2016 VT Senate Legislative Survey

In January, prior to the legislative sessions I prepared a short legislative preview and survey on some of the more controversial issues likely to be debated- opiates; sick leave; education spending; marijuana; and renewable energy siting.

Link to the survey:
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1lLEiA80-lZNFa4noPd8THhhhM3bLxzbDHlcSR7f6IRs/viewform

Please follow the link to see the survey results:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1lLEiA80-lZNFa4noPd8THhhhM3bLxzbDHlcSR7f6IRs/viewanalytics

Below is my mid session report on these issues:

Below is a current mid session update on these issues.

-Education Spending Thresholds (S.233). This compromise bill (recently signed) softened and gave greater flexibility to the one-size-fits-all spending thresholds that were enacted last year; and repealed them for 2018. Without this modification, most legislators felt the penalties would have been too punitive to many districts and their local property tax payers. Overall, budgets have now tempered to an average 2% increase and last year’s consolidation incentives have worked beyond expectations. Despite this good news, both chambers will continue work this session on flexible ways to hold down education spending and property taxes for 2018 and beyond.

-Earned Sick Days (H.187). This recently passed law, will initially provide 3 paid sick days to full-time employees who have been employed for at least one year. Businesses with less than 6 employees will not be required to provide sick days until 2019. The biggest issue in the Senate was whether to totally exempt these small businesses -an amendment that ultimately failed 15- 14.

-Marijuana (S.241). This hotly contested bill ultimately passed 17-12, but only after being slowed down and considerably downsized. Not only were start dates pushed out, but also the number of growers and retailers were severely restricted. Sales cannot take place for almost 2 years and initially only 15 stores will be allowed. Cultivator fields are small (the 3 largest being less than 1/4 acre). Medical marijuana dispensaries with a proven track record will have priority and there will only be a dozen or so plots of much smaller size. There will be extremely strict seed to sale tracking of all plants., Edibles, oils ,and sale of paraphernalia combined with marijuana are strictly banned. Municipalities are free to ban or further regulate marijuana and all retailers , growers and investors must be Vermont residents for at least 2 years.

The public seemed to fall into 3 groups- proponents, opponents and those urging us to go slow and make sure to get it right. The latter group’s sentiments seemed to prevail with the bill allowing for ample time for further review and adjustments before any sales begin. For example, Washington is rolling out new roadside testing kits. If effective, the law would likely change to reflect this new approach to law enforcement.

The 25% tax from regulated sales will go into prevention, education, treatment, and enforcement. Obviously, there is far more detail to report, but suffice it to say that the bill has many more committees and the full House to go through if it is to become law.

-Siting of Renewables (S.130). This bill will be voted out of committee soon and seeks a balanced approach towards: greater participation of citizens, towns, and regions in the planning of renewable energy development; greater ease of participation of citizens, towns, and regions in the Public Service Board (PSB) permitting process; and the continued, but more orderly development, of renewables.

To enhance public participation, the bill creates a Public Assistance Officer at the PSB. The officer will provide better access to all the information related to applications; explain the process; and assist interveners by providing forms and templates to help citizens, towns, and developers go through the permitting process more easily. In addition, the bill develops a planning protocol that will, for the first time, integrate statewide energy planning with town and regional land use planning. It is designed is to enable Vermont to achieve its enacted renewable energy goals in the manner that is most agreeable to local residents.

-Combating Opiate Abuse (S.243). As lead sponsor of this bill, I am pleased to report that it should be voted out of committee this week. It focuses on combating addiction on many fronts: 1) aggressive utilization of our data rich prescription monitoring program, to identify excessive prescribing patterns by certain doctors, as well as patients who engage in doctor or pharmacy shopping; 2) establish a state wide effective drug disposal program for unused medications; 3) utilizing nurse practitioners and telemedicine to improve access to buprenorphine, a proven addiction treatment; 4) collaboration between clinical pharmacists and physicians in medication therapy management and comprehensive medication review; 5) active role for pharmacies in preventing opioid misuse, abuse and diversion; 6) more required education for prescribers in pain management and controlled substances 7) possible pill count limitations consistent with best practices 8) utilization of non-prescription pain treatment such as acupuncture 9)Significant resources to support these changes.