At 6 am on Thursday, January 17 2008, Lowe’s opened its doors in South Burlington. The store, whose construction and opening was delayed for over five years due to disagreements over storm-water and run-off laws, operated a branchs in every other US state except Vermont until now. The 106,000 square foot store, which employs 160, took only 85 days to build, compared to the normal 120 days.The store’s arrival sparked controversy after its construction was continously halted when The Conservation Law Foundation challenged the stores permit. The CLF claimed the permit did not meet the state’s strict standards for run-off regulations because of the large area of its parking lot. Large areas of asphalt, the CLF argued, catch oil leaks from cars and other toxins, which drain into streams from runoff when it rains. The asphalt also prevents the ground from absorbing rain so that the streams erode more quickly as the water is washed into adjacent streams, in this case Potash Brook.
The Agency of Transportation announced today that repairs to Bridge #2 on Vermont Route 74 over the Lemon Fair River will be completed this week, and the bridge is expected to be open to through traffic by Monday, February 21st (President’s Day).The Agency of Transportation had closed the 182-foot-long bridge on Valentine’s Day after district maintenance forces discovered a hole in the bridge deck early that morning.Until the repairs are complete, Vermont Route 74 will continue to be closed to through traffic from its intersection with Quiet Valley Road in Shoreham to its intersection with North and South Bingham Street in Cornwall. Local traffic only will be permitted. Traffic headed North on Vermont Route 22A and Vermont Route 30 will be directed to use Vermont Route 125. Traffic headed South on Vermont Route 22A and Vermont Route 30 will be directed to use Vermont Route 73.
Health Care Reform Ain’t Beanbagby John McClaughryThe bill to put Vermont on the irreversible path toward a single payer health care system is now well on its way to the governor’s desk. The ceremonial signing may well be the governor’s answer to the pageantry of the Royal Wedding.Perhaps the most startling aspect of this four month legislative saga has been the enormous contrast between the daunting requirements of organizing the new $3 billion government program, and the limited competence of its advocates.The 2010 legislature launched the process – for at least the third time – by voting $300,000 to Dr. William Hsiao of the Harvard School of Public Health to explain how to gather all Vermonters into the grand single payer system. The Hsaio team recommended a level of health benefits thought to be suitable for Vermont’s under- 65 population. It specified the payroll tax rates required to bring in enough tax dollars to pay for the program. It claimed an astounding $590 million a year would be saved (starting in 2015) by abolishing health insurance companies.So the House Health Care Reform Committee brought out a bill that gave the Hsaio-recommended Green Mountain Care Board the power to set benefit levels and decide how much to underpay health care providers – but neglected to include any provision for raising the necessary $2 billion of new taxes. Instead, the new Board was told to take another year and another million dollars to grapple with the same questions that Hsaio had already studied.Once the eligible population is identified, the Board’s view of the “appropriate health care at the appropriate time in the appropriate setting ” spelled out, the costs of that care estimated, and the Federal subsidies added in, the Board can tell the legislature how much it will have to raise in new taxes to keep this ship above water.In the Senate, the majority Democrats won the vote of Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland ) by agreeing to require the Board at some unspecified point to announce to the world that it believes that Green Mountain Care would reduce administrative costs (whose?), contain the growth in health care costs, improve the quality of care, attract providers, and not damage the state’s economy. There is no appeal process or enforcement mechanism for these declarations.Gov. Shumlin has made it clear that he wants the new ObamaCare-mandated Exchange to be the only place anyone can obtain health insurance. In addition, liberals have long ago taken to viewing Health Savings Account plans as a conservative plot to thwart their collectivist ambitions. Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex-Orleans) offered a carefully crafted amendment that would have prevented the Exchange from exterminating the popular HSA plans. The Democrats voted it down 11-19. The Democrats also voted down an amendment from Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) to advance the date for the Administration’s health care tax request from January 2013 to September 2012 . That would allow the voters to learn what’s in store for them if the governor is reelected. Only eight senators were willing to support that eminently sensible provision.It was patently apparent during the legislative debate that the backers of single payer – now relabeled “universal and unified health system” – have little grasp of the complexities involved in completely disassembling and repackaging Vermont’s $5 billion health care sector to satisfy the red-shirted Sanderistas shouting that “health care is a human right”.The Democratic legislators are marching to orders from the Shumlin health care high command. They are almost mystically convinced that the native genius of Vermonters can somehow make Green Mountain Care work. This is so even though forty years of the almost identical Canadian single payer model have produced rationing, waiting lines, maddening bureaucracies, demoralized doctors and nurses, shabby facilities, obsolete technology, declining quality of care, and of course much higher taxation.Typical of this widely held attitude is the remark of Sen. Anthony Pollina (I-Washington): “We’re from Vermont. We’re one of the smartest states in the country, and we can figure this [single payer thing] out.” This is the same Sanderista activist whose venture to pay farmers premium prices for milk and sell it at competitive prices predictably collapsed into insolvency.As the saying goes, “politics ain’t beanbag.” Neither is health care reform, but the beanbaggers are in the driver’s seat.John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org(link is external)). Here are two views on Vermont’s attempt to reform the health care system, one from John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Insitute and the other from Andrea Cohen of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.Businesses for Health Care Reformby Andrea CohenThe Vermont House took bold and necessary action by passing the Universal Health Care bill, H. 202. There are many businesses in this state that support reform because they believe the current health care system is unsustainable, inefficient, and unfair. Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility is one statewide business association that believes inaction is not an option and that businesses large and small, all across the state, will benefit from an improved system.When VBSR solicits feedback from our 1,200 members the stories we hear about the current state of our health insurance system are shocking and discouraging. In addition to the burden of annual double-digit cost increases, we hear about how the current system creates a competitive disadvantage to employers who offer decent health insurance benefits when their competitors do not. As one might imagine it is hard to have the low bid on a construction job when you are paying $10,000/year for each of your employees’ health insurance when your competitor is not incurring the same cost. It adds insult to injury when the business realizes they are also paying for their competitor’s uninsured employees due to the cost shift. We frequently hear about lost opportunities; when a person does not dare leave a dead-end job to start their own business for fear of losing health insurance. Another less spoken of, but still common, situation is when an employer retains a mis-matched employee because they don’t want the employee to lose health coverage. While this is admirable it is not smart business. We also frequently hear about the tremendous amount of time and effort many businesses need to devote to exploring options and managing health insurance- this is time and effort that is being diverted from their core business functions. The time has come to decouple health insurance from employment.In addition to the obvious inefficiencies and counter-productive market signals the current system sends, from a dollars and cents perspective it is just not sustainable. Last summer VBSR surveyed our membership and we found that the cost of health insurance was the greatest obstacle to the success of our member businesses’greater than taxes, greater than regulations, greater than access to capital. The cost of health insurance was a greater barrier than any of the nineteen other choices offered. If we truly want to help Vermont businesses succeed we must take steps to move away from our employer based health insurance system and we need to start now.Here is what we know: – Health insurance continues to get more expensive for employers. 61% of our member businesses that offer health insurance pay more than the equivalent of 10% of payroll. 20% of them pay more than 20%. – Employers are responding to the increasing costs by offering lesser quality health insurance coverage to their employees. 36% of survey respondents reported they have reduced benefits in last 5 years. – Employers are asking their employees to contribute more towards their health insurance. 43% of the businesses have introduced or increased employee contributions in the past 5 years.H.202 sets Vermont on a path for reform. It sets up a process for payment reform and for reducing system costs. What H.202 does NOT do is impose a financing system’financing solutions will be tackled as part of future work. It is important that we continue to have an open and honest conversation about what this bill does and does not do so that we may improve the system to the benefit of our businesses. We need to at least be willing to explore an alternative system that the experts tell us will save us $590 million in its first year of implementation, and that will bring equity and quality health care.VBSR believes inaction will cost us way too much. Vermont has a history of using its independent and self-reliant nature to take bold initiatives. By collaboratively designing and instituting a true system of universal health care, Vermont could take a leadership role in business attraction, retention, and success. The benefits associated with doing so include a more stable and productive workforce; greater incentive to create, move, or expand a business in Vermont; improved efficiency and reduced costs throughout the public and private sectors; and a healthier population of Vermonters.Andrea Cohen is Executive Director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. She lives in Montpelier, VT.
More information on this case, including a video of the plaintiffs. Source: ACLU of Vermont. July 19, 2011 The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Vermont has sued a Vermont resort that refused to host a lesbian couple’s wedding reception due to the owners’ personal bias against lesbian and gay people. Vermont law prohibits denying access to public accommodations based on sexual orientation. According to a statement from the ACLU, Kate Baker and Ming Linsley of New York wished to hold their wedding ceremony at a Buddhist retreat in Vermont and have their reception at a nearby inn. Linsley’s mother, Channie Peters, contacted the Vermont Convention Bureau to locate a facility and received information on the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville. The 24-room inn described itself as an award-winning resort and an ideal destination-wedding location. Baker and Linsley were excited about holding the reception there, but when the events manager learned that the reception was for a lesbian couple, Peters was told that due to the innkeepers’ ‘personal feelings,’ the inn does not host ‘gay receptions.’‘I had been so excited to help plan my only daughter’s wedding reception, so when the Wildflower Inn told me that my daughter wasn’t welcome there, it was like being kicked in the stomach,’ said Peters. ‘Someone who didn’t even know us was telling me that my daughter wasn’t good enough to have her reception at their facility while everyone else who sees the resort’s web site is welcome.’The Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act explicitly prohibits any public accommodations from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation. The law applies to inns, restaurants, schools, stores, and any other business that serves the general public. The act contains exceptions for religious organizations and small inns with five or fewer rooms; the Wildflower Inn fits neither category. The inn is a multimillion-dollar public business whose slogan is ‘Four Seasons for Everyone!’Vermont Tourism and Marketing Commissioner Megan Smith issued the following statement regarding the ACLU’s action: ‘I don’t know the details of this case, but I do know that Vermont businesses in the tourism industry welcome LGBT travelers with open arms. Vermont was the first state to establish civil unions and the first to legalize same-sex marriage without a court order, and we are deeply proud of these historic milestones.”As a Justice of the Peace, I have conducted many same-sex weddings since the law took effect in Vermont. LGBT tourism is an important part of Vermont’s economy, and we are working more than ever to promote our state to LGBT travelers.”Within weeks of Governor Shumlin taking office in January, he made marketing to LGBT travelers a priority for his administration. Last April, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing sponsored and attended a reception at the GLBT Travel Expo in New York with our local marketing partners.”In addition, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing will sponsor in September the first Northern Decadence diversity and culinary festival in Burlington in partnership with the Vermont Gay Tourism Association. We are looking forward to attracting new visitors to Vermont through this new event and through other LGBT initiatives in the future.’Peters was able to find an alternate location for her daughter’s reception.‘I was completely surprised when I was told that the resort had a ‘no gay reception’ policy,’ said Baker. ‘We wanted to celebrate our marriage with our loved ones in a beautiful country setting, and it never crossed my mind that a resort that is open to the public would discriminate against us based on the owners’ personal feelings about LGBT people.’‘The discrimination from the Wildflower Inn cast a shadow on what should have been a purely joyous occasion,’ said Linsley. ‘We didn’t want to stay quiet and allow this business to continue to discriminate against other couples.’‘The law is clear that any business that provides a service to the public can’t pick and choose who they want to serve based on the customer’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity,’ said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. ‘If we allow one group of people to be singled out and denied basic rights and service, we are violating the basic American values of justice and fairness for everyone.’
Northstar Vermont Yankee,With the brunt of Tropical Storm Irene now past the eastern seaboard, Entergy’s Indian Point Energy Center in New York, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts and Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vermont all remain operating safely and at full power. ‘Entergy’s nuclear generating plants continue to operate safely while supplying electricity to the region’s customers,’ said John Herron, president and CEO of Entergy Nuclear.Entergy Nuclear plants began preparations for the storm early in the week, coordinating activities with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, independent system operators and various government officials.While Irene pummeled the eastern coast, critical Entergy Nuclear staff remained dedicated at each site, ready to respond to potential weather impacts.‘Nuclear plants are built to exceed the most severe natural forces historically reported for their geographic area,’ Herron said. ‘But primarily, our ability to serve our regions comes through the power of our people, including those who have remained apart from their families to ensure a safe supply of power for others.’In addition to the nuclear plant staff sequestered at Indian Point, Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee, the company’s utilities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas staged roughly 170 workers and 92 resident utility contractors in the Maryland area to help restore power to the regional grid.Entergy Corporation is an integrated energy company engaged primarily in electric power production and retail distribution operations. Entergy owns and operates power plants with approximately 30,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity, and it is the second-largest nuclear generator in the United States. Entergy delivers electricity to 2.7 million utility customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Entergy has annual revenues of more than $11 billion and approximately 15,000 employees.