Like baby sea turtles marching slowly across the beach by their thousands to temporary safety, a minority of the hundreds of bills introduced into the 2017 Vermont Legislature have survived the March 17 “crossover” date. Bills not voted out of committee by March 17 are dead for the rest of the session.
Below are some bills of interest that survived –and some that didn’t.
Drug Abuse & Crime
H170, to legalize possession of an ounce of marijuana, two mature marijuana plants, and five immature plants, was NOT voted out of committee. In a surprise move this week, House Judiciary sat on the bill, in apparent recognition that it might fail in the full House. The bill is not, however, dead. Leaders gave the bill a week’s reprieve while they count votes. (And twist arms?)
However…..H167, to reduce sentences for possession of cocaine, heroin and other “hard” drugs, made it to the water – but not unscathed. It was approved by House Judiciary after being downgraded to a “study” bill. A study bill is often a committee’s way of saying, “maybe a good idea, but not now.” Statehouse Headliners will watch this bill closely. My thanks to Martha Hafner of Randolph for alerting me to this bill.
Judiciary also approved H422, authorizing police to seize guns in homes involved in a domestic dispute. Gun rights groups oppose the bill on Second Amendment and concern that already upset people may escalate if they think their guns may be taken. Victims’ rights groups say the bill will protect domestic abuse victims from possible retribution by gunfire.
S88, raising the smoking age to 21, was approved by Senate Health & Welfare. It is expected to survive the full Senate, but may struggle in the House. Supporters say it will make Vermont healthier and reduce access to nicotine, a proven “gateway” drug for marijuana and other illegal substances. Critics decry lost revenue and personal choice.
It was a bad week for climate change activist legislation. H394, to spend up to $100,000 to study the supposed benefits of a carbon tax, died in committee. So did S.51, which would have provided enforcement power to mandate 90% renewable energy by 2050. Also dead in committee – a House Transportation Committee bill to mandate about $18 million from the Volkswagen class action settlement to be spent on electric vehicles and charging stations. Some observers say the lack of an activist governor to sign virtually any “renewable energy” bill into law no doubt has dampened enthusiasm for climate-related legislation.
The Vermont Public Service Board hearing on the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar was rescheduled due to last week’s blizzard to 7 pm, April 6, at Vernon Elementary School. Comments about the proposed sale may be made on the Public Service Board comment link.
Family & Gender
H196, paid family leave, survived crossover to go to a “money” committee for further review. According to its introduction, H.196, would “provide employees with 12 weeks of paid family leave, funded by contributions from employers and employees. This bill also proposes to amend Vermont’s existing family leave law to make it applicable to all employers.”
H333, gender-free bathrooms, “proposes to require that any single-user toilet in any public building or place of public accommodation be identified as gender-free.” This bill got one quick look and did not survive crossover.
H230 “proposes to allow minors to consent to mental health treatment for any condition related to the minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” Parental consent would not be required. This bill, which survived crossover, was introduced by groups concerned that youth at risk of suicide and other harm due to gender identity or sexual orientation have access to mental health treatment without first acquiring parental approval. Said one lawmaker in opposition: “What about my family values and traditions? Irrelevant? It’s just more erosion of the nuclear family. Children – trust your school and not your parents.” On the other hand, he said, all children at risk must get the help they need. The bill is scheduled to go to the Floor on Wednesday.
As expected, none of the bills opposing aspects of Act 39, legalized assisted suicide, survived crossover. Also, there has been no judge’s decision yet on the VT Alliance for Ethical Healthcare federal court challenge to Act 39.
Religious Freedom, Freedom of Speech
H333, prohibiting among other things a citizen registry based upon religion, was approved by the full House earlier this month. Its strongest support was among the “anti-Trump” lawmakers who are concerned about the president’s alleged intent to discriminate against Moslems. Opponents say the bill was a solution in search of a problem, as no current proposal exists on either state or federal level for a religion-based registry.
There was no official discussion of any kind on the Middlebury College incident involving political scientist and author Charles Murray. On March 2, Middlebury College students chanted loudly while Murray, an invited speaker, attempted unsuccessfully to be heard. When he and the professor who had invited him to speak tried to leave by car, protesters blocked the car and physically assaulted the professor. To my knowledge, there have been no resolutions introduced to condemn the incident; no calls by civil-rights minded legislators to investigate; no condemnation by the Attorney General; in fact, no mention at all (that I have heard). I did overhear a couple of reporters casually discuss the pros and cons of the rationale given by the protesters who silenced Murray: that they had as much right to speak as he did.