By Guy Page
Personal cultivation and possession of marijuana will be legal July 1 in Vermont. Gov. Phil Scott signed H.511 into law Jan. 22, and already pro-legalization forces want to legalize industrial cultivation and commercial sale in 2019.
Three decision makers that did little to hinder “personal use” pot could deliver a firm “no” to the marijuana industry: the U.S. government, Gov. Scott, and organized Vermonters.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Jan. 4 rescinded the Obama administration’s “Cole Memo” allowing states to authorize industrial growth and sale of marijuana, even though it’s a federally-prohibited drug. Sessions told each U.S. attorney to use his or her discretion to enforce federal law regarding marijuana. A spokesperson for new U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, a Sessions appointee, told Headliners her office will focus on drug distribution rings and drug-related violence. Time will tell if state-legal cultivation and distribution meet this criteria.
Explaining why he signed H.511, Governor Scott promised more scrutiny for commercial pot. He promised to veto any bill that fails to protect highway safety, public health, and youth.
But Vermonters know Washington, D.C. is distant and preoccupied. They know Gov. Scott might veto commercial pot legalization – or he might not. He might still be governor when a bill passes – or he might not. They know they need to express their views to legislators and to the governor in person, in the media, and in the hallways and committee rooms of the State House. To further this process, the grassroots organization Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont has started an online petition to unite Vermonters opposing commercial marijuana legalization. We urge concerned Vermonters to sign and spread this petition, as a first step to ensuring there will never be local industrial parks full of smelly marijuana greenhouses, or more marijuana stores than McDonalds or Starbucks – as is the case in pot-legal Colorado.
Free Press Confirms: State’s biggest hospital performing elective abortions
As first reported in the Dec. 22 State House Headliners, Vermont’s biggest hospital is now performing elective abortions, the Burlington Free Press reported Jan. 25.
The UVM Medical Center changed its policy at a board meeting in September, 2017, the Free Press reported. However it was not made public until the Dec. 22 Headliners story. “What’s so surprising is there was no public disclosure, especially in Vermont where you can’t change a light bulb without a meeting,” Ellen Kane, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, was quoted as saying in the Free Press.
Trump tariff on imported solar panels could make Vermont solar less affordable
The Trump administration’s 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels isn’t playing well with Vermont pro-renewable groups and legislators. One Statehouse renewable power lobbyist said project costs will rise by 3-10 percent. The tariff won’t doom the industry but, in connection with other federal energy policies, may reduce new construction, industry observers say.
Will Vermont pro-solar lawmakers react with their own protectionism? Two pro-renewable legislators on the House Energy and Technology Committee expressed deep concern but said no response has been discussed – yet. They shouldn’t count on Sen. John Rodgers (Essex-Orleans) for support. He was seen Thursday telling a reporter that solar panel factories in China (the leading manufacturer) lack adequate environmental and worker protections.
Vermont “net metered” solar power is already subsidized at 18-21 cents per kilowatt-hour, and accounts for about 20 percent of the recent Green Mountain Power rate increase. The New England wholesale market price average is about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
$202 million fund of Lake Champlain clean-up money in peril
A Jan. 25 decision by Massachusetts to import Canadian electricity through New Hampshire rather than under Lake Champlain has dashed – for now, anyway – Gov. Scott’s hope for $202 million of Lake Champlain clean-up money.
The state of Massachusetts picked the Northern Pass, N.H., transmission lines over the New England Clean Link underwater cable to import almost 10 million megawatt-hours of Hydro Quebec power. Massachusetts wants more Quebec power to meet growing demand (due in part to MA legalization of energy-intensive commercial marijuana cultivation) and decreasing supply caused by power plant closures. One nuclear power plant (Vermont Yankee) closed in 2014 and another (Pilgrim in Plymouth, MA) will close next year, and coal-burning plants also have been retired. Relying too much on natural gas forced New England power grid operators to burn two years’ worth of inefficient, high-emissions oil to keep the lights on during the recent cold snap, as reported in last week’s Headliners. If shortfalls aren’t addressed, ISO-New England reported last week that New England faces the possibility of rolling blackouts by 2025.
Being left at the altar by Massachusetts in favor of the Northern Pass means Clean Link builder TDI likely won’t deliver the $202 million (plus millions of dollars of other economic benefits) promised in exchange for state permits and support. The deal isn’t totally done. The losers can appeal. But Clean Link’s future looks dim.
U.S. Congress term limits resolution stirs support, opposition in Statehouse
Legislators are taking sides on a resolution to limit the number of terms members of Congress may serve.
JRH 11, introduced Jan. 23 and sponsored by Rep. Robert Helm and Reps. Robert Bancroft, Patrick Brennan, Lawrence Cupoli, James Harrison, Michael Hebert, Patricia McCoy, Brian K. Savage, Charles “Butch” Shaw, and Gary Viens, invokes Article V of the U.S. Constitution and “hereby petitions the U.S. Congress to call a convention for the sole purpose of proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America that would place limitations on the number of terms that members of the U.S. House and Senate may serve.”
The resolution affirms that “membership of Congress should change on a regular basis, in order that our federal legislators reflect the current thinking of their constituents and not become entrenched in our nation’s capital.”
Many legislators contacted last week worry a “runaway convention” could lead to unintended amendments. Yet any proposed amendment would require ratification by three-quarters of the 50 states. Also, all states can, and many have, passed laws to limit delegates to act only on specific issues.
JRH11 was sent without a full House vote Jan. 23 to House Government Operations Committee (Chair Rep. Maida Townsend, S. Burlington). U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy supported term limits when he was elected in 1974, but said in a 2016 campaign debate, and more recently, that he now opposes them.
Record crowd of students, teachers, parents gather for school choice
Almost 300 schoolchildren, educators and parents representing all types of schools — including public schools, independent schools, home schools, and religious schools — participated in National School Choice Week in Montpelier Jan. 24. It was the largest gathering in the Vermont event’s short history and included, for the first time, large numbers of students enrolled in religious and home schools.
The event featured a well-covered press conference, a luncheon that packed the largest ballroom at Capitol Plaza convention center, and an awards conference. “Vermont has a proud history of 150 years of school choice, the first in the nation,” National School Choice Week Vermont Co-chair Brad Ferland said. “Our focus is the important role of public schools and independent schools providing the best education for our children.”
Prostitution not just intercourse, new bill says
The following were among the new bills released for introduction this week:
– H.733 (co-sponsored by Rutland City Reps. Fagan, Gage, Howard and Cupoli, and three others) proposes to expand the definition of prostitution to include a broader range of sexual conduct. At present, only intercourse is covered under Vermont constitution laws, but H733 lists in detail other sexual acts to be covered under prostitution statute.
– H.729 would establish the Vermont Water Resources Board in order to regulate the use of surface waters within the State.
– H.726 (Reps. Sheldon of Middlebury, Chesnut-Tangerman, McCormack of Burlington, and Troiano of Stannard) would create a voluntary standard for pollinator-friendly habitat on sites containing solar electric generation. The voluntary standard would require the establishment and maintenance of native perennial vegetation and foraging habitat that is beneficial to game birds, songbirds, and pollinators.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Church at Prison.