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.


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.


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.


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.


Shopping for Signal with FirstNet

November 23, 2017

Earlier this week, a state panel voted to recommend to Gov. Phil Scott that Vermont opt into FirstNet, a federal system that would change the way first responders communicate.

With FirstNet, AT&T would expand Vermont's public safety telecommunications infrastructure under a contract with the state. Supporters say it could also bolster coverage for private citizens in the process. Skeptics note that there's been little transparency around what AT&T is actually offering.

If Vermont declines, federal law still mandates that the state enhance its system to FirstNet's specs. And while some grant money would be available, the risks and delays of shopping for another vendor make some officials wary.

As the governor considers the Public Safety Broadband Commission's recommendation, VTDigger's Dave Gram talks about what's at stake.


The Amazon Effect in Vermont

November 16, 2017

Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says that is more than a retail giant. The company now produces original TV shows, handles food delivery in cities, and even acts as a defense contractor, managing data storage for U.S. intelligence agencies.

Mitchell is the co-author of a report called "Amazon's Stranglehold: How the Company's Tightening Grip on the Economy Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities."

She says that as Amazon takes over more of the infrastructure powering its operation, its effect on American commerce both nationally and locally is increasingly stark. But few antitrust regulations seem to be curbing the company's expansion.

“We have to use our power as citizens to take away Amazon's power and to make it operate within a set of democratic values," she says, "as opposed to it deciding what the values are."

At a VTDigger event in Manchester earlier this week, Stacy Mitchell talked to Anne Galloway about how Vermont can manage the Amazon effect.


Burlington Telecom’s Fiber Fight

November 9, 2017

Earlier this week, the Burlington City Council asked the final two bidders for Burlington Telecom to combine their plans to take over the city's fiber network. 

Representatives for the for-profit company Ting and the co-op Keep BT Local say they will work on a joint proposal. But some city councilors and others remain skeptical that the bids can be combined.

The council twice failed to choose one bidder over the other at its meeting Monday night. Some councilors now speculate that previously rejected bids from two other companies could be put back on the table. And Burlington residents on both sides of the debate continue to voice their opinions. 

On this week's podcast, Burlington reporters Morgan True and Cory Dawson talk to VTDigger editor Mark Johnson about where the sale stands.


Nuclear Options at Vermont Yankee

November 2, 2017

One year ago, Entergy, the company that owns the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, announced a plan to sell the facility to NorthStar Group Services, a New York-based decommissioning company. Today, federal and state regulators are still reviewing the proposal.

Details about Entergy and NorthStar’s transition plan, which both companies say will lead to a faster cleanup, have been released in the meantime. But there are still major questions about Vermont Yankee’s future that haven’t been answered.

On this week's podcast, VTDigger's Mike Faher talks about where the sale stands and what’s at stake for the people involved.


The Nordic Way

October 27, 2017

When author Anu Partanen moved to the United States in 2008, she knew she would encounter some social policies that differed from those of her native Finland. But she didn't anticipate the anxiety that would come next.

"That was a surprise to me," she told Mark Johnson at a VTDigger News & Brews event. "I just started feeling like I can't handle anything: these mobile phone contracts, or credit card companies, or health insurance." Eventually, she realized, "everyone around me was anxious too."

Partanen's recent book, "The Nordic Theory of Everything," has some suggestions for how the U.S. might learn from countries like Finland. She acknowledges the argument that Nordic countries' expansive social services can make citizens "dependent" on their government. But, she argues, relying on government for certain services, like health care and higher education, actually frees citizens from the bureaucratic tasks that go along with them.

On this week's podcast, recorded live at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Partanen and Mark Johnson discuss her experience moving between two very different social systems.


From Needles to Naloxone

October 19, 2017

The spread of drugs like heroin and fentanyl throughout Vermont is an ongoing issue without an obvious solution. But the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, or Narcan, has been proven to save lives.

Since 2013, the Vermont Department of Health has distributed free naloxone to a variety of drug treatment facilities around the state. A recent VTDigger analysis found that the bulk of that supply went to syringe exchanges—nonprofit programs originally established to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Syringe exchanges are uniquely positioned to serve populations that are prone to accidental overdose. But they also face unique challenges.

On this week's podcast, Morgan True explains the role these small programs are playing in a broad crisis. Plus, Erin Mansfield describes what Health Department data does—and doesn't—tell us about this story.