congress reauthorized the extended unemployment benefits program 11 times since the recession began in 2008.

Altogether, nearly 24 million Americans (including more than 33,000 Vermonters) have received the emergency unemployment benefits since 2008. Unemployment benefits, typically $300 a week, lifted 2.5 million Americans out of poverty last year, according to the Census Bureau.

From Horse Lying to Lengthy Beer Tasting, the 10 Strangest Vermont Laws

in Vermont

By Yaël Ossowski | Watchdog.org

In many aspects, Vermont isn’t not afraid to buck the status quo.

After the Revolutionary War, it existed as its own republic for nearly 14 years. It was the first state to introduce women’s suffrage in 1880, allow civil unions in 2000 and pass same-sex marriage in 2009.

And while it may be a trendsetter, it has its own strangeness hidden among his many legal achievements, regulating everything from sex to alcohol, tobacco and the village drunks.

Here’s a list of the 10 strangest laws we found on the books in the Green Mountain State:

1. Don’t lie about your horse.

“A person may not willfully or unjustifiably enter or race any horse in any running or trotting race under any name or designation other than the name or designation assigned to such horse by and registered with the Jockey Club or the United States Trotting Association.” 13 V.S.A.§ 2153 (6)

2. Never trust the showmen.

“Villages shall have the power to regulate the exhibition of common showmen, and of shows every kind not interdicted by law.” 24 V.S.A. App. § 235-114 (3)

3. Who are “uncommon” prostitutes?

“Villages shall have the power to restrain and punish vagrants, mendicants, and common prostitutes, and to suppress houses of ill-fame.” 24 V.S.A. App. § 235-114 (21)

4. Cash is king.

“A person may not accept, receive, levy or appropriate money or other valuable thing from the proceeds or earnings of a person engaged in prostitution.” 13 V.S.A. § 2637 (a)(2)

5. Sex cannot legally sell.

“No person may knowingly, publicly display nudity or sex for advertising purposes.” 13 V.S.A. § 2804a.

6. Because what’s a tasting without a few government regulations?

“A wine or beer tasting shall continue for no more than six hours, with no more than six beverages to be offered at a single event, and no more than two ounces of any single beverage and no more than a total of eight ounces of various vinous or malt beverages to be dispensed to a customer. No more than eight customers may be served at one time.” 7 V.S.A. § 67 (b)

7. Ripping the labels off mattresses isn’t the only thing which will land you a huge fine.

“Any person, other than the wholesaler, who intentionally removes or defaces the label attached to a keg shall be imprisoned not more than two years or fined not more than $1,000.00, or both.” 7 V.S.A. § 67 (d)

8. No license, no tobacco through the mail.

“No person shall cause cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco, little cigars, or snuff, ordered or purchased by mail or through a computer network, telephonic network, or other electronic network, to be shipped to anyone other than a licensed wholesale dealer or retail dealer in this State.” 7 V.S.A. § 1010

9. The government deals in labels.

“The word “spendthrift” shall be held to include every person who is liable to be put under guardianship on account of excessive drinking, gambling, idleness or debauchery.” 14 V.S.A. § 2681

10. Save us from the market emergencies.

“A “market emergency” shall be declared by the governor. “Market emergency” means any abnormal disruption of any market for petroleum products or heating fuel products, including any actual or threatened shortage in the supply of petroleum products or heating fuel products.” 9 V.S.A. § 2461d.

Yaël is a national reporter for Watchdog.org. Reach him by email at yael@watchdog.org and follow him @YaelOss.

Gov. Shumlin, Emergency Officials Ask FEMA for Public Assistance Related to Ice Storm

in News/Vermont

MONTPELIER – At the request of Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont emergency management officials today asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct a damage assessment in the Champlain Valley and northern Vermont counties impacted by the on-going ice storm. The state is applying in an attempt to secure federal public assistance to help cover the cost of cleanup and recovery from the storm.

“I am requesting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency join State and Local teams to conduct a Joint Preliminary Damage Assessment in the Counties of Caledonia, Chittenden, Essex, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille, and Orleans for Public Assistance,” wrote Joe Flynn, Director of the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security to FEMA’s Acting Regional Administrator Paul F. Ford.

Flynn noted that rain, freezing rain, snow, icing conditions, and near zero temperatures have impacted Vermont since Dec. 20, creating power outages affecting 22,000 households – about 75,000 Vermonters – at its peak. In addition, Flynn said, the fluctuations in icing conditions and the repeated need to clear and remove debris caused multiple outages for some customers.

“This has been a real challenge for the utility crews because icy tree branches continue to fall and knock out power lines, making it difficult for the lines crews to keep the power on,” said Gov. Shumlin. “It has also been a struggle for many Vermonters in these hard-hit areas, particularly in Franklin County and other northern Vermont communities, who are spending this holiday week without heat and electricity, often staying with friends and family.”

The Governor said the state would continue to push until power has been restored to every customer. Although the number of outages dipped to under 500 earlier today, snowfall-laden trees knocked out power to additional households, with an estimated 1,040 homes without electricity as of late afternoon. Crews continued to work throughout the region.

Flynn asked FEMA to send personnel beginning Jan. 2 to work with state and local teams to determine damage estimates. Depending upon final costs, Vermont could be eligible for federal assistance for some municipal and cooperative utility restoration costs, local debris clearance and removal costs, and other disaster caused infrastructure damage.

Vermont says ‘tis the season’ to hike texting fines

in Feature/Vermont

By Yaël Ossowski | Watchdog.org

As Old Man Winter swoops into Vermont, the state government wants to be sure drivers are paying attention.

“Our crews just completed a weekend marathon of plowing, and are now here preparing for the next storm to arrive,” announced Gov. Peter Shumlin at a press conference Tuesday. “And as hard as they work plowing snow, they also look for new ways to make roads safer.”

What Shumlin offered is an initiative that has very little to do with snow, but which will affect anyone driving on a Vermont road: stiffer penalties aimed at stopping distracted driving.

Starting Jan. 1, the use of a hand-held device, such as an MP3 player, GPS, or cell phone in a work zone will be banned outright and could carry a fine as high as $479 for the second offense, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

They’ll also up the penalty for anyone caught texting at the wheel, increasing from two to five points on a violator’s driver’s license, which would cause a steep increase in insurance rates.

“All the plowing and salting in the world won’t help us if people don’t slow down, put the phone down, put their hands on the wheel and focus on the road,” said Dave Blackmore, the transportation administrator for District 5 who spoke along with Shumlin.

Laws against distracted driving have been on the books in several states for many years, but their effect has proved murky once put under the microscope.

A 2012 study commissioned by the American Automobile Association and conducted at the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center found that use of electronic devices comprised only 6 percent of all distracted behavior at the wheel, far behind other behaviors such as communicating with passengers, eating and drinking or adjusting a vehicle’s controls.

Moreover, the researchers concluded that use of electronics was unlikely a leading cause of major accidents.

“Electronic device use and other distracted driver behaviors were strongly associated with looking away from the roadway, although electronic device use was only weakly related to serious incidents,” concluded the authors.

That’s a much softer assessment than the one offered by researchers who examined texting bans in several states throughout the nation.

“Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in a 2010 study. “In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted. It’s an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws.”

A 2011 white paper put together by the Vermont Legislative Research Service doubted the efficiency of laws banning phones at the wheel, and concluded that all major research has “yet to show that state bans on cell phone use have significantly decreased distracted driving and accidents.”

Vermont had 330 major accidents in 2012, according to the Department of Public Safety, and eight, or just 2 percent, were found to be caused by the use of electronics at the wheel.

While distracted driving remains an issue for auto safety, it has also become an important way for states to grab federal dollars.

Federal initiatives to combat distracted driving totaled $17.5 million in 2013, distributed mostly in the form of block grants to the states which “enact and enforce” the toughest laws restricting the use of electronic devices at the wheel, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Most of the money is designated for advertising the state’s distracted driving laws, including the use of social media and television spots.

Vermont didn’t receive any funding for 2013, but with its increased penalties for cell phone use at the wheel in work zones and texting while driving, it may be a prime candidate for 2014.

Yaël is a national reporter for Watchdog.org. Reach him by email at yael@watchdog.org and follow him @YaelOss.

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