2017 Legislature has a new fan

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copyright the Chronicle May 10, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

EAST ALBANY — Many people complain about state regulations, but few are willing to take the time and trouble to go about changing them. Bill Pearce, the proprietor of Pearce’s Pastured Poultry has been raising, slaughtering, and selling chickens from his farm in East Albany for the past seven years.

State law allows growers to sell up to 1,000 birds to end users from their farm, without state inspection. Mr. Pearce recently sold part of his business to Hannah Pearce, one of his daughters, and realized that the two could not make ends meet if they could only sell 1,000 chickens.

“You can’t support yourself on that few birds,” he said.

Mr. Pearce said he has no problem with regulations about how birds are slaughtered, but having to pay for state inspectors would raise the price of his birds a dollar or more a pound.

He said he takes great pride in producing a clean bird, and sends a sample chicken from each batch he processes to the same lab the state uses to test poultry for e coli bacteria.

“We’ve really learned a lot by doing that,” Mr. Pearce said. The state has three categories for processed chicken, based on the amount of bacteria discovered by the lab. Acceptable means there is a minimal amount of e coli on the chicken, a somewhat higher amount garners a rating of marginal, unacceptable is the label for contaminated chickens.

“We were all over the place

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Local senators muse over legislative session

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copyright the Chronicle March 22, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

Due to concerns about federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration, Vermont’s Legislature may adjourn early this year and go back to Montpelier in October.

“Trump’s been talking about cutting a lot of stuff,” Senator Bobby Starr of North Troy said. “It may make more sense to draw up a temporary budget and reconvene when we have some real numbers.”

Senator Starr agrees with colleagues in the Legislature who are saying that it would make more sense to finish the budget in October than to function without a finished budget until next year.

“We’ve been taking testimony on the 2018 budget,” Mr. Starr said. “Where we’re going to run into trouble is not knowing what’s going to happen in Washington.”

In addition to being chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Mr. Starr sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Word is going out that the legislators should be making plans to be back here in the fall,” he said.

Meanwhile, he’s keeping busy in Montpelier, as is the region’s other Senator, John Rodgers of Glover.

“There’s always plenty to do here,” Mr. Rodgers said.

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Governor’s race: County lawmakers lean toward Milne

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Scott Milne.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Scott Milne. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle November 12, 2014

by Tena Starr

If Orleans County’s legislative delegation had its way, Scott Milne would be Vermont’s next governor.

That’s not a surprising decision for the Republicans who represent the county, but as of this week only one of the three Democrats was willing to unequivocally say that he’ll follow tradition and support the candidate who won the popular vote.

Representative Sam Young of Glover said he will vote for Governor Shumlin.

“I think it’s generally a bad precedent if the Legislature starts electing people who didn’t win,” Mr. Young said.

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Lyme disease victims seek more options

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This is a tick that Graci Rudolph found on her skin recently.  She saved it to be tested for Lyme disease.  She was bitten by a tick three years ago and got Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

This is a tick that Graci Rudolph found on her skin recently. She saved it to be tested for Lyme disease. She was bitten by a tick three years ago and got Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle July 2, 2014  

by Bethany M. Dunbar

HOLLAND — Graci Rudolph was the director of an active nonprofit organization in New York, working long days. It was work she thrived on and a cause she believed in. She did public speaking and fund-raising, including television appearances.

Then one day — three years ago — she got bitten by a little insect, a tick, and got Lyme disease. Soon she could not sleep, her body became wracked with the most intense pain she has ever felt, she lost her physical balance and her ability to think clearly, or sometimes even get out of bed.

She wanted to die and says she can understand some Lyme disease patients’ impulse to commit suicide.

Ms. Rudolph, who now lives in Holland, is one of a sharply increasing number of people in Vermont who have contracted Lyme disease. According to the Vermont Department of Health, there were 37 cases in Vermont in 2002, and 623 in 2011. Most of the cases have been in the southern part of the state, but cases have been reported in every county except for Essex.

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Minimum wage hike will have ripple effect

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min wage webcopyright the Chronicle June 11, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

Local employers say a rise in pay for those at the bottom of the ladder is sure to increase salaries for those on the higher rungs.

That will be good news for many workers, they say, but could come at the cost of increased prices for goods and services.

Vermont’s minimum wage will rise on New Year’s Day 2015 and on each January 1 until 2018. The Vermont Legislature voted to increase it from the present level of $8.73 an hour to $10.50 in four annual jumps.

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GMO bill splits local legislators by party

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Wheat at Butterworks Farm in Westfield is grown organically, with no genetic modifications.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Wheat at Butterworks Farm in Westfield is grown organically, with no genetic modifications. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle May 21, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

Orleans County farmers and consumers won’t be immediately affected by Vermont’s first-in-the-nation passage of legislation requiring labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients.

The legislation allows two years for the rulemaking process, and potential challenges are brewing in the courts and in Congress in the meantime.

“I’m really proud of Vermont as a state,” said Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm in Westfield, a leader in the organic farming movement. He said he has always thought those who like genetically modified organisms (GMOs) ought to be happy to include them on their labels.

“Well, if it’s that safe, label it and be proud of it,” he said.

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Kilmartin won’t seek re-election

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Duncan Kilmartin.

Duncan Kilmartin.

copyright the Chronicle May 14, 2014

by Paul Lefebvre

Duncan Kilmartin will not seek re-election to the Vermont House.

In a farewell address to members of the House last week, Mr. Kilmartin did not explain his decision to step down, preferring instead to thank legislators for their prayers and thoughts for his wife, Gail, who is known to be ill.

Mr. Kilmartin, a Newport attorney, was known for his biting wit and his elocution skills.

“He was never at a loss for words,” recalled his friend and running mate, Michael Marcotte of Coventry.

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The Legislature this week: House raises minimum wage to $10.10

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David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House in March, in support of raising the minimum wage.  “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang.  Photo by Paul Lefebvre

David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House in March, in support of raising the minimum wage. “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle April 9, 2014

by Paul Lefebvre

MONTPELIER — Vermont is going to increase its hourly minimum wage.

Vermont legislators generally agreed that it was the right and ethical thing to do.

But when, and by how much, is still hanging in the air.

Under a House bill that won preliminary approval Tuesday, next year on January 1, 2015, a minimum wage worker could see his or her weekly pay check jump by roughly $40.

That’s the result of an increase in the minimum wage going from $8.73 to $10.10 an hour.

“Forty dollars in your pocket is not a theory,” said Representative Tom Stevens of Waterbury, speaking in the urgent tone of legislators who wanted to make a change.

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In the Legislature: Local control in wind siting unlikely

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David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House last Thursday in support of raising the minimum wage.  “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang.  Photo by Paul Lefebvre

David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House last Thursday in support of raising the minimum wage. “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle March 26, 2014

by Paul Lefebvre

MONTPELIER — Regional and local planners are expected to be the big losers in a bill to open up the siting process for ridgeline industrial wind projects.

Scheduled to appear on the Senate floor, the bill was rerouted to the Senate Committee on Appropriations Tuesday as negotiations continued behind the scenes to strike a compromise and keep it alive.

“Unfortunately, regional planning is one of those things we’re probably not going to wind up with,” said Senator John Rodgers of Glover during a telephone interview Tuesday.

One of the stated purposes of the bill was “to strengthen the role of planning commissions and local selectboard and planning commissions in the siting review process for energy facilities by giving greater weight to their recommendations and plans.”

But at the end of the day, that’s not likely what’s going to happen.

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Advocates say Reach Up works and should not be cut

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SONY DSC

Kate Kanelstein, in the second row at left, testified against imposing a three-year cutoff in the Reach Up program Monday at a Vermont Interactive Television hearing on the state budget. Beside her is Cindy Perron of Barton, who testified on health care. In the foreground at right, George Frisbee, commander of the Jay Peak Post of the American Legion, testifies against a proposed tax on break open tickets. Beside him is Harvey Robitaille, past commander of Legion Post 21 in Newport. Legion members attended the hearings at sites across the state to argue that the tax would cripple the charitable programs the Legion supports in Vermont. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle 2-13-13

NEWPORT — Kate Kanelstein of the Vermont Workers Center was a bit apologetic when she sat in front of the camera during a statewide budget hearing Monday afternoon.

She had planned to bring several women who face the loss of their Reach Up benefits under the cutoff proposed by Governor Peter Shumlin.

But none of them could make it, she told the members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees who convened the hearing.

The women had encountered problems with child care, car troubles, sick family members, and one of them was in labor, Ms. Kanelstein said.

She used her few minutes on Vermont Interactive Television to read a statement from Reach Up participant Jess Ray of West Charleston.

But the explanations she offered the committee might serve as a quick summary of the problems that keep Reach Up participants, typically single mothers, out of the labor force.

Ms. Ray, for example, wrote that she is a mother of two, living with a boyfriend.  “Combined, we get $770 each month.  Our rent is $550 so after paying bills I usually end up with like $20 for everything else.  I love to sew and want to be a seamstress, but I would do pretty much anything if I could get a job.”

Ms. Ray went on the say that the arrival of her first child ended her career at a Barton nursing home five years ago.  “I went on Reach Up for the first time because I didn’t get any maternity leave with my job.”

They left Reach Up when her boyfriend got a job, but returned in less than a year because the company went bankrupt, she wrote.

“Then we got off again when I got a job at Thibault’s Market in Orleans but our car wasn’t inspectable and we didn’t have the money for the repairs so after about three months I couldn’t get there and lost that job, too.  As you can see we live on the edge and it’s really hard to get stable….  Living in West Charleston without transportation makes it incredibly difficult.”

“I also want to understand what you are basing these budget decisions on,” Ms. Ray told the legislators.  “Do you look at the real life situations of people in our communities?  I think that is where we should start.”

The decision in question is whether the Legislature should follow the Governor’s wishes and, on October 1, cut off all families who have been in the Reach Up program for three years.

According to Chris Curtis, a staff attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, 1,188 families would lose their benefits in October, of a total of about 6,400 families on the program.

Of that total, as of September last year, 315 families with 775 family members are in the Newport district of the Department of Children and Families, which oversees Reach Up.  Their benefits that month totaled $147,764, or about $470 a family.

The average Reach Up participant wouldn’t be affected by a three-year cutoff.  According to a state report, “the average amount of time that an individual in Reach Up receives case management services is approximately 24 months.”

But people who know the program in Newport are worried about the impact a cutoff would have.

“My biggest fear is the children,” said Mary Hamel, who runs a job site for Reach Up participants as associate director of employment and training for NECKA.

“Reach up is for families,” Ms. Hamel said.  “Cutting them off is taking away their rent money — the roof over a child’s head.  That concerns me.”

It concerns Mr. Curtis too.  People forced out of Reach Up may end up in the state’s emergency shelter program, he said, and that is already “an exploding part of state government.  What happens if you add another 1,200 families, just as the winter season arrives?”

Other branches of state government, including the Department of Corrections, may face a “ripple effect” from the Reach Up cuts, Mr. Curtis fears.  “Are we really saving any money here?”

His estimate is that the cuts will save Reach Up about $6-million.  “That’s huge to the families,” he said, “but to the General Fund it’s a relatively small amount.”

Mr. Curtis argues that the statistics show Reach Up works for most of the people who are forced to use it.  “The state of Vermont has invested a lot of resources into making this bridge out of poverty,” he argued.  “Why would we blow up that bridge?”

Since she set up a Reach Up work site for NECKA in 2008, Ms. Hamel said, “we have seen many success stories.”

NECKA provides jobs for 15 to 30 Reach Up participants, Ms. Hamel said.  Some work at the Parent Child Center in Newport, as a receptionist or a maintenance worker.  Others work at the cash register or keeping track of the inventory at NEKCA’s thrift store in Newport.

Reach Up has other partners who provide jobs in schools, municipalities and with nonprofit organizations.

The jobs go to Reach Up participants who can’t find work.  They pay nothing (outside of Reach Up benefit payments) but aim to help the participants learn job skills.

Younger Reach Up participants fulfill their job requirement by going to school.

The Governor’s proposal would permit families to take advantage of the full five years of benefits supported by federal block grants.  But there would be interruptions.  After three years, participants would be on their own for a year.  Then they could sign up for another year, be left on their own for a year, and come back to the program for a fifth and final year.

Efforts to reach Paul Dragon, director of the Reach Up program, were unsuccessful.  In his budget address to the Legislature, Governor Shumlin said “there is no better social program than a good paying job.  We will not allow vulnerable Vermonters, such as those who are disabled, to fall through the cracks, but we will ask those who can work to get the training and support they need and get a job.”

If the cutoff becomes law, Ms. Hamel said, “it will cause more homelessness, more hunger, more stress.

“I just don’t think it’s a great idea.  Maybe it’s a good idea to have a conversation about it, but I think it’s a bad thing to take the Governor’s plan seriously.”

contact Chris Braithwaite at [email protected]

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