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Scott’s Prison Plan

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...

Duration: 00:22:58

The Path to Legalization

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...

Duration: 00:15:28

Striking the Gavel on 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...

Duration: 00:17:10

See You at the Statehouse

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...

Duration: 00:20:05

Who Pays for Clean Water?

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...

Duration: 00:30:48

O’Keefe, Murray and the mood in Middlebury

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 [...]

Duration: 00:12:07

Shopping for Signal with FirstNet

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...

Duration: 00:16:04

The Amazon Effect in Vermont

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...

Duration: 00:24:05

Burlington Telecom’s Fiber Fight

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...

Duration: 00:18:25

Nuclear Options at Vermont Yankee

One year ago, Entergy, the company that owns the defunct Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, announced a deal to sell the facility to NorthStar Group Services, a New York-based decommissioning company. One year later, federal and state regulators are still reviewing the proposal. In that time, we’ve learned more about Entergy and NorthStar’s transition plan, which both companies say will lead to a faster cleanup. But there are still major questions about Vermont Yankee’s future that haven’t...

Duration: 00:18:38

The Nordic Way

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...

Duration: 00:28:24

From Needles to Narcan

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...

Duration: 00:20:19

A “New Ruralism” for Vermont

Jon Margolis has written columns for VTDigger since 2010. This week, his piece on a national economic survey showing the relative strength of metropolitan areas compared to rural ones raised broad questions about the future of Vermont’s economy. “Metropolitan areas grow organically,” Margolis says. Vermont is unlikely to build new ones from scratch. So how can a predominantly rural state chart a long-term path? On this week’s podcast, Margolis discusses some suggestions he’s heard from...

Duration: 00:20:50

Clocking the Congressional Calendar

Last Saturday marked the end of the federal fiscal year. Leading up to September 30, members of Congress worked to meet deadlines on multiple authorizations that fund government programs across the country. In Vermont, decisions on the children’s health insurance program and the Federal Aviation Administration carry major impacts on state services. Meanwhile, debates about health care and tax reform indicate the Republican-led Congress’s ongoing priorities. On this week’s podcast,...

Duration: 00:19:08

Pollution Politics on Lake Champlain

Dozens of beaches up and down Lake Champlain were on high alert this week due to toxic algae blooms. In Franklin County, similar cyanobacteria has kept Lake Carmi closed for over four weeks. Both sites have seen this problem before. Excess phosphorous from farms, roads and parking lots has caused algae blooms in waters across Vermont for decades. While multiple governors have worked to address the pollution, including passing legislation to strengthen water quality regulations, no...

Duration: 00:20:16

A Hard Bargain in Burlington Schools

This week, a teacher strike that kept thousands of Burlington students out of school for four days came to an end. Both the teachers union and the school board have expressed relief that they were able to arrive at an agreement. VTDigger’s Morgan True discusses the consequences of the strike, and recaps how negotiations finally led to a deal. Plus, two lawmakers worry that this dispute could be a sign of what’s to come in school districts across the state. That’s why they plan to...

Duration: 00:20:51

Better Living through Poetry

[caption id=”attachment_206621″ align=”aligncenter” width=”610″] Participants respond to a writing prompt in a Writers for Recovery workshop in St. Johnsbury. Photo courtesy Bess O’Brien[/caption] When Bess O’Brien organized a writing workshop in 2014 for people recovering from addiction, she was mainly hoping to continue gathering stories from the St. Albans community she spotlighted in her 2013 documentary film, The Hungry Heart. But over the past three years, she and writer Gary Miller...

Duration: 00:20:57

Kaj Samson Talks Use Tax

Earlier this week, VTDigger reported that Vermont’s tax department was sending about 20,000 letters to Vermonters notifying them that they may owe use tax, an often-ignored tax on some out-of-state or online purchases. Kaj Samsom, Vermont’s tax commissioner, said that fewer than a quarter of residents pay the use tax they legally owe the state. That’s why his department is setting out to “change the culture” around the tax. Readers quickly responded with a range of questions: When is...

Duration: 00:22:17

The Week in EB-5

Since 2014, VTDigger has investigated allegations of fraud at Jay Peak Resort and related developments in the Northeast Kingdom. This week, we reported on two new steps towards the resolution of this case. On Monday, Governor Phil Scott announced that US Citizenship and Immigration Services intended to shut down Vermont’s EB-5 regional center, which was charged with overseeing the developments. On Tuesday, we found out that Ariel Quiros had agreed to drop his challenge to the fraud...

Duration: 00:29:08

The Rescission Makers

For the past several fiscal years, Vermont has seen a series of revenue downgrades: Economists project a shortfall, and the governor proposes mid-year budget cuts to make up for it. For the current fiscal year, lawmakers approved $12.6 million in rescissions to counter a $28.8 million revenue downgrade projected in July. On this week’s podcast, reporter Elizabeth Hewitt talks about how the Scott administration identified ways to resolve this year’s budget gap. Plus, editor Anne Galloway...

Duration: 00:22:28

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