In Town Meeting week the focus is on local elections and the legislature takes a break from deliberations in Montpelier. In the last week those deliberations were fast paced and sometime contentious.
On example was the cannabis bill creating a tax and regulate system to control the production and sale of cannabis in the state. This bill prioritizes small growers, under 1000 square feet, and limits people to one of any kind of license: growing, wholesaling, processing, retail, or testing, or an integrated license allowing one of each. The limitations exist to prevent a monopoly by any one player. It does not change current law for either medical dispensaries or home cultivation.
Though it passed the House by a vote of 90-54 it will likely be vetoed by Governor Scott over the issue of roadside testing for impairment. Despite the governor’s insistence, no such test currently exists and the best determination is by a trained Drug Recognition Expert. Existing blood or saliva tests do not prove impairment but simply the presence of THC, which could be residual from even the previous week.
Another controversial bill is the update of Act 250 which turned 50 years old this year. The bill began as a sprawling and complex update on a bewildering variety of issues and ended up still sprawling, but with less dramatic impact than originally envisioned. The main points are an easing of regulations in designated downtowns and some village centers to encourage compact development. The bill also takes new steps to protect forest connectivity and to include energy efficiency as a development criteria. The bill now heads to the senate for its review.
On Thursday the Vermont House approved the Global Warming Solutions Act with a decisive 105-37 vote. It now moves to the Senate.
Rather than requiring specific actions now, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) creates a framework for co-ordinated and focused effort, not just to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but to increase the resilience of our communities and our economy as we face increasing disruptions.
The Act creates a Climate Council comprised of agency secretaries and citizen experts. The Council writes a Climate Plan detailing specific action to take to reach the goals set in law (similar to the Paris Accord goals). The agencies will then write “Rules” to put these actions into law.
The Rules cannot impose taxes or spend money without legislative approval or take any action “contrary to legislative intent”.
The bill also creates a “cause of action”, the ability for people to sue the state if we do not make substantial progress toward our goals. But because people already can and do sue the state on a regular basis for almost any reason, this cause of action actually serves to narrow the options for bringing lawsuits. A judge cannot award payment, they can only order the agency to go back and do more effective rule making.
The final safety valve is that the legislature can at any time revise or repeal any portion of the bill. The full text can be found here: https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/WorkGroups/House%20Energy%20and%20Technology/Bills/H.688/Drafts,%20Amendments,%20and%20Summaries/H.688~Luke%20Martland~As%20Recommended%20by%20the%20House%20Committee%20on%20Energy%20and%20Technology~2-11-2020.pdf
As always, please contact me with questions or concerns.
Most of the action this past week in Montpelier took place in the committee rooms where testimony was heard on various bills ranging from student weighting formulas for education finance, to budget adjustment and updating act 250. The big exception was Wednesday when the House attempted to override the governor’s veto of the Paid Family Leave bill.
As Vermont tries to lure people to move here it is increasingly critical that we make it so that people don’t have to choose between caring for a sick child or elderly parent, and losing their livelihood. This was a program that the House passed last year, (I voted “yes”) but the Senate weakened so much that when the final compromise came back from the conference committee I voted “no” in an unsuccessful attempt to send it back to a conference committee for improvement. The House and Senate both approved the compromise by large margins and sent it to the Governor who vetoed it.
The Unites States is one of the few countries on earth that doesn’t provide a national paid maternity leave as a cornerstone support. Although I do not like the details of this bill I do believe that something is better than nothing and supported the override attempt. That margin of error proved critical and by a vote of 99-51 the attempt failed so there will be no family leave program this year.
The following day, a non-controversial Commerce Committee bill was approved which includes a bill of mine sparked by a specific event in our district, addressing the gap as unemployed Vermonters work toward self-employment. The legislative process is too slow to help the original family, but hopefully others can now avoid the same pitfalls.
I will be meeting with constituents on Saturday, February 15 in the Pawlet Library 11:00-noon, and in the Wells Library from 1:00-2:00. You determine the agenda — come on by.
Please contact me with opinions, questions, and concerns.