Government Relations

2019 Washington County Legislative Delegation

Congressional Delegation 2019-2020 115th Congress

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Legislative Update- February 8, 2019

Civil Action

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the seemingly terminal toxicity of politics at the national level hasn’t spread to Vermont. If identity politics is causing the deepening and hardening of our national divisions, Vermont’s more homogenous political makeup may have immunized the state from the harsh political conflict that is occurring elsewhere.

The General Assembly this week began to grapple seriously with its priority issues, as well as those of the governor:  clean water funding, paid family leave, education governance and a variety of others that are less momentous. While it doesn’t make for sensational headlines, it is newsworthy nonetheless: lawmakers and administration officials are approaching all of them with civility and respect.

A minor bill helps make the point, S.11, would limit Vermont senate districts to no more than three members. The bill is aimed at breaking apart Chittenden County’s six-seat district – the only legislative district in the country with six members. The county is represented by six Democratic senators – twenty percent of the Senate – and without legislation the party’s lock would not change in the foreseeable future. The breakup of the district, however, will greatly increase Republican chances of gaining seats.

Despite the obvious potential for partisan mischief, the bill passed the Senate unanimously this week. Surprisingly, the bill’s sponsor is Senate Pres. Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, who simply believes that the district’s large size unfairly disenfranchises voters.

An issue of far greater import – water quality funding – is receiving a similarly pragmatic focus. Last year, the Scott administration was strongly criticized by Democratic lawmakers and environmental organizations last year for failing to be more aggressive in spearheading the effort to fund cleanup for Lake Champlain.

The administration seems to have taken that criticism to heart. It has proposed an ambitious plan to spend nearly $50 million per year in state and federal dollars on lake cleanup. A plan released this week would create an entirely new governmental structure of regional utility districts to allocate the money.

Environmental organizations reacted with matter-of-fact suggestions for changes, indicating that the two sides are not that far apart.

House lawmakers reached an amicable resolution this week on another hot-button issue that has inflamed passions in communities across the state. Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, proposed a blanket extension of mandatory school district mergers. The proposal was defeated on a largely non-partisan vote of 69-74, but Scheuermann commented favorably on several occasions about the efforts Democratic House leaders made to accommodate her concerns. In the end, a compromise proposal passed the House by a vote of 134-10.

One of the most partisan issues before the legislature is paid family leave. The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee spent most of the week considering competing versions: a voluntary proposal from the Scott administration and a mandatory version introduced by 80 Democrats. Despite the starkly different approaches and opinions, the committee’s hearings were thoughtful and respectful as they listened to the administration and mandatory leave advocates present their competing views.

Even debate on an abortion bill – the most contentious issue of all – was reasonably restrained when passionate supporters and opponents filled the Statehouse to capacity on Thursday for a hearing on abortion rights. The atmosphere was tense, but civil, even as the House Human Services Committee discussed and passed a bill that codifies the right to abortion.

In his inaugural address last month, Gov. Scott spoke at length about bipartisanship and civility. The tone set by the governor this year has set a standard that lawmakers seem more than happy to follow.

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Paid family leave moves into the spotlight
The House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee dedicated most of its time this week to the issue of paid family leave. The committee heard from administration officials, advocates for a mandatory program, and an administrator of Rhode Island’s program. Read more

Lawmakers reject cuts to sheriff’s contracts for hospital emergency rooms
The Senate Appropriations and Health and Welfare committees this week rejected a provision in the Governor’s Budget Adjustment Act to cut funding for sheriff’s deputies to supervise psychiatric patients in hospital emergency rooms. . After hearing testimony from Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux and the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, the committees reinstated $145,508.  Read more

House begins work on Capital Construction bill
Lawmakers are reviewing a two-year capital construction and state-bonding bill that would appropriate $123.8 million. Of this, no more than $61 million would be spent in fiscal year 2020. The legislature moved to a two-year biennial capital bill budgeting cycle in 2011 to accelerate the construction of larger projects. Read more

Panel considers impact of association health plans on insurance market
The House Health Care Committee continues to consider the impact of association health plans on the health insurance market. AHPs are designed to allow small employers and sole proprietors to join together and access health insurance plans. Read more

House Natural debates new regulations in Act 250 bill
The House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife heard testimony all week on a committee bill that proposes to update and modernize Vermont’s Act 250 law. The bill includes new protections for sensitive resources such as forest blocks, which connect habitat, and critical resource areas such as wetlands, river corridors, and land above 2,000 feet in elevation. Read more

Cannabis legislation nears approval in Senate Judiciary Committee
The Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up testimony this week on legislation, S.54, to create a system for the taxation and regulation of cannabis. Although representatives of Vermont’s medical community continue to oppose commercialization, the committee is almost certain to pass a bill within the next week or so. Read more

Toxic chemical bill stalls in Senate Judiciary
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee made clear this week that they weren’t prepared to vote on a bill, S.37, that would create strict liability for toxic chemical releases. The bill also would create a new cause of action for medical monitoring. Read more

Vermont’s Health Information Exchange back on track
After years of reported poor progress towards a functional Health Information Exchange, the Department of Vermont Health Access reported this week to a joint hearing of the House Energy and Technology and House Health Care committees that legislative prompting and stakeholder efforts have helped the program get back on track. The goal of the HIE is to collect health information electronically and make it available across the health system, allowing providers to access patients’ longitudinal records regardless of location.
Read more

DRM’s Will Beacom and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson talk cheese at the annual Taste of Vermont legislative reception.

 

 

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For more information about this Legislative Update, please contact Tricia Augeri.

 

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