By Guy Page
The House on Wednesday approved a study for commuter railroad service between Barre and Montpelier.
The study — part of a House/Senate agreement on H.529, the miscellaneous transportation bill — will provide by Dec. 1 cost and construction schedule estimates “and shall be neutral regarding the type of passenger rail car to be operated on the State-owned railroad line between Montpelier and Barre.” The bill does not address the cost of the study.
At present a freight train traverses those tracks twice a day. Senate approval of the conference committee agreement is considered a virtual certainty, making it highly likely that H.529 will be sent to Gov. Phil Scott for his signature.
H.529 also allocates $2 million to fund vouchers up to $5,000 for new engines and repairs for some cars that do not pass emissions inspections, and subsidize electric car purchases for Vermonters at or below 160 percent of median household income.
At least one lawmaker was unhappy about something that wasn’t in H.529. The House got an earful from Rep. Dr. George Till, D-Underhill/Jericho. He wanted the bill to let police stop and cite drivers for not wearing seat belts. He expressed consternation that once again the House has let Senate have its way. The Senate prefers the existing “click it or ticket” law, which applies only if the motorist is stopped for other reasons and then is observed to be unbelted.
“I’m highly disappointed that we have not stood up to the Senate,” Till said. His vehement “nay!” was among a handful of negative votes on the S.149 conference committee report.
The House approved House/Senate conference committee decisions on two other bills:
- S.40 provides funding to reducing lead in water in Vermont schools. House conference committee negotiators had complained the bill underfunds the actual required spending.
- S.113 bans retail and restaurant plastic bags, straws, and single-use plastic containers.
S.73, meant to reduce the cost of surgery, was returned by the House to a conference committee Wednesday morning due to procedural problems, not over the “substance” of the bill. The bill addresses taxation, oversight and regulation of ambulatory surgical centers for patients who walk in, receive the procedure, and walk out the same day. The centers are considered a cost-saving alternative to traditional hospitals. The procedural problem — involving how a flurry of last-minute amendments were handled — is not expected to stop passage this year.
Tuesday afternoon, the Senate:
- Amended the House version of S.96, the statewide water quality control program. The changes were approved by the House this afternoon, following a failed amendment by roll call. It will now go to the governor.
- Approved H.547, allowing the City of Montpelier to set energy efficiency standards for new and existing construction.
- Approved House changes to S.30, limiting hydrofluorocarbons, to ban sale of greenhouse gas-emitting HFC’s over the next five years. HFCs are used in insulation spray foams and as refrigerator coolants.
- Approved House changes to S.108, including elimination of the optional “three strikes you’re out” life sentence for ‘violent career criminals’ (See page 1517, Senate Journal for May 21.) If S.108 becomes law, Vermont still has a “habitual” criminal four-strikes law, approved in 1971 and updated in 1995. The violent career offender statute is rarely if ever used by Vermont prosecutors, who prefer the habitual criminal option, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee explained today. The bill also creates a Task Force on Campus Sexual Harm and requires local police to report to the Vermont Crime Information Center all compliance checks on people on criminal registries.
- Approved by 19-11 roll call (see page 1535 in Senate Journal) House changes to S.37, medical monitoring. As reported in yesterday’s Headliners, this bill would require users and manufacturers of toxic chemicals to fund medical monitoring of symptoms for people who — with support of expert testimony — establish they may have or might in the future suffer harm from exposure.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.