I am fortunate that Oliver Olsen, a known quantity and respected representative, wants to return to the State House. I will support him and I urge you to.
Legislative matters: The GMO Bill - On April 23 the House voted out H. 112, which is the GMO labeling bill, now as amended by the Senate, without a trigger, and with a provision for a fund to foot the legal bill which is almost certain to follow. Those I listened to at hearings, who voiced an opinion that Vermont should go it alone without a trigger, with a promise that they would stand behind us, will now have the opportunity to prove their credibility, as the fund is set up to take contributions, as well as monies from suits the Attorney General's Office prevails on in other quarters. The absence of a trigger means that Vermont's law is not dependent on the legislation of any other State to take effect on July 1, 2016. I voted "Yes" on the bill, based on input from constituents.
School Governance: The House of Representatives has now passed the School Governance Bill, known as H. 883. It is a very controversial bill, not that that makes it unique during this session, or probably any other. The vote on the bill was not partisan-political; but rather, rural versus more heavily populated. Weston and Londonderry have less reason to be concerned about it than many other towns, due to the Mountain Towns RED. Many small school districts have a concern over loss of local control, and the possible loss of schools as community entities. It would eliminate supervisory unions, which would be replaced by "expanded pre-kindergarten - grade 12 school districts." At this point, it is thought that there might be in the vicinity of 50 such school districts. Under the provisions of H. 883 school districts that pay the tuition of their students to operating schools on the date of the act, because they do not operate schools, or do not operate schools with certain grades, may continue the practice of paying tuition for their students. As the bill leaves the House, school choice, as and where it exists now looks to be well protected.
The bill establishes "Design Teams," which are to be composed of nine geographically representative members; and, consolidation is, according to the bill, intended to happen in a community sensitive manner.
I thought it would be interesting to see what the Senate would do with H. 883 this late in the second and last session of the biennium. The one thing that I see as certain is that leadership in Montpelier is happy to have the ruckus around H. 883 distract the populace from property tax rate increases. As I write this H. 883 sits in the Senate Rules Committee. (Editor's Note: The Senate failed to pass the bill, effectively shelving it until next year). As the end of the session approaches, it is mostly rumor that surrounds any bill addressing School Governance, with the House Education Committee complaining that the Senate has gutted H. 883 with a substitute, and the Senate claiming the House Bill needed to change.
Healthcare - There was entertainment on the House floor in the afternoon of April 30 as Rep. Cynthia Browning, (D), Arlington proposed an amendment to a healthcare-related bill that would have subpoenaed the Shumlin administration to disclose its progress and work to date on a financing plan for single-payer healthcare. The vote went very much along party lines, with two Independents, yours truly and Will Stevens, of Shoreham, joining the Republicans. It very much appears to me that the Governor wishes not to disclose the plan, or plans, for financing a single-payer health plan before November elections. My guess is that a voice vote would disclose that Cynthia Browning is not the only Democrat who feels that the Governor ought to disclose his plan, or plans, and give the voters a chance to express their views in November.
The Rutland Herald reported, in its May 1, 2014 edition, that Cynthia Browning is suing the administration to gain access to the Shumlin administration's records on efforts to construct a financing plan for a proposed universal health care system.
As we approach the threshold of adjournment no additional information has come to the Senate or the House, and the citizens of Vermont continue to wait for news concerning the financing of single-payer healthcare.
Labor Relations - A tie is good for business! I am told by House members with much seniority that we saw history on the night of May 5th. The bill of concern was Senate bill S. 213, which in its first section would have established a committee to study the issue of no-fault employment policies. There was generally not a problem with the establishment of the committee. The same could not be said of the second section of the bill, which provided that an "employer, employment agency, or labor organization shall not discharge or in any other manner discriminate against or penalize an employee because the employee has used, or attempted to use, accrued employer-provided sick leave. This section shall not diminish any rights under this chapter or pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement." This section 2 was quickly recognized by some, especially representatives who are themselves employers, that passage of this bill would leave employers vulnerable to lawsuits for infractions they were not aware of. This in turn might well lead to an inclination by small business owners to eliminate that risk by eliminating the sick leave benefit for their employees, a result no-one was looking for.
This was the context surrounding an amendment proposed by Rep. Will Stevens, (I) Shoreham, that would have eliminated Section 2 of the bill, an amendment for which there was much tri-partisan support, as you shall soon recognize.
The presenter of the S. 213 offered a substitute amendment for Rep Steven's amendment, which preserved Section 2. The roll-call vote on the substitute amendment was a tie, after one representative changed her vote (to a "Yes"); and, the tie was broken by a "Yes" vote by Speaker Shap Smith, leaving Rep. Steven's amendment dead.
Many senior members of the House have not previously seen a tie.
The disposition of S. 213 on the night of May 5th, after this close vote, was that it was returned to the committee from whence it came. My guess is that it will not rear its head again this session.
In my view Vermonters, employees and employers alike, should be grateful to Rep Stevens.
We left the chamber at about 11 p.m., after spending about two and a half hours on S. 213.
Tax Rates & Budget - It would be premature to forward information on these subjects now, as all is up in the air (to high, for certain) before they come out of Conference Committee. There are two dynamics at work there. The Senators and Representatives on the Conference Com mittees have much to discuss (negotiate); and, by the time the committees have done their job (probably in late night or early morning hours), everyone wants to wrap things up and go home.
Budget adjustments, which could be thought of on a parallel track with deficit spending, seem to be growing. That means that when the legislature returns, it votes on how to pay for the spending under the budget that is exceeding revenues that were supposed to pay for the budget.
That is a trend that leads me to conclude that I can vote "NO" just as well in the very early hours of the morning as during daylight hours! Thank you for the support you have given me. It has been a privilege to represent you up here.
Rep. Charles Goodwin represents the towns of Weston, Londonderry, Stratton, Winhall and Jamaica in the state legislature.