Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on Aug. 31, 2016. Photo by Kelsey Neubauer for the Vermont Cynic.
Third-party presidential candidate Gary Johnson brought his campaign to Ver- mont last week.
Johnson, a Libertarian, spoke to a large crowd at the Sheraton Hotel in South Burl- ington Aug. 24 and presented himself as the viable middle ground in the upcoming presi- dential election.
“Our platform is social toler- ance and fiscal responsibility,” he said, before moving on to his thoughts on education, the na- tional debt and state of the jus- tice system.
Johnson said the way the national debt is growing desta- bilizes the economy. If elect- ed president, Johnson said he would impose a flat tax and do away with corporate and income taxes.
He believes that the high rates of incarceration in the criminal justice system is a product of the government criminalizing too many activi- ties that label a minor offender a lifelong criminal, he said. For this reason, he said he believes marijuana should be legalized.
Johnson said he would en- act comprehensive immigration reform, ensure that women had the right to healthcare and abor- tions if they choose.
He told the audience he un- derstands both fiscal responsi- bility and social inclusivity.
Johnson also said his presidential platform rests on his ability to reach voters in both parties.
At least a dozen UVM stu- dents attended the event.
Though he doesn’t see him- self as a Republican, first-year John Cialek said he supported libertarian-leaning Rand Paul in the GOP primary.
Cialek said he was happy with many of the topics and solutions Johnson addressed. “A lot of what he was saying really resonated with me,” he
Former Massachusetts Gov.Bill Weld, Johnson’s running mate, said this election is different because of party polarization.
Johnson differs from Clinton and Trump because he is able to compromise and put forth ideas that are appealing and beneficial to both parties, Weld said.
Johnson reiterated that he needed the opportunity to de- bate in order to have a shot at the presidency.
“If you get 15 percent in five major polls, you are in the debates,” Weld said.
Those are the rules accord- ing to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which organizes each event, according to their website.
However, Johnson is polling below 15 percent in all of those five polls, averaging 10 percent, effectively disqualifying him for the time being.
The Commission will make their final calculations before the first debate Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York.
Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 8, 2016.
BURLINGTON — A new law signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday limits the amount of opiates that can be prescribed for minor procedures.
Prescription painkillers can trigger long-term dependency, and the governor and lawmakers hope the new law will prevent patients from becoming addicted.
Harry Chen, the commissioner of Department of Health, said the number of pills that can be prescribed under the new law will be determined through the rule-making process and will involve discussions with providers and pharmacists.
The law also mandates education for providers and patients on how to safely use and dispose of opioid prescriptions.
Shumlin says he hopes that regulating prescribed doses of painkillers will prevent patients from becoming addicted. Nationwide, opioids such as OxyContin are being prescribed at extremely high rates, the governor said.
OxyContin was first marketed as a groundbreaking painkiller that was not addictive even though there was scientific evidence that patients could get hooked on the drug, Shumlin said.
In 2007, Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin pleaded guilty to charges of misleading consumers about the effects of the drug.
Since then, 165,000 Americans have died from opioid addiction, Shumlin said.
“People are pulling on [my] shirt sleeve or jacket sleeve with tears in their eyes saying I lost my son to FDA approved painkillers,” he said.
Addicts have told Shumlin that they began using heroin after prescription opioids became unavailable. The regulation of pharmaceutical opiates, he says, will help to break the dependency that leads to heroin use and addiction.
Many members of the medical community oppose the new law. Doctors say the government should not be involved in the practice of medicine.
But Chen, a former emergency room physician, said there are inconsistencies in the way opioids are prescribed that must be addressed.
He pointed out that some providers write prescriptions for four pills, while others give 50 pills for pain after the same surgery.
Shumlin said while the state is committed to making painkillers accessible to patients who are in chronic pain, the number of prescriptions issued to chronic pain sufferers exceeds the number of prescriptions handed out.
The law also classifies pharmacists as healthcare providers, a change that many pharmacists and Vermont pharmacy students lobbied for at the Statehouse for earlier this year. The change allows pharmacists to charge for consultations with patients, according to James Marmar, Executive Director of Vermont Pharmacist Sponsors.
Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger by June 7, 2016.
WINOOSKI — One candidate for governor is proposing free college tuition for some Vermonters.
Sue Minter, a Democratic candidate for governor, says her initiative, “Vermont Promise,” would give Vermont high school students the opportunity to attend the Community College of Vermont or Vermont Technical College for free for the first two years. After that, students would be able to continue their schooling for half the current cost of tuition.
Minter made the campaign announcement Tuesday at a press conference at the Community College of Vermont headquarters in Winooski.
The former secretary of VTrans said her goal is to increase the percentage of Vermont high school students who attend post-secondary programs. Currently, 60 percent of graduates go on to pursue some kind of college degree; Minter hopes to boost that number to 75 percent.
Vermont Promise is “a last dollar” plan. That means the state will cover tuition costs that are not paid for by grants or scholarships, Minter’s campaign manager Molly Ritner said.
In order to qualify, candidates must have graduated from high school within a year of applying with a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Each qualifying student must also work with a volunteer mentor who will help students navigate the process of applying to schools and filing for financial aid.
The plan will cost $6 million in the first year and $12 million annually after that. Vermont Promise would be funded by an increase in the bank franchise fee and would impose a new corporate income tax on the state’s largest banks. Minter says the biggest banks in New Hampshire and New York pay a corporate income tax, while those in Vermont do not.
“In my plan, banks pay their fair share, and students get their fair shake,” she said.
Vermont is in the top five states for rates of high school graduation, but has one of the lowest rates of continuation to post-secondary institutions, Minter said.
High school graduates who don’t go on to college have fewer opportunities in the job market, Minter says.
The lifetime earnings of workers who hold bachelor’s degrees earn $625,000 more over their lifetimes than their peers who don’t attend college.
Vermont Promise will also help small businesses find qualified workers, Minter said.
Minter’s plan is modeled after a Tennessee program that is funded through an endowment.
Former Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Tim Donovan, who was in attendance, said that Minter is the first of the gubernatorial candidates to make access to higher education a centerpiece of the 2016 campaign.
Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger.org on June 3, 2016.
BURLINGTON — The mayor and a city councilor are pushing a change in the city charter that would relax Burlington’s residency requirement for department heads.
A resolution sponsored Mayor Miro Weinberger and City Councilor Joan Shannon, D-Southern District, would require that department heads own a home in Chittenden County, but would not require residency in Burlington.
It would also give the mayor a vote on whether to grant hardship exemptions for their appointees.
At their meeting Thursday, the Charter Change Committee punted on the resolution, saying they needed more time to debate the change before a vote. The measure will be discussed again the committee’s next meeting on June 22.
The Burlington charter now states that department heads must be registered to vote in Burlington. Department heads are given a year courtesy period, after which the city council can grant them a hardship exemption to live outside the city.
The idea is that if a qualified candidate has a home nearby, then they should not have to uproot their lives in order to serve, Shannon said.
The resolution comes out of inconsistent decisions about residency in the past, she said.
The debate cropped up again last month, when councilors voted to confirm Noelle MacKay, Weinberger’s pick to lead the Community and Economic Development Office, and granted her a hardship exemption to remain in her Shelburne home.
Shannon said she believes it is better to have a clear policy in place, “rather than a whim of the council on any given day.”
Max Tracy, P-Ward 2, who voted against MacKay’s nomination and against granting her a hardship exemption, said he disagrees with Shannon. If someone is serving the city of Burlington, they should live here, especially if they lead a city department, he said.
Shannon said that sometimes the most qualified candidate may not be the one living in Burlington, and that this resolution provides clarity.
“We should give an exemption to everyone or no one,” Shannon said.
Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 3, 2016. Photo by Morgan True for VTDigger.
BURLINGTON — City councilors are mulling whether to let voters decide if a candidate’s party affiliation should continue to be included on the ballot in municipal elections.
A resolution passed last year directed the Charter Change Committee to consider drafting a charter change that would do away with the current party designation system. At a meeting Thursday night, councilors postponed a decision on the measure, but again debated its merits.
If the committee and the full council approves a change to the city’s charter, it would set up a vote for next Town Meeting Day on whether to keep party affiliation on the ballot for municipal elections.
Burlington has already done away with party designations for school board candidates following a charter change vote in 1990.
Councilor Adam Roof, I-Ward 8, who sponsored last year’s resolution, said the public should vote on whether they feel that the city still needs the designation system, and said he believes there are times when “the party-backed system gets in the way of governance.”
Younger voters are less beholden to the existing political parties and are interested in candidates who are “individual thinkers,” said Roof, who, as an independent, is not affiliated with a political party.
Councilor Joan Shannon, D-Southern District, said that if there was not a party assigned to a candidate, then some people would vote based on the perceived gender or ethnicity of a candidate’s name.
An important part of some voter’s decision is the values associated with a particular party and its platform, said Councilor Sara Gianonni, P-Ward 3.
Roof said their criticisms assume voters are uninformed about who they are choosing, and a government can’t work properly if decisions are made assuming the public is uninformed, he said.
While Roof said he sympathizes with councilors who feel the resolution would undercut their party identity, he said the change would not stop a candidate from running with support of their party. It would simply remove that information from the ballot, he said.
Roof also pointed out that the measure merely puts the questions to voters, and does not, on its own, end party designation on municipal ballots.
The decision to postpone a vote on the charter change was made in part to allow time for the city attorney’s office to investigate whether the move requires changing the city charter.
Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger.org on June 3, 2016.
COLCHESTER — Almost a year after state social worker Lara Sobel was gunned down leaving work, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed two bills into law Thursday intended to protect social workers from assault.
The governor honored Sobel’s memory during a training day for Department of Children and Families employees in Colchester. Lawmakers and DCF officials and many of Vermont’s social workers were also in attendance.
“These laws are an acknowledgement that we all know there is nothing we can do to bring Lara back, but what we can do is honor her legacy to insure that we protect (social workers),” Shumlin said.
Sobel was allegedly shot by a woman who had lost custody of her child in a case that Sobel was involved in with. She was killed while leaving the state offices in Barre last August.
Sobel worked for DCF and was remembered for her commitment to children. Her death prompted discussions in the Legislature about how to protect social workers who are asked to intervene in tense, emotional and potentially dangerous family situations.
The new laws allocated $1 million to provide trained law enforcement security at DCF facilities, in the hopes of improving safety. In addition, another provision creates an enhanced penalty for assaulting a social worker, placing it in “the same category as the protection that police responders and medical responders have right now,” Shumlin said.
Social worker Trissy Casanova, a colleague of Sobel’s, was a major advocate for the bills. Casanova testified multiple times in front of lawmakers stressing the importance of protecting social workers over the past year, showing “real compassion,” Shumlin said.
Casanova has worked at DCF for thirteen years. She said most of her colleagues have been threatened, stalked or assaulted throughout the years, but they continue to serve, she said.
Casanova said the bills show that lawmakers are paying attention to the important role of social workers and the need to ensure their safety.
“Our voices were heard, and it feels so good,” she said.
DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz said the new laws are part of an ongoing process to affirm the contributions of social workers in Vermont and acknowledge the risks they face regularly. He urged those present to continue working to improve the lives of social workers.
“Lets keep moving forward,” he said.
Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on May 31, 2016.
BURLINGTON — Vermont has become the third state to enact changes in its laws to help low-income drivers regain their licenses after a suspension.
Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a law Tuesday that will give amnesty to some Vermonters with suspended licenses.
The law will expunge tickets at no cost for those who have a noncriminal license suspension from before 1990. Those who have had their license suspended due to an unpaid traffic ticket dating from between 1991 and 2012 will be able to pay off their fines for $30.
The hope is to “correct a financial injustice” that lingers over those who cannot pay the high cost of lifting a license suspension, Shumlin said at the signing, where he was joined by lawmakers and state officials outside the Costello courthouse.
The suspension makes it difficult to complete daily tasks such as driving to work or a meeting, he said.
Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, sponsored the bill. “Justice wasn’t being served. There was enormous challenges and barriers to their everyday lives,” she said of low-income drivers.
In addition, many of the estimated 50,000 Vermonters who have suspended licenses and cannot afford to pay fines still drive illegally, Shumlin said.
In 2015, Vermonters flocked to two “driver restoration days,” when they could pay off old tickets for $20 to bring their licenses back into good standing.
Discussions began in early September surrounding what legislative work could be done to lift suspensions at less cost, after seeing the turnout for the restoration days. That work resulted in the passage of H.571, the law Shumlin signed Tuesday.
The law is not without opposition. When the bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee in March, Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, voted against it, saying it would be unfair to those who were “paying their bills.”
During the signing, Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan said others have asked whether this is simply “giving an unfair handout.”
He responded by telling of a man who was waiting in line during one of the driver restoration days.
Donovan said that when the man was asked by a member of the press if he thought he was receiving a handout, the man responded, “You never know when you are going to need a second chance.”
Shumlin addressed criticism that the law would put unsafe drivers back on the road by saying it will actually give many the opportunity to drive safely. Once licenses are no longer suspended, there will be a lower rate of driving without licences, allowing for more insured and legal drivers on the roads, he said.
Motor Vehicles Commissioner Robert Ide said the law does not provide amnesty to people with criminal traffic violations, only those with noncriminal offenses.
Although the DMV believes it is important to address safety hazards on the road, such as speeding, not wearing seatbelts and using technology or impairing substances while driving, there needs to be a way to aid those who have noncriminal offenses, he said.
Donovan said Vermont follows Washington and California in implementing a law to ease costs for people with suspended licenses.
Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on Jan. 9, 2016. Photo by Ryan Thornton for the Vermont Cynic.
Before Donald Trump took the stage at his Burlington campaign rally, a voice boomed over a loudspeaker in the Flynn Theater: “If there is a protester beside you, please throw your hands over your head and start chanting ‘Trump’.”
After the voice faded out, The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t Always Get What You Want” rang through the theater as the crowd awaited the presidential hopeful with Trump posters and cheers.
“Mr. Trump believes in the First Amendment, just as much as the Second,” the voice over the loudspeaker said.
The Jan. 7 rally was a private event paid for by Trump, it continued, so protesters had been asked to remain outside.
Outside, a crowd gathered, divided by fences on either side of Main Street.
One side protested his appearance, while the other cheered in anticipation.
“Take your hate out of our state!” hundreds on the City Hall side of Main Street chanted, prompted by a sign made by junior Rosie Contompasis with the words written on it.
Contompasis explained that she was here because she felt she felt she needed to stand up to someone she thinks threatens her country.
“Trump is the embodiment of hatred and bigotry, [and] that is not an American value,” she said.
On the other side, Trump supporters waiting in line to enter the theater responded to protesters.
They chanted, “USA, USA, USA! Trump, Trump, Trump!”
For many, the day began nearly 12 hours earlier.
Trump supporters, Sanders supporters and those who without a political motive stood side-by-side in a line that extended along Saint Paul Street and into the South End.
Near the front of the line stood UVM senior Colleen Cataldo, holding a Bernie Sanders for president sign.
“Bernie has grown up here as a politician, I think Trump is here to kind of undermine Bernie, but I am hoping that we will stay strong as a state, and support Bernie all the way,” she said.
Cataldo said she has been a Sanders fan for as long as she can remember.
“I sold blueberries to raise money for his campaign once,” she said.
Though Sanders and Trump are both candidates for change, they differ in what kind of change they will try to enact as president, Cataldo said.
“Bernie’s change is progressive, while Trump’s is regressive,” she said.
The best part of the event was standing in line meeting and talking with people, Cataldo said.
Sophomore Ethan Baldwin waited in line with his two sisters, his mother and friend.
“I am here because my sister, [Abby], told me to come,” he said, with a smile on his face.
Baldwin’s sister, Abby, said she was there to hear Trump speak, and possibly hear something she had not heard before.
“There is a lot out there – but I want to get a chance to hear him for myself,” she said.
The first in the line was Mark Conrad, a Burlington resident who arrived at 4:30 a.m. in hopes of seeing UVM students protest, he said.
“I am a Bernie supporter, but I am here to see the spectacle that surrounds Donald Trump,” Conrad said.
He was surprised to see that no students were there early in the morning, he said.
A crowd to protest Trump did not begin to gather until 3 p.m.
In the meantime, many stopped to take pictures of a collection of Bernie Sanders paintings by local artist Dug Nap, displayed in the window of local art store Frog Hollow.
One passerby who took a picture was UVM alumna Taylor Hannan and her mother and grandmother, who had just come from the Flynn to see the event and its proceedings unravel.
“It was very interesting to see the dynamic, here is definitely a variety of different people there – they’re not all Trump fans,” she said.
Everyone stood together in line – suits and sweatpants, those in Trump T-shirts and those in Bernie T-shirts, old and the young alike.
Martin Deslauriers, wearing a Make America Great Again baseball cap, awaited the presidential hopeful in that line.
He said there was one reason why he supported Trump and one reason why he was in that line: “America.”
Inside the theater, those waiting on line since the early morning began to trickle in slowly starting at 5 p.m.
By 7 p.m., the scheduled start time of the rally, the Flynn Theater, which seats over 1,400 people was nearly half full.
Senior SGA senator Dylan Letendre arrived at 4 p.m. to see the Republican frontrunner, but left to watch the event online
“The event had started and we were too far from the door, we would not have made it in at all,” he said.
Donald Trump was greeted by excitement as he appeared on the stage, arriving thirty minutes after he was introduced by members of his campaign.
“Vermont – where the air is so nice and clean,” he said.
Trump’s speech consisted of foreign policy critique, an analysis of his opponents and the medial coverage of his campaign and himself.
He mentioned various infamous moments of his campaign, such as the controversial wall he said he will build between Mexico and the United States.
“I am going to build a wall … and who is going to pay for the wall?” he asked the audience.
“Mexico,” they responded.
He laughed. “No one can build a wall like me,” he said.
At this remark a woman shouted over the balcony of the theater:“You racist fucking asshole!”
Protesters followed her lead and began shouting.
“Throw ‘em out into the cold,” Trump told Flynn security.
Protesters began shouting in small numbers every few minutes, many chanting Bernie Sanders’ name.
“Bernie has our backs,” one group began chanting.
The chance to run against Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders would be a “dream come true,” Trump said. “I would love to run against Bernie Sanders.”
Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on Dec. 9, 2015. Photo by Oliver Pomazi for the Vermont Cynic.
Reslife is reaching out to campaign offices to inform them of UVM’s solicitation policy.
“Here’s the plan: we are going to try and get as many people as possible to get involved in the campaign,” Shane McKibbins, the Burlington volunteer coordinator for the Sanders campaign said, addressing the students before they began Dec. 2.
Rafael Rodriguez, associate director for Assessment and Strategic Initiatives for ResLife, said Reslife is reaching out to local campaign offices to inform them of the solicitation policy according to a Dec. 7 email.
Students showed support for Bernie Sanders by gathering in the Greenhouse lobby to canvass for his campaign.
Following a post made on the University of Vermont Students for Bernie Sanders Facebook page Nov. 30, a group of students met to knock on students’ doors and ask them to volunteer for Sander’s campaign in New Hampshire.
“The goal will be canvassing in the dorms to spread the word about opportunities to get involved with the campaign,” the post stated.
Door-to-door canvassing in residence halls is not allowed, according to the University’s solicitation policy.
“No resident, UVM student organization or other individual or group is permitted to engage in any door-to-door canvassing activities, such as solicitation or campaigning, in the student living areas of residence halls,” the policy states.
“Our solicitation policy does prohibit activities, such as political campaigning, in the Residence Halls,” Rodriguez wrote in the email.
First-year Margaux Higgins, a member of UVM Students for Bernie Sanders, said she did not know canvassing in the dorms is against UVM’s solicitation policy.
The students met in the University Heights South lobby and were briefed on how to proceed in the canvassing process by McKibbins.
The goal of the “dorm storm” was to get volunteers for local campaigning and the New Hampshire Democratic primary, McKibbins said.
The “dorm storm,” was not intended to impose political ideologies, but rather to give information to those who wanted it, he said.
“You want to introduce yourselves, let them know you are here and see if they are supportive of Bernie. If they are not supportive, we are just going to move on,” McKibbins said.
“We are not here to convince anyone because that would be not cool under school rules,” he said.
Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on Oct. 21, 2015.
Come January 2017, the Greek system at UVM will have to come up with approximately $30,000 a year in order to account for the property tax, said Jonathan Wolff, the association’s legal counsel.
Greek houses have been property tax free for more than 100 years.
Junior Hayden Audy, head of recruitment for UVM’s Alpha Gamma Rho chapter, said he remembers being told that the fraternity may not be able to keep the house with this expense.
“All of the sudden everything changes… your home is ephemeral,” Audy said.
Greek life has been on cam- pus for over 175 years, according to the UVM Fraternity and Sorority website.
In 1906, the state of Vermont passed a law that gave Greek houses tax exempt status because of their philanthropic and academic nature, said Tim King, president of the Greek life alumni association.
Grace Coolidge, the 30th first lady of the United States and member of the University of Vermont class of 1902, was a member of UVM’s Pi Beta Phi Female Fraternity, which later became UVM’s Pi Beta Phi Sorority, according to the White House Historical Association.
In 1931, Coolidge had the Pi Beta Phi house built.
“No one has ever lived in the house but Pi Phi, it is a historical legacy,” said Rachel Hurwitz, president of UVM Pi Beta Phi.
Hurwitz said that the property tax will likely cause the house to shift hands for the first time in its 80-year legacy.
“If this sunset [property tax] comes to pass, which it probably will, we cannot ask any more of our members than we already do, and we will lose our house,” she said.
If this happens, the homes will most likely be bought by either the University of Vermont Greek housing could be taxed or Champlain College, both tax exempt, Wolff said.
The 200 students living in the homes would be displaced and forced into the Burlington housing market, as most are juniors and seniors, he said.
Hurwitz said she feels Greek students are an easy way to get money because they are a group of young people. UVM Greek life raised a total of $140,000
for charity and gave 21,000 hours of community service in the past year, she said.
“It almost feels like we’re being targeted because of our age,” she said. “They think we’re not going to know how to fight to stop it.”
Vermont Senator Tim Ashe said the property tax is simply a way to maintain equity among all property holders and students.
Ashe is a Chittenden County representative who served as the chair of Senate Finance at the time of that the tax was initially proposed in 2014, according to the Vermont State Government website.
He stressed that the tax is not intended to punish Greek life, but to create equality between students and other taxpayers.
“If two students live [in] side-by-side buildings, one with a set of Greek letters and one without, one pays property taxes as part of rent and the other does not,” Ashe said.
This means that other students must pay taxes in their rent, while Greek students do not.
Ashe said he was not alone in thinking this — the bill passed the house and the senate with large bipartisan votes.
Greek students provide the community and charities with funds and services in a way other taxpayers do not, King said.
“Each member is required with their membership to complete a certain number of philanthropic hours and maintain a certain GPA,” he said.
According to Hurwitz, taxing Greek houses would add an additional .06 percent to the multibillion dollar Vermont budget.
“The money we raise is ultimately more than the money they would get from us,” she said. ”That just seems like such a loss to the Burlington community for such a small gain.”