Senator’s trucking firm ordered to stop work; Shumlin bashed for break

first_imgby Anne Galloway March 8, 2011 The Vermont Department of Labor issued a stop-work order in January to Starr’s United, a trucking company in North Troy. The business is under investigation for an alleged failure to hold a workers’ compensation insurance policy on its 20 employees, according to Labor Department officials. An injury claim from an employee triggered the probe.State Senator Bobby Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, is president of the company and has served as director of the Vermont Truck and Bus Association. When he was reached by phone last Friday, he said, ‘I really don’t know what you’re talking about ‘ I don’t know anything about it.’Starr said he is ‘gone most of the winter’ and his son, Eric, who is the general manager, is ‘dealing with that.’Stephen Monahan, director of the Workers’ Compensation & Safety Division, said the stop-work order was issued on Jan. 21 and remains in effect.Dig DeeperSOURCE MATERIAL ‘ STARR’S TRUCKINGThe Vermont Statutes Online: 21 V.S.A. § 692. Penalties; failure to insure; stop work orders2008-2009 Progress Report of the Workers’ Compensation Employee Classification, Coding, and Fraud Enforcement Task ForceVermont Department of Labor: Info Center ‘ FraudLINKS ‘ DISAPPEARANCESWCAX: Shumlin off on vacationVT GOP: Where is Governor Shumlin?LINKS ‘ DRUMROLL, PLEASEâ ¦Vermont Democratic Party: 12th Annual David W. Curtis Leadership Awards Arthur Berndt Political Campaign Contributions 2008 Election CycleGreenpeace: Climate LawsuitThe Huffington Post: Local Hero Learns From The BestLINKS ‘ MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCACY DAYPress release: Mental health advocacy day set for March 9LINKS ‘ SECRETARY OF EDA Secretary of Ed?LINKS ‘ CHURN, BABY, CHURNPress release: In the raw on March 8 ‘ Butter Appreciation DayRural Vermont questions state’s raw milk rulesDOCUMENTS ‘ BILLS ON THE MOVEVermont Legislature: March 8 calendarUnder the order, no work can be carried out, Monahan said, ‘except possibly by the owner him or herself.’The investigation, which began on Jan. 13, Monahan said, is moving toward the penalty phase. Starr’s United could be fined $150 a day for every day the company has operated without worker’s compensation insurance. The number of employees who went without coverage will also be factored into the penalty, Monahan said.In July 2010 the Legislature enacted new penalties for businesses that fail to provide workers’ comp. Since then, the division has issued 15 stop-work orders, Monahan said. The penalty for violating a stop-work order is $5,000 in civil penalties or $10,000 in criminal penalties or imprisonment for up to 180 days.Most workers’ comp investigations are triggered by complaints or referrals from other agencies or programs, such as the Tax Department, Unemployment Insurance program, Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Vermont Department of Buildings & General Services or Agency of Transportation, Monahan wrote in an e-mail. Most of the complaints have been filed through an online form on the Department of Labor website.‘Misclassifying workers or not complying withU.I. or W.C. coverage is considered fraud,’ Monahan wrote.Fourteen hundred insurers in Vermont offer worker’s compensation insurance.DISAPPEARANCESDo you know where your governor is?That was the question Anson Tebbetts of WCAX posed last Friday.Tebbetts, a former Douglas administration official, reported that Gov. Peter Shumlin was ‘off’ on vacation ‘two months into his first term,’ and that the governor didn’t tell two members of his staff he interviewed ‘ press secretary Bianca Slota (who was formerly employed by WCAX) and Jeb Spaulding, secretary of the Agency of Administration ‘ where he was headed.Later, Slota told Tebbetts she knew where the governor was, but she couldn’t disclose his location. Shumlin left for vacation last Thursday and is scheduled to return to Vermont Tuesday night.‘He’s been working really hard,’ Slota said. ‘While the Legislature’s out of town, he thought it would be a good time to take a couple days off. Out of respect for his privacy, we’re just not telling people where he is.’The news spurred Patricia McDonald, new chair of the Vermont GOP, to issue a press release taking the governor to task. The missive, titled ‘‘I don’t know where the governor is’ is not an acceptable response,’ blasted Shumlin for neglecting to inform key administrative officials of his whereabouts.‘Simply being reachable by cell phone is not an acceptable substitute for knowing the whereabouts of our head of state,’ McDonald wrote. ‘Vermonters deserve better. Why is it that no one seems to know where Governor Shumlin is?’In an interview, McDonald said she doesn’t ‘begrudge the governor a vacation.’She did, however, find fault with the timing of the governor’s absence. A statewide public hearing on Shumlin’s health care legislation at Vermont Interactive Television sites around the state was scheduled on Monday, and this week his signature health care legislation is slated to emerge from the House Health Care Committee. She complained that ‘he will not be around to answer questions on the bill, or to hear Vermonters speak on the issue.’ (The hearing has since been rescheduled because of Monday’s snow storm.)‘Vermonters need to know that the chain of command is intact and that the lines of communication are open and working for the security and safety of our state,’ McDonald wrote. ‘From a transparency and confidence perspective, the process was handled very poorly.’Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who is the governor’s stand-in when he’s away, wasn’t worried. Scott summed up his take on the brouhaha with: ‘I don’t have knee-jerk reactions.’Shumlin’s staff called Scott the day before the governor left for parts unknown. ‘I don’t know for myself that it really matters,’ Scott said. ‘If he’s on vacation, it’s probably well-deserved. We have a lot to do in the next three to four weeks, and I would want his head to be clear.’Chris Graff, a longtime reporter and Montpelier bureau chief for the Associated Press, said in an e-mail that other governors’ vacations were also private affairs.‘We don’t really know much about governors’ vacations,’ Graff wrote.Douglas spent time in Maine on occasion. Gov. Howard Dean went on a hiking adventure one summer, Graff said, and ‘that got attention because a trooper drove.’Gov. Dick Snelling went off sailing and there was a crisis in his absence, Graff recalled. In the era before cell phones, members of his staff had trouble reaching him.DRUMROLL, PLEASE â ¦The Vermont Democratic Party holds its annual celebrity dinner ‘ the Curtis Awards ‘ each spring, and this year the party has brought in a major player ‘ Al Franken, the former comedy writer for Saturday Night Live-turned-senator from Minnesota. (Last year’s keynote was also given by a Minnesotan senator, Amy Klobuchar.)Online registration for the event, slated for March 19, is closed.The VDP also announces the political equivalent of the Academy Awards for Democrats who have played leading roles in setting the scene for the party’s successes. Sources say this year’s Curtis Award winners will be Mike Obuchowski, Arthur Berndt and Barbara MacIntyre.Obuchowski retired from his seat in the House of Representatives in January, after 38 years in the Statehouse. He is the longest-serving member of the General Assembly in living memory. Shumlin recently tapped his fellow Democrat from Windham County as commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services.Berndt is a major donor to the party who has given thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates ($51,000 in 2008, according to and his wife, Anne, were involved in a Greenpeace lawsuit against two taxpayer-funded entities, Export Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, for funding $32 billion in financing fossil fuel projects without assessing how the projects would contribute to global warming. Greenpeace won the suit in 2010.MacIntyre of Shaftsbury tirelessly volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008.RALLIES, HEARINGS AND A PUBLIC ‘CHURN’Vermonters for Health Care Freedom canceled its rally on the Statehouse lawn because of the record-breaking storm on Monday, but the 75-100 protesters who planned to attend the event will attempt another protest in a week or so, according to Darcie Johnston.The rally had been scheduled just before the state was scheduled to take testimony on the legislation tonight in a series of Vermont Interactive Television forums. (The hearings were cancelled because of Monday’s snow storm.)Johnston, who runs a government relations and political fundraising firm, started Vermonters for Health Care Freedom for ‘free market’ supporters who oppose Gov. Peter Shumlin’s single-payer health care bill.Johnston’s clients have included Sen. James Jeffords, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, Ruth Dwyer, the Vermont Republican Party, the New Hampshire Republican Party, and the Rhode Island Republican Party.She says she is spearheading the effort because she ‘feels passionate about this issue.’ Johnston said her anti-single-payer activism is separate from her consultancy work. So far, Vermonters for Health Care Freedom has no financial backing; supporters are campaigning for the cause on Facebook and Twitter.Johnston said VHCF is a loose association of 75-100 ‘leaders’ who represent various interests. She declined to list members, but she said she’s ‘amazed’ that many of the supporters of the new group feel they can’t publicly oppose the legislation because it might jeopardize their business with the state or with clients. She said they are as concerned as she is about the impact of a single-payer system on ‘free market’ health care.‘I’m worried about what this legislation is going to do to Vermont’s economy,’ Johnston said. ‘I’m worried about what it’s going to do to the quality of health care; I’m worried about doctors leaving the state; I’m worried about what it’s going to do to job growth; I’m worried about the stability of the economy.’Johnston pointed to the Massachusetts health care reforms as an example of a system in which costs are ‘running away.’‘Businesses want to be able to plan,’ Johnston said. ‘This doesn’t help that at all, if anything it makes it worse.’A BLOCKBUSTER MENTAL HEALTH DAY?Speaking of rallies, advocates are gearing up for a large turnout on Mental Health Advocacy Day, Wednesday, March 9. Ten organizations are sponsoring the event, and they plan to bus in more than 1,000 Vermonters with mental illness or developmental disabilities.Floyd Nease, executive director of the Vermont Association for Mental Health (and former Democratic House Majority Leader), said last week that the advocates and ‘consumers’ will be a presence in the Statehouse. They plan to testify at 9:30 a.m. at a joint meeting of the House Human Services and Senate Health and Welfare Committees in Room 11 and then rally in front of the Statehouse steps at noon. Nease said Christine Oliver, Department of Mental Health commissioner, has been invited to speak along with House Speaker Shap Smith, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and Doug Racine, now head of the Agency of Human Services.‘We ultimately want consumers to be heard,’ Nease said.Read the press release about the rally.LAWMAKERS TAKE TESTIMONY ON SECRETARY OF EDThe House Education Committee will take testimony from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on whether the governor should have the right to appoint the state’s top education official.The committee has been discussing this alternative as one of a menu of governance changes for the Department of Education, which also include transforming the department to an agency and altering the state board of education from a body with the authority to select the education chief to an advisory board.Read the story, ‘A Secretary of Ed?’.CHURN, BABY, CHURNSome Vermonters worry about the right to bear arms; others are concerned about the right to churn raw milk.For the latter, there is the Butter Appreciation Day, brought to you by the Vermont Coalition for Food Sovereignty 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. in Room 10 of the Statehouse in Montpelier. Participants should bring their own cream, a small jar and ‘thoughts about raw milk.’The churn-in is a protest of a recent decision by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to shut down raw milk, butter and cheese workshops that were sponsored by Rural Vermont, a nonprofit advocacy group.For more about the raw milk ‘informational,’ check out the press release from the Vermont Coalition for Food Sovereignty.Or, read Sylvia Fagin’s VTD story about raw milk rules.BILLS ON THE MOVEThere are several key pieces of legislation on the House notice calendar for Tuesday, namely the jobs bill and an Internet sales tax proposal.Read the March 8 notice calendar.The Senate is taking up a bill for third reading that would prohibit sex offenders from using false names on social networking sites.Senators will also consider two joint resolutions, both of which are directed at Congress. The Senate will consider a resolution asking the Congress to approve a streamlined sales tax agreement and another to maintain funding for Community Service Block Grants at current levels. The grants, which fund community action councils, are on the chopping block. Anne Galloway is editor of March 8, 2011last_img

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