Vermont Nurse Practitioners Association

VNPA Lobbyist, Leonine Legislative update - 2/8/2019

Posted 2 months ago by Callan Janowiec, DNP

THE WORLD OF TOMORROW 

Week five had some moments of high intensity as the House deliberated on a bill that would delay forced school mergers and a public hearing on reproductive rights drew a very large crowd of people from around the state (and likely beyond).

On Wednesday evening hundreds of people gathered for a public hearing held by the House Human Services and House Judiciary Committees. H.57 would codify Roe v. Wade in Vermont law as protection against a possible reversal of that landmark decision by the US Supreme Court. The hearing drew impassioned testimony by members of the public with both pro-choice and pro-life views. Statehouse security did their best to control the influx of people with lines stretching out both sides of the building onto adjoining sidewalks. The House Human Services Committee passed H.57 soon after the hearing by a vote of 8-3. The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

This week also saw lengthy floor debate on H.39, a bill that would delay forced mergers of school districts under Act 46. On Thursday the House passed the bill, which would delay forced mergers for some school districts. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration--more on this later.

Meanwhile, the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee continued work on a bill to expand paid family leave. That bill along with a bill in the Senate to increase the minimum wage appear to be headed for a showdown with Governor Phil Scott, who vetoed two similar bills last year.

The Senate continued work on a number of issues ranging from water quality to raising the minimum wage to establishing a tax and regulate system for cannabis. The Senate Appropriations committee spent the week discussing and adding their changes to the annual budget adjustment bill, which the committee passed on Thursday. This bill will go to the Senate floor next week.

SENATE DISTRICTS
On Friday the Vermont Senate unanimously voted to pass S.11, a bill that limits all Senate districts to no more than three members by the 2022 general election. The bill is aimed at the six-member Chittenden County Senate District, which is the only district in the state with more than three members. Many Chittenden County Senators who will be affected by the bill spoke in favor of the bill. If the bill becomes law the Legislative Apportionment Board will be required to break up the Chittenden County Senate District so that it and any other Senate district has no more than three members.

UNCONSCIONABLE CONTRACTS
On Friday the Senate Judiciary Committee took further testimony on S.18, which would deem certain types of contract provisions presumptively unconscionable and therefore in violation of the state’s consumer protection statute. Representatives of the Vermont tech sector, which often conducts online transactions with consumers, expressed concerns about the bill. Representatives of Vermont’s outdoor recreation industry renewed their request that they be exempted from the bill. Committee Chair Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, indicated that a new draft of the bill is forthcoming.

BROADBAND
The Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Technology Committee both continued extensive testimony concerning telecom and broadband connectivity issues. The testimony in the Finance Committee consisted of an update on the FirstNet broadband-based first responder communication network and the possibility of mapping the state’s existing broadband infrastructure. Both committees received a presentation by a representative of EC Fiber, the intermunicipal broadband provider located in eastern Vermont. Both committees also took testimony from 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Christine Hallquist about her idea that the state’s electric utilities should be used to deploy broadband infrastructure. The House Energy & Technology Committee heard testimony from the Department of Public Service and Agency of Commerce and Community Development concerning the draft telecom plan, Universal Service Fund, and the administration’s proposal that $3 million be appropriated to the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) to leverage funds for loans to start up internet service providers. Finally, the committee also heard testimony about the challenges of getting pole owning utilities to facilitate the “make ready” work necessary to attach broadband cables to utility poles.

At this point it appears that the House committee will likely move forward with H.93, which addresses the make ready/pole attachment matter, H.94, which would raise the Universal Service Fund fee from 2.0 percent to 2.5 percent, and some version of H.160, which encapsulates several of the administration's proposals for broadband deployment.

CANNABIS
On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee began the process of marking up S.54, the Senate’s bill to establish a tax and regulate system for cannabis. Discussions included whether or not existing medical cannabis dispensaries should be allowed to begin selling recreational cannabis to the public before the full tax and regulate program contemplated in the bill becomes effective on July 1, 2021. A draft proposal presented to the committee would charge dispensaries a one-time fee of $75,000 for a temporary license allowing them to begin selling cannabis to adults over the age of 21 on January 1, 2020. The license would expire on July 1, 2021, at which time the full tax and regulate system would be implemented. Because all Vermont dispensaries are caucasian-owned the question of whether this proposal would create racial inequities within the system was discussed. Discussions also included the need for independent third-party testing, a process that will help ensure the transparency and security of the entire system. The conversation was fluid and the language remains in flux. Committee members agreed to come back to the bill next week with questions in mind.

H.196, a similar bill sponsored by 52 tri-partisan representatives was introduced in the House on Friday and committed to the General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee. Similar to S.54, this bill creates an independent commission referred to as the Cannabis Control Board. It would be charged with administering a program for licensed cannabis establishments. Both S.54 and H.196 create directives for the Cannabis Control Board to initiate their own rulemaking for cannabis establishments.

MOTOR VEHICLE INSPECTIONS
On Friday the Senate gave initial approval to S.84, a bill related to motor vehicle inspections. While the bill requires all motor vehicles continue to undergo a safety inspection each year only vehicles 10 model years or less have to undergo an emissions or OBD system inspection once a year. There are over 100,000 motor vehicles in Vermont that will no longer require emissions testing if the bill passes. The bill further requires DMV to amend its rules to bring them into compliance with this change. In addition, the bill requires that as soon as practicable the commissioner of DMV update inspections through the tablets that inspections stations use under the automated vehicle inspection program (AVIP). If it takes more than 30 days to update AVIP, the commissioner is authorized to develop a temporary work-around, such as a paper waiver process. The bill is effective upon passage. It will be up for final approval in the Senate next week.

DMV MISCELLANEOUS BILL 
The Senate Transportation Committee started a review of the draft DVM Miscellaneous bill, which contains numerous proposed changes to the DMV statutes. The bill includes various provisions proposed by DMV including changes to inspection station fines and DMV public records request fees. A provision related to automated vehicle testing in Vermont is still being ironed out at VTrans and will likely be added to the bill in committee once it is publicly available. The committee will take the bill up again next week. Here is a link to the draft bill.

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