Legislative weekly preview

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

by Rob Roper

This week promises lots of fireworks and a few funnies under the Golden Dome.

The fireworks will start with testimony in the House Healthcare Committee on H.559, as they will take up the issue of the Health Benefits Exchange, group markets and the highly controversial notion of “grandfathered plans.” There is considerable speculation that the Teachers Unions will not be forced to participate in the exchange. This idea has angered those on both sides of the debate.

Senate Finance Committee will also take up H.559, hearing from many of the same members of the business community who spoke to last week’s joint healthcare committee hearing on H.559. George Malek of the Vermont Central Chamber of Commerce, Craig Fuller of Fuller & Keller, Jim Harrison of the Vermont Grocers Association, Michael Bayer of Vermont Legal Aid and Russ Bennett of Northland Design & Construction will give encore performances. This will likely be more interesting as the healthcare committees did not ask questions of those who testified, and the latest momentum since last week’s hearing seems to be that the bill will be amended to meet much of the business community’s concerns.

Brushing the dust off their smocks after putting the reapportionment map to bed, the House Government Operations Committee will take on some new business, including H. 524 – An act relating to the regulation of professions and occupations. “This bill proposes to modify statutory provisions relating to the office of professional regulation and the following professions and occupations: chiropractic, dentistry, nursing, optometry, pharmacy, veterinary, land surveying, radiologic technology, psychology, clinical social

work, naturopathic medicine, and boxing.” (Yes, boxing. Talk about “which of these things doesn’t belong,” but still, Ultimate Fighting Championship is sending in a lobbyist to testify, and a pretty high powered one at that.) This bill is 69 pages long, and I have not yet skimmed it beyond the statement of purpose, but if you are anything from a chiropractor to a boxer, it might be worth a few minutes of your time.

The House Ways & Means Committee will take testimony from a number of individuals on the Tax Department Collection of Education Tax and Confidentiality. This follows the Vermont Supreme court ruling against the advice given by the Attorney General’s office and the Tax Department to towns that the property tax information of income sensitized Vermonters should be made public.

The Commerce Committee will discuss H. 730 – An act relating to miscellaneous consumer protection laws. This bill proposes to regulate marketing and conduct of charitable sales promotions (cause-related marketing); to clarify liability for failure to follow disclosure requirements in home solicitation sales on credit; to regulate the transfer of structured legal settlements; to modify the scope of regulation of children’s products under the consumer fraud chapter; to regulate unsolicited goods or services provided to businesses; and to regulate loyalty, award, or promotional gift certificates and Internet loan transactions.

They will also get an update on VEGI, the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive program. VEGI is supposed to encourage economic activity in our state. Those scheduled to testify include Auditor Tom Salmon, Paul Cillo of the Public Assets Institute, and Doug Hoffer, who ran against Salmon and lost I 2010. Bring popcorn to this show.

Looking more toward entertainment value (not knowing whether to laugh or cry or both), Senate Institutions will be taking up S.130 – An act relating to creating a sustainable prisons pilot program. “This bill proposes to require the department of corrections to implement a program to train corrections staff and inmates in sustainable practices; reduce energy usage, water consumption, and waste disposal at correctional facilities; and provide education and green jobs training to inmates.” Just this on its surface, this is enough to make one gag. However, the $25,000 price tag to implement all this education for over 2200 prisoners doesn’t inspire much confidence that this bill would accomplish anything beyond supplying part time employment for the otherwise unemployable relative of a well placed politician or connected contributor.

Doug Hoffer, listed as an “Independent Policy Analyst,” Sarah Teachout of the Joint Fiscal Office and Ellen Kahler, Executive Director, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund will tell the Committee on General Housing & Military Affairs what a “Basic Needs Budget” is. (Dare we guess higher taxes and more spending?)

Fish & Wildlife will debate H. 213 – An act relating to the use and transport of baitfish. This bill says that baitfish harvested from or used on a water of the state may be transported by motor vehicle or other method from one access area on a water to another access point on the same water, provided that the baitfish are not used on another body of water after transport from the original water. I mean… is there any aspect of our lives so small that these people cannot find a way to intrude? Do we really need permission to carry bait from one side of a lake to another, and face prosecution if we carry it to the next lake over? Who’s going to enforce this and how?

Fish & Wildlife will also be looking at the Fee Bill this week. Look for a jump in the price of fishing licenses to pay for the Baitfish Inspector.

And, our favorite piece of legislation is back in our favorite committee this week: Senate Government Operations will be discussing once again, J.R.S. 11 – 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.

Your tax dollars at work, folks.