Statehouse Headliners 4-24-17

A Brief Overview of Last Week’s Activity Under the Golden Dome

by Guy Page

Marijuana

H.167, amended to permit both licensed, commercial marijuana cultivation and retail sales and unlicensed personal marijuana possession and cultivation, won 21-9 preliminary approval in the Vermont Senate Friday April 21. The bill is expected to receive final Senate approval Tuesday April 25.

A lively, contentious House discussion and vote on the Senate changes is expected next week. The original H.167 sailed through the House as an uncontroversial “study bill” about low-level illicit drug use. Friday’s amended H.167 is a “total makeover” that combines most of H.170 (legal possession and cultivation) now stalled in the House with last year’s failed effort to license the cultivation and retail sale of marijuana.

The amended H.167 appears on page 1308 of the 4/21 Senate calendar. Voting yes were Sens. Ashe, Ayer, Balint, Baruth, Benning, Bray, Brooks, Campion, Clarkson, Cummings, Ingram, Lyons, MacDonald, McCormack, Pearson, Pollina, Rogers, Sears, Sirotkin, Westman, and White. Voting no were Sens. Branagan, Collamore, Degree, Flory, Kitchel, Mazza, Mullin, Nitka, and Starr.

What happens next? Next week the full House will likely vote yes or no on the amended H167. If yes, it will go to Gov. Phil Scott for signature or veto. If no, House and Senate leaders will seek a “conference committee” compromise, which also must be voted on by the full House. As with all controversial issues, representatives expect to hear from their constituents. Contact information can be found here. Constituents also may leave a message for their representative(s) at the State House during business hours at 828-2228.

No Parental Notification for Gender Counseling, and More

The Vermont Senate Friday April 21 broadened H230, no parental notification needed for counseling/treatment of minor children re: sexual orientation and gender identification, to encompass all mental health counseling. The vote was 24-6, with Sens. Benning, Branagan, Collamore, Flory, Rodgers and Starr voting no. As with H167, the House must now vote to confirm or deny the amended bill.

Sen. Dick McCormack (Windsor) explained last week that Senate Health and Welfare thought the list of treatment issues too narrow. For example, children with parents suffering from mental illness might want counseling, but might shy away if they knew parents would be notified.  The amended version drew a sharp rebuke from Sen. Joe Benning (Caledonia):

“Our courts have held time and again that parents have a constitutional right to parent their children, which includes assisting them with their mental health needs.  Our statutes, in both civil and family law, protect the right of parents to obtain medical information concerning their children.”

Gender Neutral Bathrooms

H333, requiring gender-neutral signs for single-stall bathrooms in public buildings (including churches), passed the Vermont House 123-19 Friday April 21. It reportedly will not be taken up by the Senate this year.

Rep. Vickie Strong (Irasburg) proposed but then withdrew an amendment excepting houses of worship. Two representatives voting no offered comments:

Rep. Robert Frenier (Chelsea): “People come to know their God best when they worship with members of their own gender. Their custom is to have separated restrooms. The smallest temples, mosques and churches have only single stall restrooms. We have stepped on their customs.”

Rep. Marianna Gamache of Swanton: “I voted no on H.333 because there is no accommodation for houses of worship. This is overreach by the Vermont State Government and violates the traditional practice of religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and 1st amendment.”

Energy Policy

S.51, enforcing 90% total renewable energy by 2050, will go no further this year. The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee does not plan to meet further this session. However, the committee Friday April 21 sent to the Senate floor H.424, to update Act 250, the state’s 50-year-old land use and environmental bill, which includes a requirement to include climate change action in any revision.

Miscellaneous

The House Friday voted to allow inspection stickers for cars with lit “check engine” lights, provided there is nothing actually wrong. The bill is expected to clear the Senate, according to WCAX.

The State of Vermont is “in advanced negotiations” with the State of Pennsylvania to house a minimum of 250 Vermont inmates, according to Vermont Digger. The current contract housing inmates in Michigan expires later this year.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting May 25 in Windham County regarding the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to NorthStar, for decommissioning. Time and specific location will be announced soon. Citizen input is welcome.

During the first 100 days of his administration, Gov. Phil Scott has restricted ridgeline wind development: more stringent noise reduction, increased local say in siting, insisting on consideration of aesthetic impacts of turbine noise, and “communicating to trade partners that while wind generation projects are welcome, we are not open to siting projects on our ridgelines,” according to a press release his office issued last week.

Opposition to ridgeline wind will surely get an “amen!” from the publishers of “The Mountain Manifesto,” an eight page special section in the April 20 edition of the Montpelier Bridge community newspaper. Prepared by Vermonters for a Clean Environment, it is a full-color “Call to protect the Green Mountains,” explaining the history and purpose of the effort to stop ridgeline wind turbine projects. It is complete with quotes from Calvin Coolidge, the Book of Psalms, UVM naturalist George Perkins Marsh, and Shirley Strong, the first woman president of the Green Mountain Club.

And speaking of Calvin Coolidge – the April 19 Seven Days found something suspiciously conservative in the new faces at the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation. According to 7D, “conservative donors…in recent years have taken over the sleepy historical society once known as the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation.” – The chief re-imaginer of the foundation is identified as Amity Schlaes, Coolidge biographer and Wall Street Journal editorial board member.

–  Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and the Church at Prison. Guy Page is a member of the coordinating committee for the Consumer Liaison Group of ISO-New England, the operators of the regional transmission grid. He is an occasional host on Common Sense Radio on WDEV. Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate.  For more information, contact pagecommunications4vt@gmail.com

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