Legislative Weekly Preview

By Rob Roper

The House committees take up some interesting legislation from the Senate this week, and vice versa. The House Healthcare Committee, for example, inherits the controversial S.199 -An act relating to immunization exemptions and the immunization pilot program, and will spend the bulk of the week debating it. They’ve rented a bigger room (Rm. 10 for those interested in popping in) for the deliberations in anticipation of crowds.

However, House Healthcare Committee gave as good as it got as H.559 – An act relating to health care reform implementation will be debated in both the Senate Health & Welfare and the Senate Finance Committees this week. The debate in Senate Finance should be interesting as Sen. Randy Brock, who is challenging Governor Shumlin in the 2012 gubernatorial election, sits on that committee. Brock, perhaps the keenest debater under the Golden Dome, has been an outspoken critic of the bill.

Senate Education will take up H. 440 – An act relating to creating an agency and secretary of education and amending the membership and purpose of the state board of education. This bill passed the House with all but two Republicans joining a split Democratic caucus in support.

House Fish & Wildlife will look at S. 202 – An act relating to regulation of flood hazard areas, river corridors, and stream alteration. Of all the may Irene inspired, water related bills that went into the hopper at the beginning of the session, this appears to be the one headed for possible passage.

One bill that is not a crossover bill has popped up on the House Government Operations schedule, H. 742 – An act relating to persons permitted to apply for an early voter absentee ballot. This is interesting in light of the recent attention drawn to voter fraud in Vermont by videographer James O’Keefe and the call for a new election in a St. Albans alderman’s race. Absentee ballots are particular vulnerable to shenanigans. One section of H.742 reads,

The town clerk may, upon application, issue a duplicate early voter absentee ballot if the original ballot is not received by the voter within a reasonable period of time after mailing. The application may be made by a person entitled to apply for an early voter absentee ballot under subsection (a) of this section and shall be accompanied by a sworn statement affirming that the voter has not received the original ballot. If a duplicate early voter absentee ballot is issued and both the duplicate and original early voter absentee ballots are received before the close of the polls on election day, the ballot with the earlier postmark shall be counted.

Think about that…. Someone steals your absentee ballot out of the mail and sends it in, voting in your name. You request a second ballot figuring the first got lost. The vote that counts is that of the guy who stole your ballot, because it has an earlier postmark. Nobody knows what the heck just happened. Brilliant.

Another bill that deserves a little more discussion is S. 237 – An act relating to the genuine progress indicator. We mentioned this bill when it first reared its ugly head at the beginning of the session, but I confess didn’t pay it much mind. It was just too far out there to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, here it is in House Commerce & Economic Development having passed the Senate.

Basically, what S.237 wants to do is eliminate, or reduce, a policy’s impact on Vermont’s economy as a measurement for that policy’s success, replacing economic indicators with this Genuine Progress Indicator. What’s that, you might ask. According to the bill: “The secretary of administration shall accept the offer of the GundInstitute for Ecological Economics of the University of Vermont (the “GundInstitute”) to work in cooperation to establish, and shall thereafter make use ofand maintain, the genuine progress indicator (GPI)….”

What’s Ecological Economics, you might ask as well. I certainly did. According to Wikipedia,

Ecological economics is a transdisciplinary field of academic research that aims to address the interdependence and coevolution of human economies and natural ecosystems over time and space…. [E]cological economics is defined by its focus on nature, justice, and time. Issues of intergenerational equity, irreversibility of environmental change, uncertainty of long-term outcomes, and sustainable development guide ecological economic analysis and valuation. Ecological economists have questioned fundamental mainstream economic approaches such as cost-benefit analysis.

Given their healthcare policy, energy policy, budgetary policy it’s no wonder these legislators would embrace a standard for success that is not “mainstream” and that conveniently eliminates any of that pesky cost-benefit analysis. If you didn’t understand any of the other mumbo jumbo all of our future legislation will be measured by, don’t worry. I’m sure that’s the intent.