Legislative Preview

Week of 3/13 to 3/16

by Rob Roper

Well, they’re back after a week of mingling with their constituents over the Town Meeting week break. Did our esteemed politicians learn anything from what they heard back home? The second half of the legislative session will tell.

The big issues to watch this week are education, energy and the re-emergence of Doctor Assisted Suicide.

The Senate Education Committee will be voting on a number of bills this week, including in all likelihood, S. 201 – An act relating to expanding public school choice for elementary and high school students. The governor has asked for an expanded school choice bill, although his idea of school choice (only public schools and only at the high school level) does not leave much to choose from. This bill goes further than that in some respects, but it only allows for parents to choose to send their child to another public school through a “non-discriminatory” policy of selection if “…the receiving school district has capacity toaccept the enrollment.” This sounds more like a lottery for than choice.

As for independent schools, the bill states, “A district that maintains a high school may pay tuition pursuant to thischapterto an approved independent school or an independent school meeting school quality standards on behalf of one or more pupilsif the schoolboard judges that a pupil has unique educational needs that cannot be served within the district or at a nearby public school. [Emphasis added.] Its judgment shall be final in regard to the institution the pupils may attend at public cost.” In other words, parents do not decide where their kids go. They can ask, but the school board ultimately decides. That’s not really choice either.

Still, any debate that could move this issue forward is welcome, and hopefully Vermonters who value true, parent/child driven school choice that includes Vermont’s independent schools will take this opportunity to speak out and influence the final form of this legislation.

Senate Education will also be busy voting this week on S. 233 – An act relating to gradually increasing the mandatory age of school attendance, which would raise the elective drop our age to 18, and S. 218 – An act relating to high-quality, early childhood education programs. This sounds nice, but is really about funneling more government directed, taxpayer subsidies to preferred recipients under the guise of “quality,” a term that those ladling out the money define. The programs themselves are of dubious benefit to the children.

The House Natural Resources & Energy Committee will spend all week debating H.468 – An act relating to a renewable portfolio standard and the Sustainably Priced Energy Development Program, in preparation for a vote on Friday. It’s a long bill (45 pages), but two passages pretty much say it all…

“For purposes of this subdivision (2), no form of nuclear fuel shall be considered renewable.” And, “After conducting administrative proceedings, the board may add technologies or technology categories to the definition of “renewable energy,” provided that technologies using the following fuels shall not be considered renewable energy supplies: coal, oil, propane, and natural gas.”

Other bills that are scheduled to come up for a vote this week include, S. 179 – An act relating to amending perpetual conservation easements in the Senate Natural Resources committee, H. 272 – An act relating to maintenance of private roads in the House Commerce & Economic Development Committee, and S. 87 – An act relating to confidentiality of law enforcement internal investigation records in Senate Government Operations.

Although no vote is scheduled, the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up S. 103 – End of life; patient-directed dying, more commonly referred to as Physician Assisted Suicide or Doctor Prescribed Death, first thing Tuesday morning. This surprised many who thought the bill was dead, at least for this year. Now it appears to be on the fast track.