Legislative Weekly Preview

A look at what’s happening under the Golden Dome this week

by Rob Roper

There should be a lot of fireworks surrounding healthcare this week as the Green Mountain Board makes several presentations to committees, including the Senate Finance Committee (Sen. Brock’s committee) at 2:30 on Thursday.

The House Agriculture Committee will spend the week picking up where they left last week on H. 496 – An act relating to preserving Vermont’s working landscape, as their colleagues in the senate will be working on the companion bill of the same name, S.246.

Similarly, House Appropriations will spend the week pretty much exclusively dealing with the Governor’s budget proposal, and House Government Operations will spend all of their time putting together the puzzle that is reapportionment.

The House Fish & Wildlife committee will continue to take testimony on H. 464 – An act relating to hydraulic fracturing wells for natural gas and oil production (they want to ban it, although it appears the process had already been banned in Vermont back in the 1980’s, but where’s the legislative fun in that?)

The committee will also take up a number of bills pertaining to water quality and stream regulation, no doubt resulting from Irene fallout: H. 482 – An act relating to stream alteration, H. 483 – An act relating to requiring a stream alteration permit for removal of timber from watercourses. H. 519 – An act relating to regulation of flood hazard areas, H. 395 – An act relating to extraction of gravel from watercourses for municipal road maintenance and construction. And H. 529 – An act relating to establishing a water resources preservation program. What will all this mean for the possibility of meaningful permit reform in 2012?

House Judiciary will take up H. 412 – An act relating to harassment and bullying in educational settings. This bill proposes to “expand the definitions of “harassment” and “bullying” in the educational context to include actions committed electronically. It would permit school administrators to discipline students for actions conducted outside normal school hours and off school grounds where the conduct can be shown to pose a clear and substantial interference with another student’s right to access educational programs. The bill would authorize the human rights commission to ensure educational institutions comply with procedures required in connection with allegations of harassment and would clarify the legal standard required to prove harassment in a civil action. Finally, it would create a new full-time, limited service position within the human rights commission to direct harassment and bullying prevention and response training initiatives.”

The controversy surrounding H.412 is that it puts schools in the position of law enforcement and open schools up to liabilities in areas where they might not be entirely competent.

The Senate Finance Committee will consider two bills by Sen. Hartwell (D-Bennington) that bode well for transparency, S. 205 – An act relating to requiring a stand-alone bill to set the statewide education property tax base rates each year, and S. 214 – An act relating to customer rights regarding smart meters. This bill proposes to require the public service board to establish terms and conditions governing the installation of wireless smart meters. The terms and conditions shall require an electric company to obtain a customer’s written consent before installing a wireless smart meter on his or her property. The terms and conditions also shall require an electric company to remove, at no cost to the customer, an already installed wireless smart meter, if so requested by a customer.

Let’s see if these go anywhere, or if they’re destined for a spot on the wall.

The battle over School Choice becomes clearer this week as House and Senate Education look at a handful bills, some good and some bad, on the issue. H. 474 – An act relating to authorizing public high school choice and adjusting tuition payments to regional technical centers is a simple idea that would give full public school choice to all high school students, regardless of whether or not their district contains a high school. Governor Shumlin asked for such a bill over the summer. This appears to be it.

Also on the plus side for school choice advocates is S. 192 – An act relating to grade levels within public high school choice regions. This bill proposes to require that public high school choice regions include grades 7 and 8. Combined with H.474, we’re getting somewhere!

But (and there always is a “but” with this crowd), along comes H. 508 – An act relating to tuition payments to out-of-state independent schools. This bill proposes to prohibit school

districts from paying tuition for a resident student to attend an out-of-state independent school. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Alison Clarkson (D-Woodstock), who sent her own kids to the elite Massachusetts boarding school, Groton. God forbid (actually, the legislature forbid), kids whose parents have less means than Rep. Clarkson should have the same educational opportunities.

And, of course, the legislative season wouldn’t be the legislative season without some version H. 150 – An act relating to handheld use of portable electronic devices and primary seatbelt enforcement This bill proposes to: “(1) prohibit handheld use of portable electronic devices by adults operating motor vehicles; and (2) repeal secondary enforcement of safety belt law for adult operators, thus authorizing primary enforcement.”

House Transportation takes it up this week. Call you legislators from a cellphone in your car while you still can!