Chittenden Democrats: Representative Joey Donovan, Chair, House Education Committee

Chittenden Democrats: Representative Joey Donovan, Chair, House Education Committee 12/03/2012 Rep. Mike Yantachka, Chitt 1-2, Assistant Treasurer, Chittenden County Democratic Committee speaks with Rep. Joey Donovan (D), Chair of the House Education Committee, on the upcoming session. AIRS: Sunday 12/23/12 at 4 p.m.

Thank you, Thank you!

Mike with Rep. Tony Klein, Chair of the
House Natural Resources and Energy Committee
I am very grateful for the tremendous support the voters of Charlotte have given me to again serve as your representative in the Vermont House for the next two years.  It has been a wonderful experience to meet and talk with so many of you during my campaign.  I invite you to contact me anytime with your thoughts about any issue that comes before the legislature.  While I hope to continue serving on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, there will also be many other areas of legislation that I will be paying attention to.  As I did before, I will keep you updated on legislative activity through newspaper articles and through this website.  If you ever want to visit the statehouse while the legislature is in session, I would be happy to meet with you and show you around.

VT Agency of Agriculture: Farmers Urged to Prepare for Hurricane Sandy‏

For Immediate Release
Contact: Carolyn Moulton
MONTPELIER, Vermont – October 25, 2012
Carolyn Moulton, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, 802-828-5667
Mark Bosma, Vermont Emergency Management, (800) 347-0488

Oct. 25, 2012

Hurricane Sandy is currently moving through the Caribbean and is projected to move northward off the eastern Florida coast in the next two days. Although it is still too early to determine Sandy’s precise long-term track, computer models are now trending to show impacts to the northeastern portion of the United States. These models predict that Sandy will potentially transition over the weekend into a powerful nor'easter and make landfall on the Eastern Seaboard early next week. It is likely that Sandy will travel inland to Vermont, bringing along with it strong winds, heavy rain, and possibly snow. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) urges farmers to prepare now for power outages and flooding. Preparations farmers should do quickly include:

Crop-related Activities:
· Harvest standing crops if they are not in yet (corn).
· Harvest vegetable crops that are still in the field.
· Producers growing greenhouse crops should anticipate loss of water and prepare accordingly.
Power and Food/Water Activities
· Anticipate power outages. Check to see that your generator is in good working order. Consider purchasing a generator if you currently don’t have one.
· In the event you require a generator for emergency agricultural purposes (i.e. milking cows, cooling milk tanks, poultry house ventilation), contact your Town Officials. Make sure your house or barn has been wired such that a generator could be connected and that you have a transfer switch or other isolated means to connect to the generator.
· Purchase sufficient amounts of fuel to operate your generator and other equipment on the farm.
o VAAFM does not have generators to loan.
· Charge batteries on cell phones and cameras.
· Pump and store adequate supplies of drinking water for humans and animals in the likelihood of power outages. VAAFM recommends a minimum 36-hour reserve.
Livestock Activities
· Check feed inventory and order extra if needed. Move feed, including round bales to higher ground, or to a more accessible place in case of flooding or transportation problems.
· Determine the best places for livestock on your property, where they have the best chance of being free from flying debris, heavy winds and rain. This may mean moving livestock and poultry to higher ground if possible or sheltering them in securely battened barns, houses or tightly fenced areas.
Equipment Activities
· Secure or remove items or equipment that could become blowing debris.
· Remove hoop houses from low-lying areas that could be subject to high water.
· Move equipment to the highest, open ground possible away from trees or buildings.
General Preparedness
· Make a list of important phone numbers ahead of time in order to make calls following a storm. Numbers to include are your town Emergency Management District, county extension agent, insurance agent, county Farm Service Agency and private veterinarian.
These were important phone numbers during Hurricane Irene:
· Call 911 if you need immediate assistance from the police, fire department or ambulance.
· Farmers in need of Emergency Agricultural Assistance call Town Officials.
· For non-emergency resource assistance farmers should call 211.
· To report farm losses call USDA Farm Service Agency 1-802-658-2803.
· To report damage to your home or barn call 1-800-621-FEMA.
· For information about road closures call 511.
· If you have any additional questions call the Vermont Agency of Agriculture at 1-802-828-5667.

Legislative Report 8/9/2012 - A Visit to Modern Turkey

To celebrate the opening of the Turkish Cultural Center in Vermont, a display of Turkish culture was held in the Cedar Creek Room of the statehouse in April.  Samples of Turkish food were provided and examples of Turkish art, music and products were displayed.  In addition, the Turkish Cultural Center in Boston offered to sponsor one or more trips to Turkey subsidized by the Council of Turkic American Associations.  After weighing the costs and obtaining information about the itinerary and agenda, nine members of the legislature, including myself, decided to go. 

The itinerary included several days in Istanbul, a trip to the province of Izmir with a side trip to Ephesus, a day in Ankara, a few days in Cappadocia, and then back to Istanbul for the last two days.  Our schedule ran from 9 AM until at least 9 PM every day.  While we visited many tourist sites, including archaeological ruins, bazaars, museums, mosques and churches, we also visited businesses, high schools, a university, and the Turkish Parliament.  We met with businessmen, educators, a member of Parliament, a diplomat in the foreign office responsible for relations with the U.S. and Canada, and the mayor of a town in Istanbul with a population about the size of Vermont’s.  We presented the mayor with a letter from Burlington’s mayor, Miro Weinberger, establishing a sister-city program with the town of Umraniye.

So, you may be asking, “What was the agenda of the sponsors?  What were their expectations of us?”  The answer to those questions requires a review of the history of the Turkish Republic since it was established in 1923 as well as some analysis of the current political situation in Turkey.  However, the brief answer lies in the wish of Turkey to be recognized as a moderate and modern Islamic republic that has strong ties to the West and wishes to be both a model for emerging Middle Eastern democracies and an intermediary between them and the West.  It also lies in an understanding of the Gulen Movement, which has had a significant influence on Turkish politics for the last decade. 

The movement draws its inspiration from the teachings of the Islamic cleric and philosopher Fethullah Gulen, currently a resident of Pennsylvania since moving to the U.S. in 1999 for medical treatment.  The philosophy of the movement, which includes clerics, politicians, business people and educators, centers on the principles of tolerance, dialog, science and education within an Islamic tradition.  Turkey currently has the second fastest growing economy in the world, a 9.6% growth rate, just behind China, and they want the world to know that Turkey is open for business.  As a testament to its growth, Turkey has repaid its $23B debt to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and contributed another $5B.

To be honest, the Gulen Movement has had its critics in Turkey, and our party of thirteen (which included some non-legislators) expressed some skepticism and our own critique of the movement and of Turkish policy toward the Kurdish minority and the Armenian genocide issue.  Both topics were discussed freely, and our hosts listened to and answered our questions.  They acknowledged the problems and described steps that have been taken both officially and unofficially to deal with these issues in a spirit of dialog and reconciliation, including increased access to Kurdish-language education and media.  The Armenian issue is likely to continue being a sticking point in Turkey’s international relations, however.

I was proud and privileged to represent Vermont, albeit on a semi-official basis, in Turkey.  I have arranged to do a travelogue presentation of my trip on October 3rd at the Charlotte Senior Center.

I am also looking forward to seeing many of you in person as I campaign for re-election.  I have worked hard for you in Montpelier, and I hope you will support me this year.  You can contact me by phone at 425-3960 or email me at 

Legislative Report 6/2/2012 - Transitioning from Legislating to Campaigning

The 2012 legislative session wrapped up on Saturday, May 5th, after two weeks of intense negotiations and several long days that ran late into the evenings.  It felt good to close the session feeling that a lot of good had been accomplished and to look forward to some time to catch up on everything I had been putting off.  I took time to visit my son and daughter and their families in Connecticut, and also attended my daughter Jackie’s graduation from Syracuse University.

Recently Governor Shumlin signed two bills into law in which I had a personal role.  One was H.699, an act relating to scrap metal processors which I co-sponsored.  This bill requires scrap metal dealers to require a photo ID of anyone bringing in scrap metal for cash and to keep a permanent ledger with the ID, vehicle license number and description of the items, and to notify police within 24 hours if the seller cannot produce such identification.  I had introduced another bill, H.306, that put the same kind of requirements on second-hand coin and jewelry dealers, and that bill’s provisions were added to H.699 before it passed.  This bill will enable law enforcement officers to more easily track and recover items stolen from homes and vehicles.

Governor Shumlin also signed into law S.214, an act relating to the Vermont energy act of 2012.  This bill has a rather convoluted history.  S.214 originally dealt with smart meter regulation when it passed the Senate.  A House bill, H.468, which was developed as the 2012 energy bill and was passed by the House, was tabled by the Senate Natural Resources Committee on a 3-2 vote.  Through a lot of negotiation between the House and Senate in conference, the contents of H.468 replaced the contents of S.214 with some modifications, and S.214 was approved by both bodies.  S.214 extends the Standard Offer program which supports continued development of renewable energy resources throughout Vermont.  Currently capped at 50 megawatts (MW) of distributed renewable energy generation, this bill allows it to grow to 150 MW over 10 years.  As a result of this program, Vermont has the greatest number of green jobs per capita in the nation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The Renewable Portfolio Standard provision, which was in the original bill and required Vermont utilities to acquire increasing percentages of renewable energy over time, was removed from S.214 during negotiations.

Many other bills were passed to the benefit of Vermonters including a budget that did not require increases in broad-based taxes, the Working Landscapes bill, the Mental Health System bill, the Solid Waste bill, the Health Insurance Exchange bill, and others which I have written about in previous columns.  I invite you to review them at my website, I regret that no resolution was found for improving the Prescription Drug Database Monitoring System.  House negotiators insisted on a requirement that investigators obtain a warrant before accessing the database, a position I support, while Senate negotiators insisted that a warrant should not be necessary.

I am looking forward to seeing many of you in person as I begin my campaign for re-election.  I have worked hard for you in Montpelier, and I hope you will support me this year.  You can contact me by phone at 425-3960 or email me at

The Word in the House 5/9/2012 - Devotions

As I write this the 2012 Vermont legislative session has adjourned for the year, and I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks of catching up on home-work.  The last week of the session saw several late evenings spent on the floor with a lot of political maneuvering as amendments to bills were debated, adopted along party lines, or defeated on procedural grounds which are too complicated and diverse to explain.  At the end there was both satisfaction for victories as well as disappointment in defeats for everyone in one degree or another. 

One of the enjoyable experiences of being in the legislature is the devotional exercise that takes place at the beginning of each floor session immediately after the Speaker gavels the House to order.  Sometimes it is offered by visiting clergy, sometimes by a poet or other guest, and sometimes by one of the members of the House.  Sometimes the devotion is sung as it was on Saturday by Representative Kevin “Coach” Christie of Hartford.  This man has a booming bass voice with a fantastic range.  His inspirational rendition of “The Impossible Dream” from The Man of La Mancha brought the House to its feet when he finished. 

Earlier in the week Francis Brooks, the Sergeant at Arms of the Statehouse, offered this story. 
“One day a young girl was complaining to her mother about how she was having such a hard time.  She was very discouraged and didn’t know what to do, so she asked her mother for advice.  Her mother in answer put three pots of water on the stove to boil.  In one pot she put some carrots; in the second she put some eggs; in the third she put coffee grounds.  After a while she asked her daughter to tell her what she saw.  Her daughter said ‘Carrots, eggs and coffee. But what does this have to do with my problems?’ 

“Her mother told her to feel the carrots.  They were soft.  Then she told her daughter to break the egg.  It had become hard.  Finally she told her to smell and taste the coffee which had become aromatic and flavorful.  Her mother said, ‘All three encountered the same adversity, the boiling water.  The carrots went in hard and tough, but the boiling water made them softer, weaker.  The eggs went in fragile, but became hard inside.  Both were changed by the boiling water.  But the coffee, the coffee changed the water.  So, which are you, a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?  When you encounter a problem, will you let it change you, or will you change your environment?’ ”

This story aptly illustrates a very traditional Vermont value: volunteerism.  Last year, between the Spring floods and tropical storm Irene, Vermont suffered some of the worst destruction it has ever seen.  But instead of being beaten down or mired in controversy, Vermonters all over the state came together to rebuild our infrastructure and come to the aid of our neighbors.  Likewise, facing enormous costs of relocating, rebuilding and assisting those who lost so much, Republican, Progressive, Democratic and independent legislators took to heart the state motto of Freedom and Unity, changed their environment, and passed legislation to quickly get Vermont back on its feet. 

So, whether you serve on a local board or in an elective office or with a community organization, or if you picked up trash on Greenup Day, or otherwise volunteer in our community, I’d like to take this opportunity to salute you and thank you for changing your environment.

Legislative Report 5/2/2012 - The Decision Making Process

The closing days of the legislative session tend to generate a lot of floor debate in both the House and the Senate as we have seen in the news lately.  Perhaps by the time this article is published, we will have completed our work in Montpelier and will have adjourned.  Chances are, though, that a few more days will be needed to wrap up the session.

One of the reasons why the proceedings seem to invite more debate is that the bills dealing with some of the stickier, more controversial issues are left until the end.  This stands to reason since those bills are the ones on which the committees take the most testimony and which engender the most discussion in the committees.  All members of a committee have the opportunity to express their opinion on every aspect of a bill, and the initial version of a bill is rarely the version that is voted out of committee.  Because each representative serves on only one committee, we depend on the committee reports to inform our own decisions on how to vote on bills.

Since hundreds of bills are introduced during the two-year period, some bills never get voted out of committee.  However, some get added to another bill dealing with a similar issue.  This happened with a bill I introduced concerning record keeping on the part of second-hand coin and jewelry dealers.  I introduced a bill last year to address the problem of burglaries and car break-ins so that police would have an easier time tracking down stolen property that was pawned off at these legitimate dealers.  While my bill was not acted on, a similar bill dealing with scrap metal dealers was approved.  With the help of Senators Richard Sears and Bill Cariss, elements of my bill were added to the scrap metal bill in the Senate.

One of the lessons I learned working in the legislature is that the most controversial issues may seem cut and dry, black and white, to proponents and opponents.  But once they are examined in detail with testimony from each side, with analyses from experts, and with serious discussion in committee, it becomes obvious that there are many shades of gray.  This is true of the immunization issue, the choices in dying issue, the CVPS/GMP merger, the pros and cons of different types of renewable energy, and many others.  Legislators hear from many interest groups as well as individuals urging us to vote one way or the other.  It is our job to weigh these interests based on as many facts as we can gather.  Political philosophies are certainly a factor, as are the interests of the communities we represent.  Sometimes we will come down on one side of the question; sometimes we will try to craft a compromise if it seems both sides have merit; and sometimes we will agree not to take any action if there is too much uncertainty. 

There is much left to consider and vote on this week, and it will not be unusual for our floor sessions to run late.  But democracy requires that every issue be open to debate and every legislator that wants to be heard is allowed to be heard.  When we are finished, we hopefully will have done well for the people of Vermont.

The Word in the House 4/23/2012 - The End Game

As the session heads into the last week, it really requires a scorecard to figure out what is happening to some legislation.  Bills passed by the House and sent to the Senate have seen changes to essential elements.  The same has happened to some bills sent to the House by the Senate.  Bills that were passed with different provisions by each body are now in conference committees consisting of three House members and three Senate members to see if the differences can be ironed out to the satisfaction of both.  As we begin the last weeks of the session, some bills may even die for lack of action.  Here are some of the bills that have passed both the House and Senate in recent weeks. 

Conserved land is an important asset for Vermont.  The Conservation Easement bill, S.179, strengthens the ability to protect conserved land from being developed.  When a property owner conveys a perpetual easement for conservation purposes to a town, a conservation group or another entity, that easement persists even if the property changes ownership.  If the terms of the easement are violated, S.179 allows the holder of the easement to take the violator to court with or without the participation of the owner.  Another provision of the bill creates a working group to study the issues around amending a perpetual conservation easement when situations or conditions affecting the easement change over time.  S.179 was passed by the House with amendments and has been sent back to the Senate for its agreement.

Another Senate bill, S.106, increases civil penalties that towns can charge for violations of municipal ordinances and by-laws.  It also repeals an 1876 law making towns responsible for damage done by dogs to livestock.  The House amended the bill by adding a section on embezzlement which asks the State Auditor to design a checklist that will act as a tool to help establish the internal controls for counties, municipalities, and supervisory unions.  This provision also requires Town Treasurers to file quarterly financial reports with their selectboard or city council.  The State Auditor will be required to post on the official website a summary of all financial fraud against any agency of the state.  If the Senate does not approve these amendments, the bill will go to a conference committee. 

A bill that saw some floor debate last week was S.237 relating to the establishment of a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).  This is an interesting proposal that has the potential to give policy makers additional information beyond the Gross State Product, which is a measure of goods and services produced statewide.  The GPI adjusts the Gross State Product by quantifying the positive and negative economic, environmental, and social impact of economic activity on the well-being and long-term prosperity of our state's citizens.  S.237 gives approval for the state’s Joint Fiscal Office to cooperate with the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at UVM to establish and test a GPI measurement system.  All work will be done by the Gund Institute which will report back to the legislature with its results.  No state monies are involved.

There are several key bills that still need to be finalized by the House and Senate before we can adjourn.  These include the Transportation bill, the Capital Adjustment bill (regarding buildings and services), and the Budget.  We hope to adjourn sometime during the first week of May.

Legislative Report 4/18/2012 - Immunizations Revisited

One of the most controversial bills to come out of the legislature this session has been the Immunization bill, S.199.  The question it addresses is under what circumstances, if any, should a child be allowed to attend a public school or a day care facility without having received the age-appropriate vaccinations required by the Vermont Department of Health. 

On the one hand, there is the issue of protecting the public, especially children, from outbreaks of dangerous communicable illnesses as a result of low vaccination rates.  On the other, there is the concern of many parents that some vaccines present a higher risk for serious illness than the diseases they are meant to prevent.  Another aspect of the debate is whether the statistics showing an increase in the percentage of children who enter school "unvaccinated" accurately portray the situation. 

I have been following the debate on this issue very closely, paying attention to the concerns on both sides of the issue.  I have been fortunate to get input not only from constituents, medical professionals and parent advocates, but also from members of the House Health Care Committee on all aspects of the immunization debate.  They have taken testimony and discussed it in great depth.  I believe the committee came up with alternative language that recognizes the necessity of immunizations for maintaining public health as well as the concerns that some parents have regarding certain vaccines.

The vaccination rates for all the required vaccines except chicken pox are more than 90% statewide.  The chicken pox, or varicella, vaccine is at 87%.  However, while the data may show satisfactory rates of immunization for specific vaccines overall, there are pockets of the state where vaccine rates are critically low and need to be increased to keep both children and immune-compromised adults safe.  The House Health Care Committee, after consultation with school nurses as well as parents and doctors, decided to rely on education rather than a mandate and included a $40,000 appropriation for that purpose.

The committee's amendment will retain the philosophical exemption, but will require parents to consult with their pediatrician and acknowledge that they have been informed of the risks of not having their children immunized by signing a form.  Recognizing that the statistics showing decreased immunization rates do not distinguish between rejection of all vaccines and rejection of one or two, or postponement of a vaccine, the bill requires two more years for reporting of vaccination rates among school-age children.  In addition to K and 7, statistics for 1st and 8th grade will also be reported to the VT Dept of Health by each school.

It is my firm opinion that vaccines are crucial to preserving the public health and that government has a responsibility to promote their use even to the point of requiring them.  Since the main objective is to increase the overall rates of immunization, however, I support S.199 with these modifications because I believe that it addresses the immunization issue with the proper balance.

The Word in the House 4/9/2012 - Working Landscapes

The defining characteristic of Vermont is its rural nature and the connection Vermonters have to their environment.  The Working Lands Enterprise Investment Bill, H.496, passed by the House recently, recognizes this relationship and provides support to stimulate a concerted economic development effort on behalf of Vermont’s agriculture and forest products sectors.  It will assist entrepreneurism, business development, and job creation in these sectors.

Vermont is currently in the midst of an agricultural renaissance and is at the forefront of the local foods movement.  Much of this activity takes place in our own communities of Charlotte, Hinesburg, and surrounding towns.  The conversion of agricultural and forest products into value-added products within Vermont’s borders represents further economic and employment opportunities.  About 7,000 jobs exist in the forest products sector and about 57,000 are related to the food system.

H.496 makes an investment in Vermont’s working landscape by creating the Working Lands Enterprise Fund and a Working Lands Enterprise Board.  The fund, initially appropriated at $2.1 million, will be used for direct investment in working lands enterprises.  Approximately $550,000 will provide grants to entrepreneurs, including grants to leverage private capital, to jump-start new businesses, to help beginning farmers access land, and to support diversification projects to add value to farm and forest commodities.  Another $350,000 is allocated for “wrap-around” services to growth companies, including technical assistance, business planning, and financing required by companies ready to transition to the next stage of growth.  $800,000 is included for state infrastructure investments, including investment in private and non-profit sectors for creative diversification projects and value-added manufacturing, processing, storage and distribution.  Finally, about $382,000 is allocated for administration by the Agency of Agriculture.

The Working Lands Enterprise board would oversee and administer the fund and coordinate the enterprise development efforts throughout the state.  In addition to promoting the activities described above, it would also establish and evaluate criteria and benchmarks for investments and solicit appropriate perspectives and information from experts.  The board will replace the Agriculture Innovation Center which had similar but more limited responsibilities.

The investment in Vermont’s working landscape will ensure that Vermont will retain its rural and natural character and will continue to represent the vision that people associate with our state, contributing to the tourism sector of our economy in the process. 

On the redistricting front, there were changes to both the House and Senate redistricting plans that affect Charlotte and Hinesburg.  After much deliberation and review of the deviations from the ideal district sizes, the House Government Operations committee presented their final version of the redistricting plan.  One of the changes was the expansion of the section of Hinesburg attached to the Charlotte house district.  In this final version the southwestern portion of Hinesburg bordered by Drinkwater Rd, Baldwin Rd, and the Monkton town line with 33 residents will remain in the Charlotte district.  The rest of Hinesburg will comprise the other district.

The Senate finally voted its reapportionment plan out of its Government Operations committee.  In order to balance the population changes, Chittenden County had to cede part of its population to Addison County.  The new plan joins Huntington and Buels Gore to the Addison County senatorial district instead of Charlotte, which will remain in the Chittenden County senatorial district.

Legislative Report 4/5/2012 - An Energy Roadmap

Last year the legislature enacted an energy bill that continued a policy of supporting the renewable energy industry in Vermont.  This year our House Natural Resources & Energy committee spent a good deal of time working on another energy bill (H.468) that creates a roadmap for the next 20 years to extend Vermont's leadership in energy policy in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote job growth in the renewable energy industry.  It sets a goal of achieving 75% of Vermont's total electric energy from renewable sources by 2032 and includes a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 35% new renewables by 2032, including 10% from small-scale, distributed projects.

Up to now the renewable energy goals were only goals.  Vermont utilities have been making good progress increasing their renewable portfolios so that Vermont can today count almost 50% of the electric energy we consume as renewable.  This includes the energy we get from Hydro Quebec. Two utilities, Burlington Electric and Washington Electric Co-op, are at or near 100% renewable.  By adopting a Renewable Portfolio Standard, each utility will be required to have a percentage of the electricity it sells to be renewable, including the renewable attributes, from a source built since January 1, 2005.  The percentage increases from 4% by 2017 to 35% by 2032.  (Hydro Quebec power does not count toward the 35%.)

Renewable attributes, also known as renewable energy credits or RECs, are tradable commodities associated with renewable energy and have a cash value.  Under the SPEED program, a utility that owns a renewable energy plant can sell its RECs, thereby reducing the cost of the electricity to its customers while still counting them toward their Vermont goals.  Meanwhile, the utilities buying the RECs also counted them in their portfolios.  Vermont happens to be the only state that allows this double-counting to occur.  This has the effect of undermining renewable energy development in the region because other states can satisfy their RPS requirements by buying RECs from Vermont.  The RPS will correct this situation by gradually requiring ownership of the RECs by Vermont utilities.

A key component of the RPS is an expansion of the Standard Offer program, which guarantees long-term, stable prices for renewable energy generation.  The Standard Offer program is currently capped at 50 megawatts (MW) of distributed renewable energy generation but will grow to 150 MW over 10 years. The annualized growth of 10 MW/year for 10 years sets an achievable pace that creates price stability, avoids boom/bust cycles, and benefits from decreasing renewable energy prices over time.

Finally, the bill requires the Department of Public Service to analyze and report on the status of the retail electricity market in Vermont and the effects of the SPEED and Standard Offer programs on the market, on renewable energy generation, and on greenhouse gas emissions, and to make recommendations for changes to the programs if indicated.  The bill passed 91-46 and is now in the Senate.

On another topic, the miscellaneous tax bill passed in the House on a vote of 125-14. The bill includes a repeal of the double counting of interest and dividends for income sensitivity.  However, it maintains the $500,000 cap on homestead property value for income sensitivity.  During the presentation of the bill on the floor I voiced support for the repeal of the income calculation but objected to not repealing the $500,000 cap which affects many Charlotte residents whose home values have risen disproportionately to their incomes.

The Word in the House 3/29/2012 -- Tanning Beds & Rx Databases

If you’ve ever watched a foot race, you know that as two runners in a dead heat approach the finish line, they go all out and sprint to the finish!  Something similar happens in the legislature when “crossover day” is in sight.  Crossover is the point in the legislative session when any bill that has a chance of passage on the floor of the House or Senate must be voted out of committee.  Any bill that doesn’t make this cut is dead for the session.  As you can imagine, this results in a flurry of bills that have been worked on for weeks finally being sent to the floor for a vote.  Crossover happened on March 16th, so this past week saw dozens of bills reach the House floor for a vote, and almost all were passed and sent to the Senate for that body’s consideration.  Likewise, the House will be taking up bills that were passed by the Senate in the weeks to come. 

One of the bills that was passed is H.157 relating to restrictions on tanning beds.  The impetus for this bill is the recognition that cases of melanoma have increased dramatically both nationally and in Vermont over the past few decades.  While melanoma affects Vermonters of all ages, it is the number one cancer among young adults aged 25 to 29 and is one of the most frequent malignancies among teenagers.  Indeed, Vermont has one of the highest per capita melanoma rates in the country, 29 cases per 100,000 versus 26.5 per 100,000 for the U.S.

Indoor tanning during youth appears to be particularly dangerous.  The use of indoor tanning before the age of 30 increases a person’s melanoma risk by 75%.  Since 1998, the number of teens reporting the use of tanning beds nationally rose from 1% to 27%.  In Vermont 21% of teens reported using tanning beds.  For this reason H.157 makes it unlawful for a tanning facility or operator to allow any person who has not yet reached the age of 18 to use any tanning equipment. 

Any tanning facility violating this law is subject to a civil penalty of $500 for the first violation up to $1500 for the third and subsequent violations.  The bill also allows an exemption for use of this type of equipment by a licensed physician for medical purposes or by a person who owns tanning equipment exclusively for personal, noncommercial use.

Another important bill is H.745 relating to Vermont’s prescription drug monitoring system.  Prescription drug abuse has been a growing problem in Vermont.  It has led to increased crimes of prescription fraud as well as crimes of theft by addicts in an attempt to fund their habits.  Doctors and pharmacists play an unwitting role when abusers shop doctors for multiple prescriptions and have them filled at multiple pharmacies.

The purpose of H.745 is to maximize the effectiveness and appropriate utilization of the Vermont prescription monitoring system to prevent the abuse of controlled substances without interfering with the legal medical use of those substances while providing opportunities for treatment for abusers of these substances.

The bill requires the prescription to include the date of birth of the individual as well as the quantity of the substance written in both numerical and word form to prevent quantities from being changed.  Prior to dispensing a prescription for a controlled substance, a pharmacist must require the individual receiving the drug to provide a signature and show valid and a current government-issued photo ID as evidence that the individual is the patient for whom the prescription was written, the owner of the animal for which the prescription was written, or the bona fide representative of the patient or animal owner. If the individual does not have valid, current government-issued photographic identification, the pharmacist may request alternative evidence of the individual’s identity, as appropriate. 

Prescription data is maintained in the Vermont Prescription Management System (VPMS) database maintained by the Department of Public Safety.  The bill allows specially authorized law enforcement investigators to request access to VPMS from the Commissioner of Health when abuse is suspected, but only if they have obtained a warrant.  This protects patients, doctors and pharmacists from unreasonable access to their data by investigators.

Legislative Report 3/17/2012 - The Doyle Poll

One of the highlights of Town Meeting across Vermont is the opportunity Vermonters have of registering their opinions on a variety of issues in the Doyle Poll.  This survey has been conducted for many decades by Senator Bill Doyle, and this year 84 Charlotters filled out the survey.  Here for your consideration is a tally of the responses.




Not Sure


%Not Sure
Should VT continue efforts to close VT Yankee?
Should drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while driving?
Should Vermont have a 4-year term for Governor?
Do you think Gov.  Peter Shumlin is doing a good job?
Do you think the VT legislature is doing a good job?
Are you optimistic about the future of Vermont?
Are you optimistic about the future of our nation?
Do you believe VT’s bottle deposit law should be expanded to include all bottled beverages?
Do you support the federal law that requires everyone to have health insurance?
Should wind turbines be built on Vermont ridgelines?
Should state and federal funds be used to allow VT’s school children to have nutritious meals?
Should VT legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana (2 ounces)?
Should the high school dropout age be changed from 16 to 18?
Should the state of VT continue to support our working farms and forests?

Most of the questions differed from last year’s poll, but questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 8 were similar if not the same.  For all of those questions the sentiment of those taking the poll was the same as last year.  Optimism about the future of Vermont was very positive in stark contrast to optimism about our nation.  The few comments on the poll entries addressed wind turbines pro and con, marijuana for medical use, and the current use program.  I’m grateful for those who took the time to fill out the poll this year.

In other matters, the issue of removing the philosophical exemption for vaccines has generated a lot of comments.  I am still trying to understand all the implications of doing away with this exemption.  The concerns of parents are real with respect to the large number and variety of the required vaccines.  The concerns for public health are also valid, however, and it is difficult to weigh one against the other.   My thanks to everyone who contacted me about this subject.  Also, at the time of this writing, there is still no word on how reapportionment of the Senate districts is settling out.  Finally, last week was the deadline for passing any bills out of committee in time to be voted on by the full House and sent on to the Senate for consideration.