By Don Keelan
Most members of the Vermont State Senate must be extremely proud of the fact that S.227 made its way through their chamber and is now before the House of Representatives.
The preamble to the bill is, “An Act relating to the provision of personal care products by lodging establishments.” What the act boils down to (it does have a few other innocuous provisions) is that it will no longer be allowed in Vermont for inns, motels, hotels, and bed and breakfast establishments to have single use personal care products — shampoos, body conditioner, soaps, and so on that are contained in small plastic bottles.
In early June, writing in TrueNorth, Rob Roper, President of The Ethan Allen Institute, called our attention to this absurd piece of legislation. He noted, “The bill impacts an industry that is, as one of the senators noted, struggling for its existence.” At the time, the bill was exiting the senate finance committee and Roper hoped that it would end there. It did not.
The bill comes with some serious enforcement teeth. “A lodging establishment that violates the requirements of this section shall be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $300.” Second time around the fine goes to $500. An action may be brought by the Vermont Department of Health — so much for working on COVID-19.
The VDOH along with the Agency of Natural Resources can haul an innkeeper into the Vermont Judicial Bureau to litigate a civil penalty. This is the same bureau that deals with fishing, burning, cruelty to animals, and motor vehicle infractions — it will now welcome our state’s lodging owners.
I find it repulsive that an elected body of state senators could ever think of taking up such legislation at this time. In southwestern Vermont, the historic Equinox Hotel Resort and Spa just began to reopen on July 1. And closer to home, it is with great sadness to see the absence of activity around the Town of Arlington’s famed historic inns.
Has any member of the Senate taken the time to visit Vermont’s lodging industry owners and ask, “How can we help you at this time?” For that matter, has anyone in the Senate gone to the leaders of state agencies and asked the same question now that Governor Scott is calling on his commissioners to find deep budget savings?
What is really important to the leaders of the Vermont State Senate is that they follow the directions given to them by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and other anti-plastic interest groups. Failing to do so would subject them to the wrath of such groups. God forbid there would be any courage displayed to hold off on S.227, at least for the present.
Once again, it appears that Montpelier is so out of touch with what is really happening throughout Vermont from the devastation brought on by COVID-19. When the senators see the miles of traffic backed up to obtain a few boxes of food from the Vermont National Guard and the Vermont Food Bank, do they realize what is on these constituents’ minds? It surely is not the removal of small plastic containers from Vermont’s lodging establishments, by January 1, 2023 and 2024.
What is wrong with our legislators that they can’t seem to ever focus on what really matters and cast aside what is given to them to work on by special interest groups, in this case VPIRG? It really comes down to who is actually leading our legislature. You have to wonder, is it really Senate President Pro Tem, Tim Ashe, and House Speaker, Mitzi Johnson?
The state’s only landfill, in Coventry, is safe for now. There will be few containers placed there because there will be fewer lodging tourists coming to Vermont, because there will be fewer lodging places that were able to survive.
Shame on those who lead our legislature for allowing such callousness to take place. And if they have any doubt about wearing this badge of shame, come visit southwestern Vermont and tour our once vibrant lodging industry establishments.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.