By Guy Page
Hopes for Lake Champlain power line, cleanup money still alive – The New England Clean Power Link power line project that could deliver more than $200 million to Vermont to clean up Lake Champlain is still alive, supporters say.
The fully-permitted project would deliver more than 1,000 megawatts of low-carbon Hydro Quebec electricity to southern New England via an underwater cable. The Link appeared dead after the State of Massachusetts backed a rival project in New Hampshire. When that project was rejected by Granite State regulators, Massachusetts supported a Maine alternative. But the Maine project lacks regulatory approval and is opposed by leading environmentalists and energy companies. “They don’t have their permits, and we do,” Gov. Scott said. “They’ll come back to us.”
If the governor’s right, the state will have a huge pot of money to spend on the federally-mandated cleanup of Lake Champlain. If he’s wrong, the cleanup must continue anyway – most likely paid for by a combination of taxes on Vermonters.
Gov. Scott to veto min. wage hike – Gov. Phil Scott promised at his April 5 press conference to veto the proposed $15/hour minimum increase. The proposed increase is “an unnecessary cost of doing business,” Gov. Scott said. “We will have organic growth” in wages due thanks to falling supply of workers (falling unemployment rate now at 2.8 percent) and the demand of a growing economy, he said. Also, recent reductions in employer contributions for unemployment and worker’s compensation should free up money for employers to pay more, the administration said. The 2019 federal tax reform also will put money in both employers’ and workers’ pockets.
House approves paying state defense lawyers to help immigrants in federal court – The state that limited its cooperation with federal immigration police last year is poised this year to pay state defense lawyers to help immigrants in federal court. S.237, permitting state-employed public defender lawyers to provide legal counsel to immigrants, received preliminary approval by the Vermont House 97-40 (click on link for roll call) Tuesday, April 10 and will soon go to Gov. Scott for his signature.
S.237 “requires that needy persons be provided with representation concerning immigration matters,” says its statement of purpose.
Rep. Lynn Batchelor (Derby) explained her “no” vote: “The problem is not if someone is legal or illegal. It is the State’s lack of money to support this bill at this time.”
Rep. Kathleen Keenan (St. Albans City) also voted no: “Having heard Appropriations’ testimony about the financial difficulties the Defender General has providing needed statutory services I am very hesitant to add additional work, nor do I expect state employees to work without pay or expense reimbursement. Leaving children in unsafe homes as we do now due to inadequate resources does not justify adding new additional workload at this time.”
An amendment is expected to be offered on the third and final reading Wednesday, April 12. H.758, prohibiting housing discrimination based on immigration status, was introduced Jan. 30 but did not survive Crossover. A statement by Gov. Scott limits the State of Vermont ‘s cooperation with the federal government regarding immigration law enforcement. A March 2017 state law limits the role of local police in federal immigration enforcement.
Prostitution bill dead in House Judiciary – H.733, an anti-prostitution bill requested by Rutland City police and all Rutland City legislators, has not been discussed in House Judiciary since it was introduced January 30.
H.733 “proposes to expand the definition of prostitution to include a broader range of sexual conduct.” At present the only sex act covered under state prostitution law is intercourse. H.733 defines several other sex acts-for-hire as prostitution. The bill was reportedly requested by Rutland city police as a way to crack down on suspected houses of prostitution.
None of the House Judiciary members interviewed this week by Headliners were aware of H.733, much less knew why it hasn’t been discussed. So it’s impossible to know if sex trade support by advocacy organizations like the Women’s March play a role. On April 7, the Women’s March tweeted in response to the federal shutdown of the Backpage.com website: “The shutting down of #Backpage is an absolute crisis for sex workers who rely on the site to safely get in touch with clients. Sex workers rights are women’s rights.”
Carbon tax now called “Market Decarbonization” – A Northeast Kingdom legislator on House Appropriations committee reportedly protested vehemently at a recent community gathering when a citizen asked why the proposed 2019 budget funds a study of carbon taxation. The legislator stood and loudly proclaimed that there is no funding to study a carbon tax.
Perhaps the confusion is understandable. House Appropriations – pressured by the Scott administration and many voters to NOT fund a carbon pricing study – has changed the name of the unpopular study to “market decarbonization.” See page 111 of H.924:
“Study regulatory and market decarbonization mechanisms: The Joint Fiscal Committee shall contract for independent professional assistance to analyze the costs and benefits for Vermont of adopting and implementing policies to reduce GHG emissions caused by Vermont’s consumption of fossil fuels. There is $120,000 appropriated … for this study.”
Lest anyone miss the name switcheroo, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility – the lead advocates for carbon tax and carbon pricing – last week sent legislators a letter saying not a peep about carbon tax/pricing but urging support of “the decarbonization study funded in H.924 (the budget).”
Bill would study “good time” for inmates, require marijuana dispensary criminal background checks “only every three years” – House Judiciary this week will discuss S.222, updating miscellaneous judiciary procedures, including:
- A study and report to reinstitute the practice of “earned good time” for inmates in the Corrections Department.
- Medical Marijuana dispensary owners, principals and financiers “shall be required only every three years” to have fingerprints taken, their out-of-state criminal history record reported, and criminal history investigated by the FBI.
Study video game/school violence connection – HR 23, a resolution to study the connection between excessively violent video games and school shooting, is set to be introduced into the House.
“This legislative body requests the Executive Branch to use available funds to examine the connection between excessive video game playing and the propensity to engage in gun violence and to propose restrictions on the rental or sale of violent video games to persons under a designated age for legislative consideration during the 2019 session of the General Assembly,” says the proposed resolution. The lead sponsor is Doug Gage (Rutland City), who is joined by more than 100 co-sponsors from all three parties and the independent caucus.
Final Vermont Yankee hearing Thursday, April 12 – Vermonters have one final opportunity to express their support for a project that will deliver economic development and clean land and water to the southeastern corner of Vermont.
The proposed sale of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to NorthStar will be the subject of a Public Utilities Commission public hearing 7 p.m. Thursday, April 12 at Brattleboro Union High School, off I-89 Exit 1. If approved by the PUC and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission this summer, NorthStar’s “de-construction project” will bring hundreds of workers and economic activity to the Vernon/Brattleboro area for eight to 10 years, beginning almost immediately.
The finished site will be a grassy, green field, except for a storage pad of steel casks holding spent fuel. Contaminated material will be removed and remediated, and onsite recycling of “clean” material will be kept to a minimum. A cultural study will be conducted to determine, and minimize any impacts on, historic native American presence on the banks of the Connecticut River. When the work is finished, the site will be made available for a new industry seeking unique proximity to a railhead, power grid switchyard, river, and Interstate highway – as well as a forward-looking town government planning an important role for the site during the rest of the 21st century. If the project is not approved, the current plan calls for the site to remain an inactive nuclear plant for up to 60 years.
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.