Legislative Preview for week of 1/23/11

Highlights of what’s happening under the Golden Dome

by Rob Roper

Mark Twain’s warning that “No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session” seems particularly relevant this week. Several bills fall into the category of “spreading the wealth” as our President likes to call it…

Following up their focus from last week, The House and Senate Agriculture Committees will again spend the bulk of their week taking testimony on H.496 and S.246 – An act relating to preserving Vermont’s working landscapes. The concerns over this bill are growing. The bills would create something called the “Working Landscapes Enterprise Board” with a number of broad responsibilities related to economic development and environmental protection. The board will also determine who gets government subsidies.

What has people worried is the possibility that this board becomes an instrument of social engineering, picking winners and losers based on political ideology or, worse, political cronyism. Flashbacks here to the Clean Energy Development Fund when Shumlin crony and appointee to that board David Blittersdorf wound up coincidentally receiving $4.3 million of the roughly $7 million the committee gave out.

Similarly, the Senate Natural Resources will take up S. 247 – An act relating to establishing the Vermont green trust. This would establish the trust, “as a body corporate andpolitic and a public instrumentality of the state the Vermont green trust, thepurpose of which shall be to provide financing and investment in clean energy throughout the state.” It involves the creation of yet another board of five people whose ultimate job is to hand out money.

And, Senate Education takes up S. 218 – An act relating to high-quality, early childhood education programs. “This bill proposes to increase state subsidies to childcare programs offering high-quality, nonschool-based prekindergarten education for children in poverty and to encourage schools wishing to count prekindergarten children within their average daily membership to form relationships with these programs.”

Of course, this again increases the chances for social engineering with our young children and “crony capitalism” in handing out the subsidies. Schools that currently get such subsidies use the opportunity to undercut their competition and, arguably, reduce the number of childcare slots in the process. More money for programs that are shown over and over to have no lasting benefits for the kids and undercuts non-government favored childcare businesses is a good idea how?

The moment we’ve all been waiting for…. Arriving in the Senate Government Operations committee on Tuesday, 2:30 is J.R.S. 11 – a joint resolution urging the United States Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution for the states’ consideration which provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States or any of its jurisdictional subdivisions.

We’ve written about how this is a blindly foolish evisceration of the First Amendment in these pages enough not to go into details again here. The two people set to testify are the resolution’s sponsor, Senator Ginny Lyons, and Paul Burns, Executive Director of VPIRG. Should be quite a show.

Senate Finance will consider the idea of a State Bank in S. 204 – An act relating to creating an expert panel on the creation of a state bank. If the phrase “creating an expert panel” isn’t enough to send shivers up your spine, former Progressive, former Independent, now Democrat Senator Anthony Pollina is the lead sponsor.

One little curiosity in this bill is that it states, “On or before November 15, 2012, the panel shall submit areport of its findings and recommendations to the general assembly and to thegovernor.” This is some pretty complicated stuff. Pollina is asking for analysis of multiple scenarios, but believes it can all be done in November 2012. You’d think with at least six months head start the Green Mountain Care Board could present their work on a single health care model in September 2012 instead of after the November election.

Another interesting proposal is H. 485 – An act relating to establishing universal recycling of solid waste, which will be taken up by Natural Resources and Energy. “This bill proposes to require the agency of natural resources to assess the current capacity, cost, and efficiency of solid waste collection in Vermont and to report to the general assembly. The bill would also require solid waste certified facilities and transporters that offer to collect municipal solid waste also to offer to collect mandated recyclables and leaf and yard residual separately from other solid waste at no additional charge. The bill also would ban the landfill disposal of mandated recyclables and leaf and yard residual. In addition, the bill requires a person producing more than tons of source-separated organic material to separate the waste from other waste and arrange for its disposal in a compost facility. The bill also amends the requirements for the state solid waste management plan. Additionally, the bill authorizes municipalities to impose charges for the collection of municipal solid waste that increase as the volume or weight of the waste collected increases.” If only they could do something about the volumes of solid waste produced by this general assembly…

On the positive side, General Housing and Military Affairs will be looking at H.552 – An act relating to payment of workers’ compensation benefits by electronic payroll card. The primary sponsor is Mike Marcotte (R-Coventry), but the bill has bipartisan support. What the bill does is: “If an injured worker voluntarily consents in writing, the worker may bepaid compensation benefits by means of direct deposit or an electronic payrollcard.” What’s so compelling about this bill is the idea that if workers comp payments and food stamps can be paid through such cards, why couldn’t ALL benefits be paid through a single electronic payroll card? This would create a transparent account which would, like a credit care bill, show exactly how much money is passing through government to individuals.

And, back in Senate Education, S.192 – An act relating to grade levels within public high school choice regions. This bill, sponsored by Senatror Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) would allow seventh and eight graders to participate in school choice programs. More choice is good.