Legislative Report 1/11/2016 - Reflections on the State of the State

The first week of a legislative session features a joint session of the House and Senate called to hear the Governor address the state of the State.  Amid the formal ceremony in the chamber of the House where the members of the Senate sat in their special seats near the podium, distinguished guests sat in additional chairs in the center of the well of the House, and other special guests sat among the members of the House and in the balcony, Governor Shumlin gave the last state of the State address of his six year tenure.

He made note of many accomplishments including a renewable energy policy that has grown thousands of new jobs while holding down electric rates, a strong and successful response to tropical storm Irene, success in getting 16,000 Vermonters health insurance they didn't have before, refocusing the criminal justice system from incarceration to rehabilitation, and expanding access to higher education for Vermont students through various innovative programs. On a lighter note, he touted the successes of the micro-brew, cheese and local food movements.

Looking to the future he focused on the economy, education and marijuana legalization among other things.  He said he is looking forward to signing the Paid Sick Leave bill, which passed the House last year, is expected to pass the Senate early this session. He announced a $1 million grant from the Enterprise Fund to Global Foundries to make 100 temporary jobs permanent.  And he called for quickly postponing or repealing the caps on education spending enacted in Act 46 last year. This approach is in contrast to the direction proposed by members of the House to raise the cap by 0.9%.

I was pleased to see that the Governor stipulated five criteria before he would sign any legislation legalizing recreational marijuana: 1) the market must keep it out of the hands of kids, 2) it must be taxed low enough to prevent a black market, 3) revenues must be used to expand addiction programs, 4) there must be a way to detect driving under the influence, and 4) it should include a ban on the sale of edible marijuana products.  These criteria are necessary but, in my opinion, there should also be a detailed analysis of the experiences of Colorado and Washington regarding the increased usage, especially by teenagers, and the additional costs to society as a result of DUI, marijuana tourism, and the use of other drugs accompanying marijuana use.

The Governor's focus on addressing the opiate crisis remains unabated.  He harshly criticized the FDA for approving stronger pain killers and the use of Oxycontin for children and denounced the pharmaceutical industry for transforming “compassionate pain management” into “pain for profit.”  He proposed limiting prescriptions for opiate pain medications after minor procedures to 10 doses at a time, increasing the periodic drug take-back events, and expanding the use of the prescription drug monitoring database to physicians and pharmacies in nearby states to reduce cross-border abuse.

Finally, I am proud that he continues to support accepting refugees from the civil war in Syria who pass the extensive and lengthy background checks by UNHCR and our own State Department.  As this past Sunday's Doonesbury strip noted, why should a potential terrorist go the refugee route when it is easier to just get a tourist visa?  Our country must continue to show compassion to those genuinely seeking shelter from terrorists rather than creating a fortress mentality.  After all, we are “the land of the free and the home of the BRAVE,” are we not?
I welcome your thoughts and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).