There has been much news regarding the looming budget deficits facing Vermont and the Nation. While efforts to guide our state through this economic downturn predominate, the 14 committees in the House are also working on other critical issues. I thought a better use of this column this week would be to provide you with an update on a few of them.
Natural Resources Committee: Most of the efforts here will be on 1) how to expedite, to site, and deploy new renewable energy sources and 2) the pending question of continued operation of the Vermont Yankee. Specific legislation has not yet reached the committee.
Judiciary: This committee has received a draft copy of Senate bill S.13 which was developed in response to the growing concern regarding sexual crimes against children. This bill proposes a statewide comprehensive approach and includes initiatives directed toward school programs, reporting requirements, sex offender registry compliance, the elimination of deferred sentences for offenders, and mandatory sentencing.
Transportation: The committee has heard extensive testimony regarding future plans for the Vermont Rail System. Under special scrutiny is the economic impact of the proposal to replace rail service with bus service along the western corridor. The long term plan is to upgrade the tracks and restore train service. There will be a public hearing at the State House on January 21st at 5 P.M which I will attend.
Education: 5 of the 11 members are new to this committee now chaired bv Johanna Leddy Donovan of Burlington. The committee has heard the administration’s proposal to freeze funds sent to local school boards, shift spending back to towns, level fund all categorical aid programs including special education and technical education among others. How these proposals fare in relation to state law and the goals of the legislature will unfold over the coming weeks.
Fish, Wildlife, and Water Resources. This session, we expect to take up legislation that addresses invasive aquatic species, riparian buffer zones, storm water regulation, deer herd browse, and “compounds of emerging concern” entering our waterway among others. We will also be looking at the effectiveness of the Clean and Clear Act, its cost and impact on phosphorus levels in Lake Champlain.
Health Care: The legislative goals for this session in spite of fiscal constraints, are to expand access to health care, improve quality and contain costs. No small task. A member of this committee informed me that the Health Care Affordability Act of 2006 continues to drive this committee. The focus will be on strengthening programs created by the legislature such as Catamount and Dr. Dynasaur as well as less well-known efforts to reorganize care for people with chronic health conditions. There is some hope that Senator Sanders will succeed in identifying our state as a pilot for a universal access to health care system.