House and Senate Committees are hard at work on legislation. Here is a review of some significant bills.

The "net metering" bill H.702 has passed the House. This bill increases the amount of power an electric utility can obtain from customers who generate their own electricity from small solar or wind installations. Such customers can provide power to offset their bills. The extra local power has benefited the electrical system by reducing the need for transmission lines. And the extra solar power has allowed the utilities to avoid purchasing expensive electricity on the spot market during summer heat waves that cause spikes in electricity usage. However, we need to be sure that net metering customers continue to pay a share of the costs of the grid in the future. I voted for the bill.

A recent survey reported that around 59 percent of high school seniors have texted while driving. This statistic is so shocking that it may actually shake loose a bill to ban both texting and using a cell phone while driving. Such a bill has been blocked in the Senate in the past. When driving, just drive. No telephone call and no text message can be so important that it is worth killing someone or getting killed.

A difficult issue under discussion concerns the legal procedures under which an individual in a psychiatric ward can be given psychotropic medication against their will. Some feel that Vermont's proceedings take too long, so that patients who refuse drugs languish in the hospital without receiving the most effective treatments. Their untreated condition can sometimes mean that staff members or other patients are injured by violence related to their psychotic states. And they are occupying a scarce hospital bed that other patients need for a long time without getting better. But it is a profound action to medicate someone against their will, and the legal process should be rigorous and careful. Some who have been drugged against their will say that it was a destructive violation of their rights and their control of their own body.

One version of legislation related to this is S. 287. How can we balance this complex mix of rights, risks, and responsibilities? For me the key consideration is violence. Medical staff and other patients cannot be put in danger from the untreated illness of others. Under those circumstances I think it should be somehow possible to accelerate the legal proceedings to allow involuntary medication for treatment not just for sedation. The House is considering a mandate that all businesses provide paid sick leave to all workers. An employee would earn one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked up to 56 hours every year. This could be used for illness, doctors' appointments, or care for a sick family member. Even seasonal, part time, and newly hired workers would be eligible. This would make it financially easier for workers to behave responsibly: To stay home when they are sick or to stay home with a sick child. But it could make operations more financially difficult for businesses. S. 255 is a version of this bill. This mandate could shift too much of the risk and cost of this problem onto businesses. A worker would have to be paid when they are not working and someone else would also have to be paid to do their work, or else their work is left undone and revenue is lost.

Does a business have to pay a worker when they are staying home with a hangover? What if a business has five employees and during one month three of them take paid days off? It could be very difficult to even cover those extra payroll costs. I might be able to support a version of this bill if 1) paid sick time is only for full time employees, 2) it is only available after a worker has worked somewhere for a year, and 3) businesses with less than ten full time employees are exempted. More information about these bills can be found at www.leg. state.vt.us

Feel free to contact me at cbrowning@leg.state.vt.us or 802-375-9019 or on Facebook. Cynthia Browning is a State Representative to the Vermont Legislature, who along with Jeff Wilson represents Manchester, Arlington, Sunderland and Sandgate.