State House Headliners

By Guy Page
Republished with permission from Page Communications. 

H170legalized possession of an ounce of marijuana and two adult and five juvenile plants, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee Thursday and is scheduled for a full House vote Tuesday. If approved by the House, it will go to the Senate, where some observers think it will be amended into the big-business marijuana regulated cultivation and sale bill that died last year in the House.

H.170 was opposed in House Judiciary by Reps. Janssen Wilhoit (St. Johnsbury), Gary Viens (Newport) and Eileen Dickinson (St. Albans). Minor State House drama preceded the vote. After learning that the committee leadership planned to vote on H170 unannounced (permitted, but uncommon) at 1 pm Thursday, I immediately told reporters for WCAX, WPTZ, Seven DaysBurlington Free Press, Vermont Digger, and Rutland Herald/Times Argus. All were present, some with cameras poised, in the committee room when chair Maxine Grad entered the room.

The attempt to vote on H170 unannounced was the second unusual step taken by House leadership to support the bill. While other bills were required to be voted out of committee by last Friday March 17; H170 was granted another week’s grace to rally support among the full House.

Leadership now apparently believes, or at least hopes, H170 has the votes to pass in the House.  But as Cola Hudson, the late, great, representative from Lyndon, said (in his broad Northeast Kingdom Yankee accent) about the legislative process: “there’s many a slip between the cup and the lips, and therein lies the mystery.”  To inform your House representative about your views on H.170, call the State House during working hours at 828-2228, or find their contact information at this State House link.

If H170 is approved as written by the full Legislature, it may face a veto by Gov. Phil Scott, who reportedly believes the bill lacks effective provision for DUI traffic stops.

Meanwhile, S.88 – raising the tobacco smoking age to 21 – was tabled in the Senate. Approved by Health & Welfare, the bill was subject to a floor battle of amendments, votes, changed votes, and two failed attempts to send it to Finance Committee. Finally, the bill was “ordered to lie” by the evenly split Senate, postponing any action until a future time.

A bill to update Act 250 was approved March 21 by House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife committee last week and goes to the full House on Tuesday.H424 would update Vermont’s 50-year-old Act 250 land use law via a study commission to include climate change science, designated centers for Act 250 jurisdiction, and efficiency of the application and appeals process.

H411, to maintain current federal energy efficiency standards for air conditioners if the federal government rolls them back, was approved last week by the House. Sponsor Curt McCormack (Burlington) said it will save money and prevent higher greenhouse gas emissions if the Trump administration eliminates existing clean air standards.

H.230, giving minors the right to obtain counseling on gender identity and sexuality orientation without parental notification, was approved by the House this week. Supporters justify the parental carve-out by saying some parents of minors struggling with these issues might harm rather than help. But the outcome of this vote tried the patience of Job Tate, the representative from Mendon. Rep. Tate, who is also a U.S. Navy (Reserve) sailor, said on his Facebook page:

“With the House’s passage of H.230 today I have never been more gravely concerned with Vermont’s future – and that there were only 12 members who voted against it fills me with a vague desperation and crystal clear indignation. My two little boys belong to me and my wife – to any legislator or arrogant Vermonter than thinks they should ever be allowed to call the shots when it comes to raising them I have one simple message: mind your own damned business.”

Voting with Rep. Tate were: Beyor of Highgate, Canfield of Fair Haven, Gage of Rutland City, Graham of Williamstown, Helm of Fair Haven, Hubert of Milton, LaClair of Barre Town, Smith of New Haven, Strong of Albany, Terenzini of Rutland Town, and Van Wyck of Ferrisburgh.

H. 230 was sent to Senate Health & Welfare on Friday, March 24.

LODGING TAX OPPOSED BY GOV. SCOTT – Friday, Senate Finance Committee approved a $2 per night lodging tax, estimated to raise $7.2 million, as part of S100, a housing initiative. Gov. Phil Scott, who has promised no new taxes, responded quickly and emphatically via Communications Director Rebecca Kelley:

“The Senate Finance Committee voted Thursday, 5-1-1, to create a $7.2 million tax on overnight accommodations through a new $2-per-night occupancy fee. The revenue this fee generates would primarily be used to fund initiatives the Governor’s budget already funds with existing revenue, including clean water and his housing bond.

“This tax will unnecessarily increase the cost of hotel and motel stays, straining our tourism sector, which contributes $2.5 billion to our economy annually. Family-owned inns are struggling to keep their doors open as they fight against new trends in tourism, like Air BNB, unpredictable weather, and cumbersome permitting processes. Vermonters would share the actual burden of this tax increase as it will impact the cost of weddings, special events, overnight stays, and more.”

S100 was referred to Senate Appropriations. Ms. Kelley expressed concern that the bill as approved by Senate Finance links the governor’s housing initiative with new taxes, which he has said he will veto.

CORRECTIONS UPDATE – not much to report! No bills for compassionate release of elderly, terminally ill inmates were passed out of committee. Also, there has not yet been an appointment of a new commissioner for Department of Corrections. Unlikely to proceed this year is S80, “to authorize all corrections officers who are certified as law enforcement officers by the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council to carry firearms.” Sen. Kevin Mullin (Rutland) is sole sponsor.

The March 14 Blizzard forced the cancellation of the Vermont Yankee/NorthStar hearing before the Vermont Public Service Board. However it has been rescheduled to 6 pm, April 6, at Vernon Elementary School. For those who cannot attend but wish to comment, go to the PSB website comment link. The sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar for decommissioning would provide 1,000 or more jobs to the southern Vermont area and would produce an estimated $781 million in economic activity, and would also remove radioactive material from the shuttered nuclear plant by 2030 or before – far sooner than the 2072 date proposed the plant’s current owner.

H111 would (among other things) create a state registry for births, marriages and deaths. The registry would allow, for example, a current Middlesex resident born in Berlin to get a certified copy of his/her birth certificate from the local town clerk, rather than go to the Berlin town office. The registry could not be accessed by the general public, but only by municipal clerks and other permitted officials. At present these documents can only be sourced in the municipality in which they were filed. H111is scheduled for a House vote Monday afternoon.

PRE-K BILL  – H517, released for introduction, “would facilitate the ability of families to enroll a child, who is three or four years of age or is 8 five years of age but is not yet enrolled in kindergarten, in a public  prekindergarten education program or a private high-quality child development program; and clearly establish the responsibility for regulatory oversight of public prekindergarten education programs and private high-quality child development programs.”

Note: Last week’s SH Headliners used the term “Moslems.” When I was a young newspaper reporter, this was an accepted term for followers of Islam. I was reminded by two readers (including an editor) that this term is no longer in favor, because when spoken with a “z” consonant it sounds like an unflattering Arabic word. Henceforth I will use the accepted word, “Muslims”. My apologies for any offense given.

–  Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and the Church at Prison. He is a member of the coordinating committee for the Consumer Liaison Group of ISO-New England, the operators of the regional transmission grid. Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. For more information, email [email protected]

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