Legislative Report 3/25/2015 - Win Some, Lose Some

During the past few weeks I have received many emails and phone calls from constituents about budget cuts, taxes, and education.  I have made it a point to pass those messages on to members of the Appropriations and Education committees.  I would like to give you some inside information on what is going to be in the budget or out of the budget and what the final education bill will include,  but at the time of this writing those bills have not been finalized.  Nevertheless, by the time this article is published, we will have a proposed budget in front of us.  We will then know the final decisions that were made, subject to change by amendments from the floor.  It is pretty apparent, however, that no one will be completely satisfied with the result.  The same goes for the education bill.  Provisions regarding teacher strikes and the imposition of a contract by a school board when negotiations fail are still being discussed by more than one House committee, as is the proposed 2% cap on school budgets.  So, until the shifting sands solidify, allow me to instead just write about the fate of two of the bills I introduced this session.

The Natural Burials bill (H.25) was recently passed by the House on a voice vote and is on its way to the Senate.  It had been assigned to the Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs.  After the Committee spent weeks listening to testimony from funeral directors, cemetery commissioners, advocates and skeptics of natural burials, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, they made several changes that substantially improved the bill.  They tightened the specifications for creating natural burial grounds, ensuring that they would fit into the current regulatory framework of existing cemeteries.  They also set parameters on how such burial grounds would be located with respect to groundwater sources to ensure that they would pose no risks to public health.  This is the value of the committee process the legislature employs; a good bill is made into better law by careful deliberation taking many points of view into consideration.

The other bill which I introduced to secure the unclaimed bottle deposits for the state, H.140, did not even make it out of my committee.  These unclaimed nickels amount to more than $1 million dollars that have already been paid by Vermonters and remain in the hands of beverage distributors.  The beverage industry mounted a major defense of its claim to the abandoned deposits in their testimony.  They claimed that it would drive the cost of beverages up in Vermont and drive consumers along the Connecticut River to New Hampshire.  While they provided a breakdown of the costs of the bottle deposit program showing that it was a costly and inefficient way to recycle, I was able to use the same information to show that their giving up the unclaimed deposits would add only a half-cent to each container.  Nevertheless, my committee voted 5 to 4 not to approve the bill. 

When a bill comes out of committee, it has been thoroughly examined and discussed and has the support of at least a solid majority of members.  The committee process works, and that is why I usually feel comfortable voting with the committee when a bill I have not been involved with reaches the floor.  I listen to the debate with an open mind and will support amendments if I think they can improve the result.  In the coming weeks there will be a lot of debate on many important and controversial bills.  The decisions I make will be informed by my constituents as well as the committees of jurisdiction.  So, please continue to send me your thoughts and questions.  I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).