Legislative Weekly Preview

by Rob Roper

Lots of stuff is happening under the Golden Dome this week, much of it worth noting, some of it worth commenting upon.

Some of the really important bills under consideration include H.496 – An act relating to preserving Vermont’s working landscape, which passed the House last week and has now landed in the Senate Agriculture Committee, and S.238, An act relating to expanding access to driving privileges in Vermont, which passed the Senate 26-0, and is now in House Transportation.

S.238’s name is a bit misleading. It’s more than a “driving privileges” bill. Its statement of purpose is “to create a farm guest worker program to enable noncitizens and nonpermanent residents to establish residency, identification, and work authorization on Vermont farms.” There are serious constitutional questions surrounding this bill as it could, by some interpretations, be creating a type of visa program, which is the sole purview of the federal government. But have no fear! Our intrepid Attorney General Bill Sorrel will no doubt be ready to defend this one with the same brilliance he’s displayed in the past…

The House Healthcare Committee appears ready to vote on the controversial S.199 – An act relating to immunization exemptions and the immunization pilot program, and will do so first thing Tuesday morning, so call quick if you want to weigh in. They will also pick up S. 223 – An act relating to health insurance coverage for early childhood development disorders, including autism spectrum disorders. Although this bill hasn’t garnered much attention, and passed the senate on just a voice vote, it appears at first glance that it could create a very expensive mandate for insurance companies. That could mean higher premiums in the short term, and would set a precedent for coverage under a single payer system.

The House Agriculture Committee will spend the bulk of its week discussing H. 722 – An act relating to the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering, which we have already commented upon extensively in this feature. They will also take up the Senate’s S. 93 – An act relating to labeling maple products, an interesting look at one of our the pillars of our Vermont brand.

Speaking of the Vermont brand, the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs committee will pick up H. 640 – An act relating to promoting tourism and marketing.

House Energy & Natural Resources will take up S. 214 – An act relating to customer rights regarding smart meters. Some interesting testimony will certainly come from Allen Gilbert, Executive Director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Vermont. ENR will also take up, pending senate action, S. 28 – An act relating to consolidating land use and environmental permit administration, rulemaking, and appeals into a department of environmental quality headed by an environmental council, which proposes to consolidate state environmental permit programs, including water quality, air pollution control, waste management, and Act 250, and associated appeals, into a department of environmental quality to be directed by a three-person environmental council headed by a full-time chair…. And it goes on for 110 pages.

House Judiciary takes up S. 112 – An act relating to bail for persons charged with lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. This bill proposes to “categorize lewd and lascivious conduct with a child as a violent act for which bail may be denied if the evidence of guilt is great and the court finds, based upon clear and convincing evidence, that the person’s release poses a substantial threat of physical violence to any person and that no condition or combination of conditions of release will reasonably prevent the physical violence.” No mention of boiling in oil, but it’s a step in the right directon.