Legislative Preview

For 3/20-3/24

by Rob Roper

It looks as if Spring Fever gripped our legislators as well as the rest of the state over the weekend. As of this writing (late Sunday night), most of the committee schedules have not been posted, and those that have been contain a lot of TBDs. The big excitment is that the Governor will take part in the 31st Governor’s Tree Tapping on the State House Lawn Tuesday at 11:00. Hope, given the weather, he’s not too late.

Nevertheless, there are some notable pieces of legislation in the spotlight this week. H. 468 – An act relating to a renewable portfolio standard and the Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development Program, which passed out of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee on Friday is now in House Commerce Committee. Perhaps these folks will have something to say about how mandates for extraordinarily high energy costs will affect our jobs and economic development in Vermont. Let’s hope against hope that that’s the case.

House Agriculture will take up H. 722 – An act relating to the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering. This bill proposes to provide that food is misbranded if it is entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering and it is not labeled as genetically engineered.” Just as a curious side note, the bill defines, “(3) The term “person” includes an individual, partnership, corporation and association.” I thought we weren’t doing that in Vermont anymore! I wonder how many of those legislators out pushing for a Constitutional amendment on corporate personhood will vote against H.722 just on principal? My bet, not many.

In the meat of the bill there are some interesting exceptions to being branded “misbranded.” “(1) Food consisting entirely of, or derived entirely from, an animal which has not itself been produced with genetic engineering, regardless of whether such animal has been fed or injected with any food or drug produced with genetic engineering.” Okay, that seems to cover the dairy industry. Another, “(2) A raw agricultural commodity or food derived therefrom that has been grown, raised, or produced without the knowing and intentional use of food or seed produced with genetic engineering….” And, “(9) Medical food.”

These last two items really jumped out at me. If the health of the consumer is really at the heart of this legislation, what difference does it make if the contamination is intentional or not? If the contamination is unintentional, but likely or even possible, shouldn’t the consumer be warned that the product MAY contain genetically modified materials? And, medical food is exempt? If genetically modified food represents some sort of a health hazard, one would think that medical food would be the first place you stick a warning.

However, this bill, it seems, is less about warning consumers and more about frightening them. Frightening them away from politically un-favored suppliers and providing an advantage to politically favored suppliers. H.722 does not state what the penalties would be for misrepresenting food under this law. Perhaps that it exists at all is punishment enough.

Elsewhere, Senate Education takes up H. 753 – An act relating to encouraging school districts and supervisory unions to provide services cooperatively or to consolidate governance structures, as it was passed by the House. This bill proposes to “delete the requirement that each supervisory union board vote by October 2012 whether to perform a comprehensive analysis of merger; redesign the system of incentives provided to school districts and supervisory unions that enter into agreements to provide services jointly or to consolidate governance structures.” Guess that whole voluntary school district merger thing went over like a lead balloon in Peoria. Who’d’ve guessed?

The House Agriculture Committee will take up H. 412 – An act relating to harassment and bullying in educational settings. This is the bill that controversially gives schools the power and the responsibility to police student activities outside of school. While addressing the problem of electronic bullying is an important goal, are schools really trained and equipped for this job. But an even more compelling question is, why in the heck does the agriculture committee have jurisdiction over this bill?

Watch out all you scofflaws out there… Senate Judiciany will take up H. 634 – An act relating to remedies for failure to pay municipal tickets, as passed the House. This bill proposes to allow the use of civil contempt proceedings and referral of debt to a collection agency for unpaid municipal tickets.

And, finally, on Wednesday Night there will be a hearing on the hot and controversial topic of S. 199 – An act relating to immunization exemptions and the immunization pilot program. This bill passed the Senate and is now moving on to the House. The event will take place from 6:00-8:00 PM, State House, Room 11. Witnesses can sign up starting at 5:30 PM. Written testimony also accepted.