Faith-based fight against opioid abuse center stage at Statehouse

STATE HOUSE  HEADLINERS

Teen Challenge volunteers display information on their faith-based addiction recovery organization in the Cedar Creek Room at the Vermont State House Thursday, April 13.
Faith-based fight against opioid abuse aired at State House
Youth gender, sexuality ID treatment bill up for Senate vote
Senate backs off convention to amend U.S. Constitution
Intermittent power requires $9.2 million data center
Global Foundries concerned about $36 million electric bill
 
By Guy Page
 
The day before Good Friday, Rep. Vickie Strong (Irasburg) promoted faith-based efforts to fight opioid addiction at a State House news conference on Vermont Opioid Overdose Awareness Day.  
 
After a stirring introduction by Rep. Strong, Jeanette Birch of Brownington told how she and Melissa Zebrowski of Westmore co-founded NEK End Addiction after each lost a family member to drug abuse. They advocate in schools and churches for better access to drug treatment, including faith-based treatment. Their Facebook page warns parents about needles left in local parks and ball fields. They also direct individuals and families to Journey to Recovery in Newport and Teen Challenge. She also said legalizing marijuana would make the drug abuse problem worse.
 
The press conference was attended by Gov. Phil Scott, Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, and many other legislators, state officials, and press. Also present was Richard Welch, executive director of Teen Challenge, which operates a faith-based recovery home for men in Johnson. Teen Challenge plans to open a nearby home for women in recovery, a crisis center in Rutland and a recovery home in Burlington. Teen Challenge members (see photo) distributed materials in the Cedar Creek Room and sang a rousing Christian chorus for the “devotional” before the full House. For more information on Teen Challenge, call 635-7807.According to Vermont Dept. of Health material available at the press conference, there were 148 drug-related deaths in 2016, a 37% increase over the 108 deaths in 2015. Drug-related deaths have almost doubled since 2010.
 
H.170legal possession and home cultivation of marijuana, remains in the House Human Services Committee where it was sent two weeks ago for lack of votes to pass the House. Some observers say the bill is dead, but opponents know House leadership can call for a floor vote at any time.  Although the Senate is considering H. 184 to examine the cause for every Vermont suicide, H.170 supporters seem unaffected by a Lancet Journal study finding teen users of marijuana seven times more likely to commit suicide.
 
Vermont Senate says “never mind” to convention to amend U.S. Constitution. The Senate voted 23-7 to rescind a 2014 resolution seeking a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution under its Article V. The 2014 resolution sought to overturn Citizens United, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to make campaign donations. But now that Congress and many state legislatures are Republican-controlled, a constitutional convention is deemed by the Progressive-leaning Senate to do more harm than good.
 
H.230, to allow minors to consent to mental health treatment for any condition related to the minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, was approved by Senate Health & Welfare Committee and is scheduled for a full Senate vote Monday, April 17. H.230 passed overwhelmingly in the House last month. A handful of House members voted no, protesting its removal of parental consent.
 
Doctors are not required to inform every terminally-ill patient of assisted suicide option, a federal court judge ruled earlier this month. The judge dismissed a VAEH lawsuit but confirmed Act 39, Vermont’s assisted suicide law, does not require doctors to offer the assisted suicide “option”.  However, if a patient asks, the doctor must be willing to provide some information. VAEH and counsel Alliance for Defending Freedom are considering strategies to best protect at-risk terminally-ill Vermonters.
 
Billed as “conversation starters,” four carbon tax bills were introduced last week. Representatives from Winooski, South Burlington, Bradford and Burlington introduced legislation to replace existing taxes with a “revenue neutral” carbon tax.  The bills have no chance of passage this year, but supporters hope for success in the second half of the 2017-18 biennium. Gov. Phil Scott has promised to veto any carbon tax.  State House Headliners will follow the discussion and progress of these bills.
 
$9.2 MILLION DATA CENTER IS “HIDDEN COST” OF INTERMITTENT POWER – Vermont Electric Power Co., the state’s transmission utility, plans to build a $9.2 million data center in Rutland to balance consumer demand with “intermittent” solar and wind power.
 
The data center will “crunch” weather and consumer demand data to match power output with consumer demand, according to an April 14 story by Rutland Herald reporter Susan Smallheer. As Vermont uses fewer large, reliable baseload power sources and more small intermittent power generators, utilities will rely on advanced computer systems to maintain reliable flow of power.
 
The building will be specially built for safety and security. The cost of the computers will be in addition to the $9.2 million, a VELCO spokesperson said.
 
Meanwhile, two major transmission line projects are expected to carry large amounts of hydro power across Vermont from Quebec to southern New England. State utility officials have not publicly expressed interest in buying some of this additional reliable, relatively low-cost Canadian power. Vermont at present has the fifth-highest electricity rates in the nation.
 
And speaking of high cost power – the government affairs team of Global Foundries, purchasers of IBM Essex Junction, was in the State House Thursday seeking a solution to its highly expensive power bill. Global Foundries – Essex Junction pays $36 million for electricity annually, 50% of its total operating budget, by far the highest power bill in the Global Foundries U.S. fleet of fabrication plants, a spokesperson said. Green Mountain Power is proposing a five percent increase next year, which would raise the bill by $1.8 million.
 
The Vermont Public Service Board earlier this month approved the measurement tower for the 2.2 MW Dairy Air wind turbine project in Holland, VT. The single-turbine project is located on the Champney farm in a flat area (not a mountaintop) near the Quebec border, about a mile from a school. The project was rejected last year in a non-binding town vote 319 opposed, 59 in favor, 44 unsure. Approval of the wind measurement tower is the first step to final PSB approval.
 
The House this week welcomed Jim Harrison, former president of the Vermont Grocers’ Association, as the new representative for Mendon-Killington. He was appointed by Gov. Scott to replace Job Tate, who resigned after he was called up to active duty as a U.S. Navy Seabee.
 
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials, and media. To receive Statehouse Headliners or to stop receiving it, email pagecommunications4vt@gmail.com. Readers are encouraged to interact with legislators from their House and Senate districts.
 
Guy Page and/or Page Communications 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, and a Medium.com blogger. A Burlington native raised in Colchester and a 1979 University of Vermont graduate with a career of Vermont journalism and government relations, he and his wife Colette live in Berlin, a 5K run/walk from State & Main in Montpelier.