Heading Toward Closure
As we head toward the closure of this session a flurry of bills are passing back and forth between the House and the Senate with many now in Committees of Conference. Here is an update on a few of interest:
BUDGET: By statute, the budget begins with a recommendation from the governor and is first reviewed and developed by the House and then sent to the Senate. The Senate version made 125 changes and returned it to the House. To reconcile these differences, the Speaker and Senate Pro Tem appointed a committee of conference. While many of these changes are technical, others are significantly different. Among the casualties: a stripped down funding the Working Landscapes bill, rendering it as nothing more than policy with little ability to implement. The bill also contained a variety of amendments unrelated to the budget such as the right for childcare workers to unionize, and a direction to the Public Service Board to refund money to ratepayers should the CVPS-GMP merger proceed.
GMO LABELING: In February, I introduced the “Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.” If passed, this bill would require food producers to label foods produced through genetic engineering and genetically engineered foods labeled as “natural” would be misbranded. We have received an outpouring of support from around the state and the country. The biotech industry testified that as soon as such a bill became law, they would proceed with a lawsuit stating that the state violated the federal pre-emption food labeling law. Although many are still smarting from the rBST lawsuit several years ago, and recent memory of the Vermont Yankee suit, we also have compelling testimony that we could prevail. We are moving forward to build a case that the state had a “legitimate interest” in such labeling – a direction that is more likely to hold up to this inevitable suit. Expect to see this brought forward again next year.
CVPS/GMP MERGER: The CVPS “payback to ratepayers” votes last week revolved around two points: (1) the widely held opinion that the $21 million “windfall sharing mechanism” should be in the form of a direct payback to CVPS ratepayers, and (2) the principle that the Legislature should not interfere in the equivalent of a court proceeding by directing the Public Service Board what to do. I voted not to interfere and do not see these two positions as mutually exclusive. The PSB may very well decide that the funds should be directly paid back as they continue through their deliberation process. My vote to leave the decision with the PSB reflected a serious concern that the Legislature should not interfere in a formal process that has already involved months of technical hearings, formal briefs, and oral arguments. Last-minute interference on the part of the Legislature would set a destabilizing precedent in a regulatory process that has been in place since 1962. The PSB is due to make a decision in June.
HEALTH CARE: Committees of conference are currently working to reconcile difference between the House and Senate-passed versions of the vaccinations bill and the health care exchange bill. The House conferees have been firm in supporting increasing immunization rates through education and outreach, but will not consider an outright repeal of the philosophical exemption. Proposals bouncing around are mechanisms to allow the commissioner of health to eliminate this exemption when rates fall below 90% for certain immunizations. The exchange bill conference is looking to reconcile a variety of difference related to mental health oversight, malpractice, insurance brokers among others.
I will continue to work on issues while the legislature is out of session. The best way to get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org or 802 233 7798.