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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Snail's Pace: Mail Delivery Lags in South Burlington Neighborhood

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 3:33 PM

The United States Postal Service carrier station on Pine Street. - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • The United States Postal Service carrier station on Pine Street.
Some days, the mail arrives in the 9 p.m. darkness at Pamela Hunt's house on Proctor Avenue in South Burlington. On some others, it arrives days late.

Important documents and checks have been lost or stuck in limbo. And Hunt says her efforts to get answers by contacting the U.S. Postal Service carrier station on Pine Street in Burlington have often been unproductive.

"I feel when you do call the post office, they don't seem to really care, and they don't seem to know what's going on, either," Hunt told Seven Days.

She's not alone. Hunt is among several people in the neighborhood just south of the Burlington line who have taken to Front Porch Forum to express frustration with erratic delivery.

"I've called Pine Street to complain and just get a song and dance. Something has to be done," another Proctor Avenue resident wrote on Front Porch Forum  February 16.

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Vermont House Votes to Override Minimum Wage Veto

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 12:48 PM

Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero)
Updated 3:52 p.m.

Vermont House lawmakers voted 100-49 Tuesday to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of a minimum wage increase, handing Democratic leaders a razor-thin and much-needed legislative win.

With the Senate voting last week to override the Republican governor’s veto, the bill now becomes law, having achieved the two-thirds necessary in the 150-member House. It will hike the current minimum wage of $10.96 per hour to $11.75 in 2021 and to $12.55 in 2022 before increases will again be tied to inflation.

“Today's vote reaffirms the legislature’s commitment to Vermont’s working families,” said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) in a statement. House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) shared that sentiment.

“This is a really good day for hardworking Vermonters who deserve and need a raise in their wages,” she said.

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Bernie Sanders
Sanders Planning Super Tuesday Rally in Vermont

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 11:49 AM

Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Champlain Valley Exposition on Super Tuesday in 2016. - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Champlain Valley Exposition on Super Tuesday in 2016.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is coming home for the biggest day yet in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sanders' campaign is planning a rally next Tuesday, March 3, at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, according to two town officials and a third source with direct knowledge of the plans. Campaign spokesperson Sarah Ford confirmed it.

The rally would come as results arrive from the 14 states that vote on Super Tuesday. With roughly a third of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention on the line, a solid showing by Sanders could solidify his grasp on the nomination.

Though the campaign has yet to formally announce the event, planning is well under way. Lt. Robert Kissinger of the Essex Police Department said his agency is in discussions with the Expo over logistics, though "nothing has been finalized." According to Town Clerk Susan McNamara-Hill, Halvorson's Upstreet Cafe has requested a liquor permit for a "Bernie Sanders rally" next Tuesday at the Expo.

During his 2016 presidential race, Sanders held a Super Tuesday rally at the same location. Some 4,000 people attended that event, which featured speeches from Vermont politicians and music from Ben Folds and local artists.

Sanders has held just one other public campaign event in Vermont since joining the 2020 race: a Memorial Day Weekend rally in Montpelier last May

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Monday, February 24, 2020

Cannabis Bill Headed for Vermont House Vote

Posted By on Mon, Feb 24, 2020 at 6:58 PM

  • Luke Eastman
The bill that would create a legal retail cannabis market in Vermont narrowly cleared its final House committee on Monday, paving the way for a long-anticipated vote on the floor later this week.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 6-5 in favor of advancing S.54 to the full House, where lawmakers expect to take up the measure Wednesday.

If it passes, it would then head to a conference committee, where House and Senate negotiating teams would seek to reconcile their versions of the bill, which offer different tax structures and competing philosophies on how much local control should be given to municipalities.

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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders Wins in Nevada

Posted By on Sat, Feb 22, 2020 at 8:54 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jane O'Meara Sanders - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jane O'Meara Sanders
Updated February 23 at 12:55 a.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, dominated the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

With 43 percent of precincts counted, Sanders was on track to win nearly 47 percent of the state’s county convention delegates — more than twice as many as his next closest rival, former vice president Joe Biden, who had 21 percent. Former mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., was trailing with 15 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 10 percent.

Speaking at a rally in San Antonio after the Associated Press called the race for him, Sanders hailed the “multigenerational, multiracial coalition” that led him to victory in Nevada and predicted it would “sweep the country.”

Indeed, entrance polls in Nevada — the first nominating contest with a sizable nonwhite population — showed him winning more than half of the state’s Latino vote, along with a plurality of the white vote. Every age group under 65 backed Sanders, including 65 percent of those age 17 to 29.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Bernie Sanders
Sanders Condemns Reported Russian Support for His Campaign

Posted By on Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 6:03 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Friday warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to "stay out of American elections" following a report that the Russian government was attempting to support his presidential campaign.

According to the Washington Post, U.S. officials have told Sanders that the Russians were seeking to bolster his campaign as part of a broader effort to interfere with the 2020 election. The story did not describe how the Russian government was doing so.

Calling Putin "an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia," Sanders said he stood "firmly against their efforts."

“I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president," he said in the written statement. "My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do."

During his 2016 presidential campaign, according to former special counsel Robert Mueller, the Russian government used social media to support Sanders and President Donald Trump. In Friday's statement, Sanders suggested that the Russians were using similar tactics in this election. "Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters," he said, echoing a similar sentiment he voiced at Wednesday's Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that intelligence officials had told members of the U.S. House that Russia was seeking to bolster Trump's reelection in part by meddling in the Democratic primary.

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Deal to Streamline Act 250 Collapses in House Committee

Posted By on Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 4:50 PM

Attorney Brooke Dingledine addressing the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • File: Kevin McCallum
  • Attorney Brooke Dingledine addressing the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee
A plan to streamline Act 250 review of development projects in Vermont fell apart Friday after lawmakers refused to fund a new statewide natural resources board to review major projects.

The powerful House Ways and Means Committee stripped from a bill proposed fee increases meant to pay an estimated $600,000 annually for a centralized, professional review board that would have taken over many responsibilities of volunteer local review panels.

“I don’t think the new professional board is a good idea,” said Janet Ancel (D-Calais), chair of the committee. “I think it's overly expensive, I think it will reduce access to the process, and I think it will result in more lawyering up.”

Even members of the House committee that voted last week in favor of the proposal seemed content to let it collapse.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t comfortable with the direction we were heading,” said Rep. Amy Sheldon (D-Middlebury), who chairs the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee.

Rep. Jim McCullough (D-Williston) said he was “thrilled” at the turn of events because he never liked the changes that "eviscerated the district commissions.”

Currently, review of development projects under Act 250, the state’s seminal land-use law, begins at one of nine district commissions, each of which is made up of three local volunteers. Their decisions can be appealed to the environmental division of the Superior Court and then to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Critics say the three-step process makes review of contested projects lengthy, expensive and unpredictable. Under the proposed process, major projects would have gone straight to the new state board. Appeals of its decisions would have headed directly to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Establishing a five-member professional board was part of a delicate compromise struck before the legislative session by administration officials and the Vermont Natural Resources Council. The House Natural Resources Committee made changes to preserve some degree of local control, but several members, in response to testimony from citizens, fretted over the bill.

"We heard compelling testimony from citizen after citizen after citizen after citizen — 'Do not do this new board. It takes away the heart of Act 250,'" McCullough said. 

Peter Walke, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said he was disappointed that the compromise fell apart.

“To remove a major piece of that balanced agreement is going to make it almost impossible for the administration to support,” Walke said.

The administration had hoped to streamline the law to exempt proposed downtown projects that already face significant regulations. It didn’t support the fee increases, he said.

Brian Shupe, executive director of the VNRC, said Act 250 needs not only updates to environmental criteria, such as requirements protecting forests and addressing climate change, but also to how it is administered.

“We’re disappointed that this does nothing to change the structural deficiencies in the program,” Shupe said.

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Winooski Cop Denies a Slew of Domestic Violence Charges

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 9:09 PM

Winooski detective Christopher Matott, right, and attorney Robert Katims, left, in Grand Isle County Courthouse on Feb. 20 - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Winooski detective Christopher Matott, right, and attorney Robert Katims, left, in Grand Isle County Courthouse on Feb. 20
Updated on February 21, 2020.

A Winooski police officer pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he strangled, assaulted and repeatedly threatened his girlfriend.

Christopher Matott, 31, faces seven charges, including two felonies for aggravated domestic assault and unlawful restraint. Other charges include three counts of domestic assault and two counts of criminal threatening.

Matott did not speak during his brief arraignment in Vermont Superior Court in North Hero. Attorney Robert Katims entered pleas on his behalf and told Judge Samuel Hoar that his client had entered counseling.

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Vermont House Approves a Key Climate Bill

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 8:13 PM

Thomas Ely, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, speaking in support of the Global Warming Solutions Act - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Thomas Ely, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, speaking in support of the Global Warming Solutions Act
A sweeping climate change bill meant to force Vermont to hit its ambitious emission-reduction targets or else face lawsuits from citizens won preliminary approval in the House by a wide margin Thursday.

Legislators favored the Global Warming Solutions Act by a vote of 105 to 37 — a strong showing for a bill that Republican Gov. Phil Scott has warned would put the state in unnecessary legal jeopardy.

Supporters praised H.688 as leverage to ensure that the state meets emission-reduction targets that it has missed for years.

“(The bill) creates a strong and effective path to cut pollution and will increase climate resilience for all of our communities,” said Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington).

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Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders Said 'Thousands' of Vermonters Own Summer Homes. Do They?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 6:47 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking outside his Burlington home in August 2016 - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking outside his Burlington home in August 2016
Updated February 21, 2020.

In defending his ownership of three homes during Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) listed each and the justification for buying it.

One is in Washington, D.C., where he works much of the year. A second is in Burlington, where he served nearly a decade as mayor.

“And like thousands of other Vermonters, I do have a summer camp,” Sanders said, referring to the $575,000 lakefront home in North Hero he purchased in 2016. “Forgive me for that.”

So is Sanders right? Do thousands of Vermonters own summer camps?

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