Legislative Update - March 26, 2015

Dear fellow Progressives,

The political climate in the Statehouse this session is difficult to say the least, and Progressive legislators could use a hand from you today: Please call your representatives today (click here to look up contact info) and urge them to support the Workers' Caucus amendments to the tax and budget bills. You can contact Rep. Chris Pearson for more details on what those include: cpearson@leg.state.vt.us

Despite the challenges, your Progressive electeds have been hard at work trying to make progress on a wide range of issues. Here's what they've been up to so far this session....


Senator Anthony Pollina , Washington County

Committees: Senate Health and Welfare Committee, Senate Committee on Government Operations (Vice Chair), Government Accountability Committee
Contact: apollina@leg.state.vt.us

Sen. Pollina is working on a Senate healthcare bill (S103) that would do 2 things: 1) Provide immediate help to lower out-of-pocket expenses for Vermonters in the health exchange, and 2) requires Green Mountain Care to develop a universal, publicly-funded health care system based on the same principles as Act 48. Most importantly (as amended), it tells the Board they should base the financing plan for the new system on a financing plan proposed by the Vermont Workers Center and/or two of the alternative financing plans included in the Governor’s scrapped plans. These plans all show that a single payer system can actually work, and would give the Board a good starting point from which to design the funding mechanism for a single-payer system. 

From Senator Pollina:
The bottom line is that the Governor’s own report [the full report] shows a universal single payer-type system can work: all we need is the political will to take the next steps. The first step is to revisit and refine the financing plan. Both the Governor’s [alternate proposals] and the Workers Center proposal lay the foundation for doing that.”

Senator David Zuckerman, Chittenden County

Committees: Senate Committee on Agriculture (Vice Chair), Senate Committee on Education
Contact: dzuckerman@leg.state.vt.us

Sen. David Zuckerman introduced S. 95 (“An Act Relating to Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana”) to the Senate Committee on Judiciary earlier this session. The proposed bill would legalize limited amounts of marijuana to be used for recreational purposes, as well as establishing regulations regarding cultivation, distribution, and taxation of marijuana. Marijuana, under this proposed bill, would be legal to possess and available for sale to people over the age of 21. 

In addition to legalizing marijuana, this proposed law hopes to increase tax revenue which can support drug abuse prevention, education, treatment, and law enforcement efforts against the illegal drug trade. It also would increase the state’s control over distribution to prevent the use of marijuana by persons under 21. This bill proposes marijuana be treated similarly to alcohol, with abuse being approached as a public health matter, and irresponsible use leading to the harming of others being sanctioned with penalties. The hope with this bill is that legalization will reduce crime, create more revenue, and ultimately reduce the overall health risks associated with marijuana.  

Rep. Chris Pearson, Burlington (CHI 6-7)

Committees: House Committee on Health Care (Vice Chair)
Contact: cpearson@leg.state.vt.us

Rep. Chris Pearson has sponsored a bill to legalize marijuana in the House (H.277, a companion bill to Sen. Zuckerman's legislation in the Senate). He has also sponsored a bill to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in Vermont agriculture (a pesticide that kills bees), H.236. 

The House Health Care Committee has been working on making investments to reduce the cost-shift people experience in the healthcare exchange. The goal is for the state to invest money so that current recipients receive care similar to what they had on Catamount. There is also a push to invest in primary care and Medicaid in ways that reduce growth in private premiums, though that bills is currently stuck in the House Ways & Means Committee. 

In light of the recent Democratic budget proposals which seek to slash-and-burn public services across the state, Rep. Pearson and other legislators have developed revenue-raising alternatives that seek to get the rich to pay their share of taxes rather than heaping the burden on working families (such as raising the tax on capital gains to be equal to the tax on earned income).

From Rep. Pearson: 
“Austerity has not been an effective strategy to pull us out of this budget hole-- all it does is dig us in deeper. Now more than ever it's critical that we make strategic investments to help working families and low-income Vermonters to get ahead. Legislators like myself will continue to fight against the notion that we can cut our way out of this economic slump.”

Earlier this session, Progressive Representatives Chris Pearson, Sandy Haas, and Robin Chesnut-Tangerman joined forces with pro-labor Democrats in proposing 10 bills aimed at providing some relief to working Vermonters. The two bills that Rep. Pearson sponsored were aimed at investigating gas prices around the state (H.30), and proposing Paid Family Leave in Vermont (H.339). 

Rep. Susan Davis, West Topsham (Orange 1)

Committees: House Committee on Corrections and Institutions, Legislative Information Technology Committee
Contact: sdavis@leg.state.vt.us

Rep. Susan Davis is sponsoring H.475 (a companion bill to what Sen. Anthony Pollina has proposed), a bill that gives the legislature an alternative financing plan for a universal, publicly-funded health care system. Rep. Davis also co-sponsored H.260, a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour (along with other Progressive legislators Rep. Diana Gonzalez and Rep. Chris Pearson), and has been pushing back against attempts by more conservative members in her committee to add more security to the Vermont Statehouse, making it less accessible to the general public. 

From Rep. Davis: 
“I have campaigned on health care reform since 2005, and I still think a universal single-payer system is in reach. However, we need to ensure that we aren’t just replacing unaffordable co-pays with unaffordable taxes (or premiums). I hear from people living paycheck to paycheck, who struggle to pay for insurance, and from those who are concerned about losing their health care. Healthcare is a huge cost driver. People are concerned about issues linked to health care, too—like property taxes, school and community budgets, and jobs.”

Rep. Sandy Haas, Rochester (Windsor-Rutland)

Committees: House Committee on Human Services (Vice Chair), Joint Committee on Judicial Rules, Joint Legislative Corrections Oversight Committee 
Contact: shaas@leg.state.vt.us

Earlier this session, Rep. Haas sponsored “An act relating to Reach Up participants’ college savings accounts” (H.186) which seeks to put college in reach of more young Vermonters.  

The House Committee on Human Services, which Rep. Haas is vice chair of, has also been working on a child protection bill in the wake of the tragic deaths of two Vermont toddlers last year. After months of hearings by a special joint House Senate committee, the Senate has passed S.9, a bill that takes a multi-prong approach to protecting children from abuse and neglect.

First, the bill sets forth specific procedures to assure communication between law enforcement and the Department for Children and Families (DCF). In particular, cases of serious bodily injury will be referred to a Special Investigative Unit. Second, the bill sets a new standard for the courts in deciding whether a child who has been removed from the home because of safety concerns should be reunited with his or her parents. Such decisions will now focus on the best interests of the child. 

S.9 also sets forth a clear mechanism for adoption agreements that allow birth parents to have continued contact with their children. This is especially important in light of the current epidemic of drug addiction. This provision will make it easier and more likely that an addicted parent can agree to an adoption that creates safety and permanency for the child, while retaining the hope of a life-long connection to the child.

The bill has now moved to the House, where the Human Services Committee has begun taking testimony. 

One portion of the bill that was added by the Senate creates a new crime of “failure to protect a child,” which could be used by prosecutors where one caregiver knew that another person was committing child abuse. Several witnesses have testified that this provision may make it more difficult to protect children, since it could catch service providers in its net as well as discourage parents from working closely with DCF. The committee will continue to review the bill before it moves on to the House Judiciary Committee.

Please feel free to weigh in with Rep. Haas and other members of the House Human Services Committee if you have thoughts on this bill (including the “failure to protect” language). 

Rep. Diana Gonzalez, Winooski (CHI 6-7)

Committees: House Committee on General, Housing & Military Affairs
Contact: dgonzalez@leg.state.vt.us

New legislator Rep. Diana Gonzalez has hit the ground running since taking office this year. Rep. Gonzalez has added her name to several worthy pieces of legislation, including bills in support of increasing the minimum wage (H.260), in support of paid family leave (H.339), in support of a real single-payer healthcare system (H.475), and in support of establishing a homeless bill of rights (H.211). 

Rep. Gonzalez has just finished work on H.25, a bill focused on natural burial grounds, or those with ecological land management practices and burial with no embalming fluid (or a non-toxic embalming fluid) in bio-degradable containers. These natural burial grounds will be exempt from the many laws and regulations that conventional burial grounds are subject to. 

From Rep. Gonzalez: 
“While we have been working on a variety of things, this is what comes to top of mind because it shows the power of social change. Small groups of individuals across the nation (and beyond) have been working for over 15 years to alter the cultural practice of preserving bodies and maintaining mowed cemeteries-- practices that are ecologically unsound and separate the experience of death from the experience of life…. Local advocacy pulled these efforts together an put forward the bill [H.25]…. The bill still needs to pass the Senate, but hopefully it will pass and pave the way for a new way of burying our loved ones in Vermont.” 

Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, Middletown Springs (Rutland-Bennington)

Committees: House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy
Contact: rchesnut-tangerman@leg.state.vt.us

Another new Progressive legislator, Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, is hard at work representing the working people of the Rutland-Bennington district! Robin has added his name to several important pieces of legislation, including those in support of establishing a homeless bill of rights (H.211), in support of increasing Vermonters’ access to weatherization and thermal energy efficiency services (H.287), an act relating to rental assistance (H.389), and an act creating a program for first-time home buyer down payment assistance (H.401). Rep. Chesnut-Tangerman also co-sponsored a bill aimed at small farm viability (H.52), as it relates to regulations around chicken slaughtering.

From Rep. Chesnut-Tangerman: 
“Earlier in the session the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee approved a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s energy plan. The bill (H.40) clarifies existing uncertainties for sale of Renewable Energy Credits, sets thresholds for distributed generation and net metered renewable energy, and moves progressively to increase energy efficiency in the areas of heating and transportation, and to decrease the use of fossil fuels. That bill is now in the Senate.

“The Committee is moving ahead with an issue which is a direct consequence of our success in promoting local, renewable energy - siting of such projects. In addition to hearing testimony in committee there is a joint Public Hearing on March 24th as we look to balance clean energy with the Vermont landscape.”