Legislative Updates

Updates from the Vermont Statehouse

Rep. Cindy Weed Responds to Governor Shumlin's State of the State Address

I believe that we should do everything possible to curb drug use and addiction in Vermont. Addiction not only adversely affects addicts and their families, it threatens the security of our communities and leads to increases in crime rates. Addiction is a growing health care crisis that needs medical intervention, but  currently there are not enough treatment centers to serve those in need of help.

The Governor's proposal for more treatment centers makes sense. In addition, it is cheaper to send an addict to a treatment center than off to prison. Creating a healthier community for less money is being fiscally responsible. We know what works from pilot programs, studies, and hands on experience in the field from doctors like Franklin County's own Dr. Fred Holmes.

Additionally, the Governor proposed some statutory changes that make sense, such as expanding prosecutor-led interventions beyond Chittenden County and creating tougher sentences for those bringing drugs into Vermont and those who engage in armed robbery. He also proposed grants for educating youth about addiction, such as showing the Bess O'Brien film "Hungry Heart" and having former addicts give presentations in schools. There is also national health care money available to help prevent drug abuse. Those initiatives, plus a federal $37M early education grant, can provide youth with the tools they need and the opportunity to be successful in life, plus they act as an economic generator by providing new jobs.

The way that we have been dealing with addiction is not working well. It is time to make the necessary changes and improvements that have proven to be successful. It makes fiscal sense and it's the compassionate thing to do in order to have a healthy and vibrant state.

Rep. Cindy Weed

The Politics of Gas Prices

The House Progressive Caucus was split a month ago when we voted on the gas tax increase.  I voted for it because there is a good correlation between the price of gas and reduction in single-car travel.  I also believe we have to maintain our bridges, roads, and what public transit options we have.

A few members of our Caucus voted no because a gas tax is inherently regressive.  It tends to hurt those who can least afford it. This is a hard argument to ignore and so our split vote represents the two sides of the question.

At the same time, I have been pushing the House Transportation Committee to take up H.437, a bill that requires gasoline distributors to report how many gallons they are selling and where it's going.  The bill also requires advance notice of any merger in the fuel industry.  I've nicknamed this bill the "Skip Vallee Special" (after one of the biggest fuel distributors in Vermont).

If you follow US Senator Bernie Sanders at all, you are probably aware that we in Northwestern Vermont often pay much more for our gallon of gas than the rest of the state.  Nobody is quite sure why, though theories abound.  The most reasonable explanation centers on the fact that three gas distributors own the lion’s share of the distribution market and over 60% of the retail outlets around Burlington.  That's likely why Skip Vallee's Maplefields gas station in Middlebury (where independent distributors supply gas to Skip's retail competitors) often sells gas for 10-25 cents less per gallon than his stations in Chittenden County.

But we don't know that for sure, because we have almost no data. My bill won't solve this challenge overnight, but it will help us begin to answer some of the questions about why greater Chittenden is one of the most profitable gas markets in the country.

Interestingly, for the past few weeks local gas prices have been down and comparatively low compared to neighboring counties (unlike we've seen in recent years).  Maybe it's a coincidence, but House leadership has noticed this too, so hopefully they see this simple reporting requirement is worth pursuing (so far they haven't said no).

For anyone confused about why I would support the gas tax while also promoting this bill to keep prices low, remember where the money goes.  To my mind, finding the resources needed to keep our infrastructure in decent shape is very different than Skip and his friends taking money out of the pockets of consumers in order to build nothing more than higher profits for themselves.

The Free Press' coverage of the bill can be found here.

Weekly Update

With a rare unanimous roll call vote of 140-0, the legislature passed the omnibus military bill on Friday. Despite working on the legislation for several months, my committee -- General, Housing and Military Affairs -- accepted a friendly amendment that strengthened the bill the day before it passed, while several other amendments were ruled not germane.

In addition, the bill allows commanding officers in the Vermont National Guard to impose non-judicial discipline and also creates a review board in order to provide legislators with qualified candidates for the election of Adjutant General and also requires the Adjutant General to report annually regarding incidents of sexual assault in the Vermont National Guard. Sexual assault in the military is a serious problem, as we saw at the Statehouse during the airing of the movie, The Invisible War.

The Senate is now working on a variety of House bills including the big tax bills and could vote them out next week.  After Conference Committees to iron the differences between the House and Senate versions, we could vote on the final state budget the week after.  The Speaker of the House believes that we will adjourn sometime around May 11th.

Please contact me at any time at cweed@leg.state.vt.us
Representative Cindy Weed, Franklin-7, Enosburg and Montgomery

Marijuana Decriminalization

As the lead sponsor of the marijuana decriminalization bill (H.200), it's been an interesting few weeks.  As you may have heard, on Friday the bill finally advanced in the House with a vote of 98-44 and will soon head to the Senate, where it is likely to see action quickly.  Progressives have been at the forefront of this discussion for years, so it’s nice to see it finally moving forward.

At the outset of the debate on H.200, I questioned whether or not we could have an "adult" conversation about marijuana.  Overall, however, the answer seems to have been yes.  Sure there were plenty of snickers as the discussion got started.  And the obligatory jokes, too.  You know, about "token" opposition and "joint" hearings with the Senate.  And so on.

But after a solid week of testimony in the House Judiciary Committee, only one witness came in to make the long discredited claim that marijuana was a gateway to harder drugs.  Sure, and bicycles are gateways to joining a motorcycle gang.  There were some who claimed that kids will be more tempted to try marijuana if the bill passes.  But they were one or two voices and not enough to outweigh the support, even from such sources as the Commission of Public Safety (leader of the state police), the Vermont Attorney General, Chittenden County States Attorney TJ Donovan, and many others.

In the end, H.200 passed out of committee with a vote of 9-2, including support from all the Democrats, the one independent, and one of the Republicans.  They did whittle down the bill to decriminalizing possession of only up to one ounce and removed provisions I had in the original bill that would have also decriminalized growing up to two plants.  The Committee could only go so far in acknowledging the reality that marijuana must come from somewhere.  Still, all in all, I'm proud of the House and its recognition that prohibition doesn't work.  While we may have to wait a long time for the Federal government to acknowledge the right of states to legalize, at least we are recognizing that people who choose to use marijuana aren't necessarily criminals.

Weekly Update

There are several exciting national and state economic initiatives in progress.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch announced last week that he introduced two bills targeted to help Vermont’s maple industry, the national leader in maple syrup production with over 1.1 million gallons produced in 2011.

The first bill, a Maple Tapping Access Program, authorizes grants for maple-related research and maple product promotion.  Grants could also be used to open state lands up to tapping or provide incentives to private landowners to do the same.

The second bill would streamline the grant application process for Vermont farmers working to make sugaring operations more energy efficient.  The grants would allow producers to install reverse osmosis systems that remove water from sap before it is boiled down, thus reducing the amount of energy consumed in the production process.

In Vermont, the newly established Working Lands Enterprise Investment initiative received twice as many grant applications as they could fund.  This year they are hoping to fund more job creating projects that boost the economy.  With help from the State of Vermont, the Enterprise invests in farm and forest-related businesses that contribute to the working lands while preserving the landscape and natural resources.

Everyone is encouraged to attend our next Legislative breakfast, April 13th, at the American Legion in Enosburg Falls.  The event is sponsored by the American Legion, the Enosburg Business Association and Franklin Foods.

Please contact me at any time at cweed@leg.state.vt.us

Representative Cindy Weed, Franklin-7, Enosburg and Montgomery

The Gas Tax: At the Crossroads of Progressive Values

Last week, I swallowed hard and voted for the gas tax.  Everyone agrees we have to maintain our roads and bridges -- and we also know the transportation fund currently has a projected deficit of $240 million a year because people are buying less gas.  It’s good that people are using less gas, but it raises the question: how do we raise the funds we need to maintain our infrastructure?

The culture around revenue in Montpelier is simple: revenue sources generally should have a rational relationship to the expense.  We wouldn't, for example, tax soda to fix the roads.  This mantra can be significantly limiting, however.  In this case, it prevents me from turning to the income tax, my traditional source for new, progressive sources of revenue.

The truth is there aren't any good answers right now for how to pay for our transportation priorities.  The gas tax hits working families and low-income Vermonters the hardest.  That's not good.  On the other hand, climate change is very real and already impacting us today.  And the impacts of climate change are often felt most by low-income families.  Just look at many of the homes that were ruined by Tropical Storm Irene: trailer parks and others on low-lying, "less desirable" land.

Higher gas prices force us to get creative about transportation options.  This is good for the climate.  I would prefer people had more effective public transit options before we forced the latest increase on them, but unfortunately it is unlikely there will be the political will for this any time soon.

For now, we will have to rely on the good people of Vermont to come up with creative ways to cut down their miles in order to save money.  As I said, I swallowed hard when voting, but ultimately sided with the climate and my faith in the resourcefulness of our communities.  We are trying to push a much larger discussion about how we confront the problem of climate change, while also being mindful of the very real impacts our decisions have on our fellow Vermonters.  Other states need our leadership and if we're going to be a model we have to get this balance right.

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