Well, the incoming leaders of the House and Senate are pouring buckets of cold water on any hopes of a progressive agenda in the next two years.
In some ways, this makes perfect sense. In others, it’s a continuation of the squishy-soft stylings of the outgoing leadership. And that’s disappointing for anyone who was looking forward to the possibility of change.
My former colleagues Xander Landen and Kit Norton have posted a legislative preview, and it’s chock full of Business As Usual — the kind of Democratic strategerizing that’s helped Phil Scott remain governor. Or, shall we say, done little to nothing to draw a clear contrast between Scott and the Dems.
Now, these are extraordinary times. And I have no quarrel with the idea that coronavirus will be first and foremost on the agenda until we’ve vaccinated our way back to normality. The budget alone could occupy the available time between now and adjournment.
So yeah, when Speaker-In-Waiting Jill Krowinski says her top priority is “to bring people together and create a plan of action to beat the virus and it needs to be a recovery plan that leaves no one behind,” I completely agree. Save for the grammatical tic.
But 2022 ought to be a completely different story.
In part 1, I brought your attention to some appalling facts about Vermont’s lack of oversight for rental housing. Today we turn to three separate articles concerning nursing homes and the coronavirus that reveal further inadequacy in governance. The first is about an apparently toothless settlement with a for-profit senior facility. The second and third detail the toll Covid-19 is taking on some of our most vulnerable Vermonters.
The Intercept, where Glenn Greenwald used to hang his hat before he went batshit, has shone a fresh light on last spring’s worst outbreak in Vermont — at Burlington Health and Rehab, owned and operated by the troubled Genesis HealthCare chain.
Turns out that only weeks before the pandemic struck, Attorney General TJ Donovan had reached a settlement with Genesis over “allegations of neglect” that led to three injuries and one death. That settlement did little or nothing to improve the situation, and within months, 12 BH&R residents had died of Covid-19.
Under terms of the settlement, proudly announced in the customary AGO press release, three Vermont-located Genesis facilities were to pay a fine and hire a Patient Care Coordinator for the three locations plus an independent monitor to oversee quality of care. Was it enough?
“It’s really baffling that the settlement did not include some type of staffing requirements,” said Brian Lee, the executive director of Families for Better Care, a nonprofit advocating for tighter regulation of nursing homes. “Has [Donovan] arrested anybody? Has he prosecuted anybody? Has anybody gone to jail? No. The settlement should have included a requirement for RN staffing. They were short-staffed prior to the incidents and short-staffed after. It’s pretty negligent on the AG’s office to not include that,” said Lee. “The quality of nursing homes is dependent on staffing.”
You can probably guess the next bit. According to federal regulatory records, Genesis failed to increase staffing to recommended levels. Donovan agreed to let Genesis do the hiring, and there was apparently no follow-through by the state to ensure full compliance. This is a problem with Donovan’s negotiating tactics, and also an issue for state regulators. When a facility is enough of a bad actor to trigger enforcement action, shouldn’t the Human Services Agency perhaps provide some extra scrutiny?
I guess not. Well, I can’t say for sure. But what I can say is that whatever Donovan and AHS did, it wasn’t enough. Let’s remember that, the next time Donovan puts out a self-congratulatory press release.
I have to admit I felt a little twinge of the warm fuzzies when I heard about Gov. Phil Scott’s “Vermont LIghts the Way” initiative. I mean, who could resist this pitch:
“I think it’s time to lift our spirits. Let’s get creative and show the world that Vermonters are here for each other and that even through these dark and difficult times, Vermont Lights the Way. …I hope this effort will spread joy and hope, especially for our kids.”
But of course, I’m a cynical old blogger, so my thoughts quickly turned. “What does this have to do with governance?” I asked myself.
Nothing. It’s good politics, that’s all. And there’s nothing wrong with good politics in its place. But this message is aimed at the comfortable among us — the ones with homes and well-stocked pantries, a bit of disposable income and paid-up utility bills, the ones who’d like to feel as though they’re making a difference without leaving the comfort of home and hearth.
The good merchants of Burlington’s Church Street are up in arms over an alleged plague of loitering and related bad behavior. Or, as several dozen of them described their charming streetscape in a letter to Chittenden County state senators, “public intoxication, open drug use, public urination and defecation, public sex acts, aggressive and harassing behavior, commandeering and blocking public thoroughfares, and sleeping or camping in both private and public spaces.”
Ick. Well, I haven’t been on Church Street since the pandemic hit, but that sounds more like my old stomping grounds in Detroit (pictured above) than the crown jewel of Vermont downtowns.
Anyway, they are asking for tougher state laws on various abuses of the common. And their lament drew a quick and caustic response from the progressive Twitterverse. “Bicycles & Books” wrote, “Throwing more cops at a problem is never the solution.” Josh Lisenby added, “Merchants want to lock up the poor.” Mairead Catherine suggested a boycott of the merchants.
And this from Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George:
But actually, I feel quite a bit of sympathy for the merchants. They’re suffering from two consecutive seasons, with no end in sight, of greatly reduced foot traffic on the Marketplace. If the pandemic continues much longer, which it seems certain to do, it’s very likely that one-third or more of those merchants will be out of business within months. A lot of people would suffer, a lot of workers would lose jobs, and Church Street would be in danger of losing the critical mass of merchants it needs to remain vibrant.
The merchants can’t do anything about Covid-19, so they’re looking for anything else that might help. But no, making criminals of the least among us is not the answer.
The traffic jams that formed outside “Farmers to Families” food giveaways around Vermont weren’t quite this bad, but they were bad. Embarrassing, appalling, a sign of exactly how much food insecurity exists in our great (but not as great as we like to think) state.
Well, last week, the state found an answer. If you can’t find enough food for your people, at least prevent them from creating a public spectacle. This week, in advance of scheduled food drops in Middlebury (Wednesday), Brattleboro (Thursday) and Morristown (Friday), the state Emergency Operations Center switched to a registration system. You can’t just show up; you have to sign up in advance for specific time slots.
This is definitely a service to those who might otherwise wait in line for hours, their cars idling away throughout. But it also eliminates the politically charged images that have resulted from past giveaways. News coverage, if any, will be focused on grateful recipients and hard-working volunteers rather than the desperation of food-insecure Vermonters or the unprecedented demand on our system of charitable food distribution.
Those pictures were, again, unfortunate for all involved. But they made an undeniable point — underscoring the need for more resources. This, at a time when state anti-hunger organizations are warning that the system could collapse without a fresh infusion of state aid.
Wheels for Warmth is a great thing. It turns an unutilized resource (winter tires sitting in garages) into money for emergency home heating assistance. It also gives many a Vermonter a chance to buy perfectly good snows on the cheap.
Win-win, and a testament to Phil Scott’s community-mindedness.
But when you run a charitable enterprise, no matter how noble, you have to play by the rules.
Charities that sell stuff to raise money are supposed to collect and pay sales tax. And as far as I can tell, Wheels for Warmth doesn’t do so.
An inquiry to the Tax Department produced the following information courtesy of Kirby Keeton, Tax Policy Analyst Interim General Counsel for the Department.
The state “cannot disclose tax information related to a specific taxpayer,” Keeton wrote. However, it can say whether an entity is registered to collect and pay sales tax.
Takeaways from today’s gubernatorial debate on women’s issues, viewable here…
1. Bill Lee has nothing to contribute to this campaign.
2. Phil Scott offers empathy, but no ideas or policies on women’s issues.
3. Sue Minter’s getting good at this.
And finally, and most importantly,
4. This debate shows why we need more women in political office.
Let’s take ‘em in order.
Firstly, Bill Lee is a joke of a candidate, even by the oddball standards of Vermont small-party politics. He arrived late, delaying the start of the debate by about 15 minutes. He’d done nothing to prepare. He had little to say on the issues. His answers meandered all over the place. At one point, he appeared to utterly forget the question and just rambled on until his time was up. And here are a few examples of the Spaceman’s forthcoming entry in Bartlett’s:
In a time when America is averaging more than one mass shooting per day*, the good people of Burlington just suffered through several weeks of a homeless man riding his bike around town with a rifle strapped to his back.
*FBI definition: four or more people shot in a single incident, not including the shooter. We’ve had 29 in July so far.
Per Seven Days’ Mark Davis, police “found [Malcolm Tanner] to be ‘incoherent,’ and he insisted that laws do not apply to him.” But they did nothing about him because “he did not seem to be breaking any laws.”
The media postmortems on Legislature ’16 are rolling in, and they’re not kind to Governor Shumlin.
The Burlington Free Press’ Sunday front page has a big ol’ photo of the Guv looking nonplussed, the bright lights showcasing the furrows on his brow, with a headline reading “BIG REQUESTS FALL SHORT.” The story emphasizes his pushes for legalized marijuana and divestment from some fossil fuel stocks, which both fell short.
Over at VTDigger, the headline slyly referred to Shumlin’s legislative accomplishments as “nothing burgers,” a phrase destined for his headstone. The story, by ol’ buddy Mark Johnson, was just shy of devastating.
While the governor touted numerous accomplishments in his final late-night adjournment address — and some lawmakers did too — many who serve in the Legislature saw something different this session: a once powerful chief executive weakened by a close election, who lost support on the left when he dropped plans for a single-payer health care system, was hurt by ongoing problems with the health care exchange and then saw any remaining leverage dissipate when he announced last year that he would not seek re-election.
Indeed, Shumlin’s 2016 agenda was largely jettisoned by lawmakers. But there is another way to look at the just-concluded session. It accomplished quite a few things that went almost unnoticed in Vermont, but would have been big news almost anywhere else.
We hear a lot of bad news about Vermont, especially from Republicans. They seem to be hoping Vermont will fail, based on their constant bad-mouthing. (Interesting that a plank of Phil Scott’s economic platform is more resources on marketing the state as a place to do business. If Vermont sucked as bad as the VTGOP thinks, any such marketing would be, ahem, lying.)
And then once in a while we get a ray of sunshine piercing through their doom and gloom. Today comes Politico Magazine’s third annual ranking of the 50 states (plus D.C.) in “State of the Union” terms. i.e. which states are in the best (and worst) shape overall.
And where do they rank Vermont?
Third best in the country.
It should be pointed out here that Politico isn’t exactly leftist. It is, in fact, a bastion of conventional thinking. And this ranking was based on a wide variety of factors: health, education, financial security, unemployment, crime, overall well-being, prosperity. Fourteen categories in all.