Burlington Candidates in Conversation

February 16, 2018

Livability issues dominated Thursday night's mayoral candidate forum in Burlington. As Mayor Miro Weinberger highlighted his administration's accomplishments in housing and infrastructure development over the past six years, independent candidates Carina Driscoll and Infinite Culcleasure suggested that the mayor runs the city too much like a business.

VTDigger's Burlington reporter Cory Dawson says that after weeks of campaigning, the candidates have settled into a rhythm. And while Thursday's event didn't hold many surprises, it clarified the distinctions that voters will take into account at the ballot box in less than three weeks.

On this week's podcast, hear highlights from the forum, reactions from the candidates and analysis from Cory Dawson.

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Vermonters Take Pyeongchang

February 8, 2018

Starting this week, about 30 athletes with Vermont ties are competing for Team USA in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

VTDigger's Kevin O'Connor has been checking in with Olympic coaches, sportswriters, athletes and their families. On this week's podcast, he talks about what to watch for in this year's games.

Hopefuls range from veteran snowboarder Kelly Clark to newcomer Caroline Claire, a skier who's also a high school senior. Five competitors come from families with multiple generations of Vermont Olympians.

Plus, Kevin talks about other Vermonters who have a role in this year's games: gold medalist-turned-snowboard coach Ross Powers, Rutland-based Team USA sportswriter Peggy Shinn, and the parents that cheer on their Olympians from back home.

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Grappling with Gun Rights

February 2, 2018

Three bills under consideration in the Legislature have reopened the longstanding debate over gun rights in Vermont. At a crowded public hearing Tuesday, dozens of Vermonters testified about why they thought new gun safety measures should — or shouldn't — advance.

Members of gun owners groups argued that these bills would do nothing to make the state safer, and warned that minor restrictions on gun rights could lead to more drastic bills in the future. 

Supporters of the legislation shared specific stories of domestic violence that they said could have been prevented if the abusers had less access to firearms.

The future of the bills remains unclear. But activists on both sides are taking the opportunity to make their voices heard. 

On this week's podcast, Sen. Phil Baruth, who sponsored a bill mandating universal background checks on gun sales, talks about how he's seen the gun debate evolve. Plus, Clai Lasher-Sommers, the head of GunSense Vermont, and Ed Cutler, the president of Gun Owners of Vermont, discuss their paths to advocacy around gun legislation.

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A “Caretaker” Budget

January 26, 2018

On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott laid out his funding priorities in a 40-minute speech to the Legislature. Scott's 2019 budget maintains his pledge to avoid increasing taxes and fees, and offers only modest proposals for new spending. Or, as Finance Commissioner Adam Greshin put it in a press briefing that same day, "There are no bells and there are no whistles in this budget."

Democratic legislators, who responded to the speech Tuesday afternoon, said the governor's proposal lacked specifics and failed to recommend a specific way to deal with education costs.

VTDigger's political columnist Jon Margolis says Scott's proposal mainly builds on policies laid out in previous years. "It was kind of a caretaker budget," he says, "and so far this has been a kind of a caretaker administration."

On this week's podcast, Margolis breaks down the budget address.

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Scott’s Prison Plan

January 19, 2018

This week, the Agency of Human Services announced a plan to build a $150 million prison complex in northwestern Vermont. The project is part of a broader proposal to restructure several correctional and mental health facilities around the state.

Critics say the new plan opens a door for disreputable private prison companies to do business with the state. CoreCivic, whose operations in other states have been widely criticized, is already lobbying to be involved.

But the potential for private financing is just one possible element of a long-term plan that could affect anyone involved with Vermont's criminal justice and mental health treatment systems. On this week's podcast, AHS Secretary Al Gobeille talks about why the agency took its big-picture approach. Plus, Tom Dalton and Ed Paquin, both advocates for people inside the state's prison and mental health systems, give their perspectives on the ten-year plan.

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The Path to Legalization

January 12, 2018

This week, a bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana cleared the Vermont Senate. Gov. Phil Scott has indicated that he'll sign it into law, which would make Vermont the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through legislation rather than by voter initiative.

Lawmakers took up H.511 on the first day of the 2018 session. But the bill's path to the governor's desk has been a long one.

A proposal to create a taxed and regulated retail marijuana market stalled in the last session, resulting in the compromise bill to legalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. But the session ended before that bill would see a final vote.

Over the past two weeks, familiar debates on the merits of legalization have resurfaced. Now, questions remain about whether the newly passed legislation will be the first step towards a legalized retail market — or whether the state's loosening of marijuana laws ends here.

On this week's podcast, VTDigger's Alan Keays talks about the path to legalization in Vermont.

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Striking the Gavel on 2018

January 5, 2018

The first two days of the 2018 legislative session saw lawmakers getting quickly back to work. Contentious legislation to legalize marijuana passed in the House, while legislative leaders and the governor laid out their priorities for the coming months.

Gov. Phil Scott, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate leader Tim Ashe all share concerns about residents who have trouble keeping up with the cost of living in Vermont. But in comments this week, their views on affordability diverged.

Speaker Johnson's remarks focused on the challenges Vermonters face, including the threat of climate change and deepening income inequality. Ashe, along with Progressive party leaders, continued to advocate for an increased minimum wage to boost incomes.

In contrast, Scott's State of the State address maintained the governor's calls for lawmakers to rein in spending and hold off on increasing any taxes or fees, leaving open the question of how the state will cover a projected gap in the education fund.

On this week's podcast, VTDigger's Anne Galloway recaps the rhetoric of the session's opening week.

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Legislative Leaders Look Ahead

December 15, 2017

Vermont's legislative leaders previewed their priorities for 2018 in a press conference this week. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe plan to advance legislation on a range of issues, including clean water, mental health and a $15 minimum wage. 

With Gov. Phil Scott's administration maintaining a push for level-funded budgets, debates loom over how to pay for new proposals. Uncertainty from the federal government threatens to complicate certain processes. And rising national vigilance about workplace sexual harassment is already forcing internal Statehouse policies into the public conversation.

On this week's podcast, Anne Galloway and Mark Johnson talk about what Vermont's Democratic leaders are saying about these issues, and what to expect in Montpelier next year. This is our last episode in 2017—we'll pick back up at the Statehouse in January.

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Who Pays for Clean Water?

December 8, 2017

On Thursday, a VTDigger panel discussion tackled the debate around how to clean up waterways across Vermont. Toxic algae blooms led to closed beaches on Lake Champlain this summer, and other bodies of water, like Lake Carmi and St. Albans Bay, have suffered the effects of phosphorous pollution.

Environmental officials and conservationists have posed solutions, but the question remains: who pays?

David Mears, from the Vermont Law School, argues that a dedicated, long-term source of state funding would be the most reliable way to fund cleanup efforts. Julie Moore, Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said that identifying the actual steps to mitigating pollution goes beyond the question of how to pay. And Chris Kilian, from the Conservation Law Foundation, said the solutions already exist — but the state has been to slow to implement them or enforce current regulations. 

Hear highlights from Thursday's discussion, moderated by Anne Galloway, on this week's podcast. Read our event recap, or watch the full video on Facebook.

Production help by RETN.

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O’Keefe, Murray and the Mood in Middlebury

December 1, 2017

On Thursday night, the conservative activist James O’Keefe gave a talk in Middlebury promoting his undercover video operation Project Veritas. 

O'Keefe's hidden camera recordings targeting journalists, politicians and social groups have been roundly criticized, and this event took place three days after a high-profile Washington Post expose revealed a hoax Project Veritas had been planning to discredit the newspaper.

Thursday's event had been promoted under the name “Middlebury’s Problem with Free Speech,” suggesting a connection to an incident earlier this year when a talk by author Charles Murray at Middlebury College was interrupted by protesters.

That incident was barely mentioned at Thursday's event, but Middlebury College students say it's still a major topic of conversation on campus. And while the national response to Murray's encounter with college protestors revolved around free speech, the student body's focus has returned to race relations.

On this week's podcast, VTDigger's Cory Dawson talks to Elaine Velie and Nick Garber, student reporters at the Middlebury Campus newspaper, about O'Keefe, Murray and the current mood on campus.

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