Statehouse Headliners: UVM Medical Center abortions, self-defense shooting numbers, minimum wage, and a VT Rush Limbaugh?

By Guy Page

An online petition opposing the September 2017 decision by the UVM Medical Center to perform elective abortions is gaining steam statewide. And now some legislators are expressing disapproval and seeking answers to tough questions.

On May 9, several concerned legislators enlisted other legislators to sign a group letter to be sent to hospital leadership, saying they “oppose the decision of the Board of Trustees of the University of Vermont Medical Center to perform elective abortions, including late-term dismemberment abortions, and believe this decision should be rescinded.” These lawmakers — some of whom sit on House committees with hospital oversight — want to know:

  • How will UVMMC determine whether a pregnant minor is a victim of rape, incest or human trafficking?
  • Will UVMMC follow state law requiring reporting of possible abuse or neglect of a pregnant minor?
  • What will be the protocol for disposition of fetal remains, and will the potential DNA proof of criminal activity be preserved?
  • How will UVMMC determine family-related health risks to surgery without access to parental health records?
  • Will family insurance policies cover abortion procedures on minors without parental involvement? If not, will the hospital cover the cost, bill the State of Vermont, or expect the minor to pay in cash?

The petition already has attracted hundreds of online signatures, and is being circulated in “hard copy” by pro-life advocates statewide. Vermont Right to Life is urging interested citizens to sign the petition and then send the link to other interested Vermonters. This small sample of the many online comments by petition signers gives a flavor of their concerns:

  • “Hospitals and health care providers are supposed to protect and save lives, not destroy them. I cannot in conscience use any facility for my own health care that performs elective abortions.”
  • “I am very concerned that health personnel and medical and nursing students will have no rights of conscience in this matter. Pro Life people will be weeded out of staff and educators.”
  • “I am disappointed in the leaders at UVMMC. Strange that an institution that works so hard to save the lives of pre-term babies in their NICU will then consider the lives of other babies meaningless. How do they reconcile that??”

Home invasion defense in the ‘real world’?

Some readers of Headliners last questioned the main point made by firearms policy expert Bill Moore: that using a (now banned) high-capacity magazine firearm can improve your odds of surviving a home invasion. Moore said that having more bullets can compensate for the well-known loss of accuracy in high-stress situations. But how many people in the ‘real world’ actually defend themselves with high-capacity magazine firearms?

True, it’s hard to find stats — pro or con — for self-defense with high-capacity magazine guns. The NRA claims 2.5 million people per year successfully defend themselves with firearms (of all kinds in all settings). In a typically anti-gun rights editorial, the New York Times cites federal statistics of “only” 67,640 per year. The true number may lie between these two extremes. Still, 67,640 is a much bigger number than 310 — the number of school shootings since 2013.

Maybe the comparison is moot from a constitutional point of view. As gun rights expert Brian Doherty notes in Reason magazine: “when it comes to public policy, no individual’s right to armed self-defense should be up for grabs merely because a social scientist isn’t convinced a satisfyingly large enough number of other Americans have defended themselves with a gun.”

Anti-NorthStar group soaps its side of the window

Meredith Angwin of Wilder, my fellow Vermonter on the ISO-New England Consumer Liaison Group coordinating committee, cited my recent op-ed on her consistently excellent, well-read Yes Vermont Yankee blog May 5. As the sale of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to NorthStar for decommissioning goes to the Public Utilities Commission for a week of hearings May 10-16, one participant, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), says the sale lacks transparency. Ms. Angwin, author of a “how to” book on advocacy entitled “Campaign for Clean Air,” explains how CLF could have easily learned all there is to know:

“Transparency and soap — Guy Page, a frequent guest blogger, has been following the sale closely. Like me, Page cannot understand why CLF (a bunch of lawyers, after all) won’t sign a non-disclosure in order to obtain more information about the sale. I will not attempt to equal Page’s excellent commentary in Vermont Digger: Where most see opportunity, CLF sees only problems with VY sale.   However, I will quote him. ‘CLF’s knowledge of NorthStar’s plan is limited, due to its choice not to sign a non-disclosure statement protecting certain contract information. If CLF was truly concerned about transparency, it shouldn’t have soaped its side of the window.’”

Iran broke spirit, letter of nuclear deal

While Vermont’s congressional delegation decries President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement Tuesday, Vermonters attending an America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gathering in Burlington said the decision means more long term security for Israel and the rest of troubled Middle East. And they also say Iran has already broken both the letter and the spirit of the 2015 pact.

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy both said in effect that the U.S. should not, on principle, break its international agreements. But Middle East experts at the AIPIC meeting said Iranian and U.S. negotiators both understood the deal — an executive but not Congressional agreement — might not survive the next presidential administration. One expert said that just last month the Mossad — Israel’s intelligence arm — found proof that Iran has secretly continued its nuclear work. And no-one disputes that the Iranian government has openly failed to keep the spirit of the deal brokered by former Secretary of State John Kerry.

According to experts, Kerry hoped to delay imminent development of an Iranian nuclear bomb by about 10 years, during which time it was hoped Iran’s leaders would agree to reverse its determined attempt to become a nuclear power. To open that 10-year window, Kerry agreed to not prohibit nuclear bomb development afterwards — a very significant flaw likened to putting a car on cruise control for 10 miles of driving on a smooth road, all the while knowing that at the 10 mile marker, the car would sail off a cliff.

Yet since the pact was signed in 2015, Iran has converted billions of dollars reaped from the nuclear agreement into a 40 percent increase in overall military expansion, and military aggression in Syria, Gaza, and Yemen, with the desired effect of violent destabilization of the entire Middle East. It has also continued to develop ballistic missile capability. Meanwhile Iranians face hunger, double-digit inflation and unemployment, with worker unrest particularly strong in its steel and education sectors.  On April 15 the social network Telegram was banned, the latest in a long line of social media shutdowns in a nation where the traditional press is already strictly controlled. If the crackdown occurred in anticipation of Iranian popular support for Trump’s decision, it’s easy to see why. Rather than invest the nuclear-deal billions in its people at home, Iran instead doubled down on military and terror efforts, experts said. Trump’s decision recognizes the obvious: Iran will not beat its swords into ploughshares.

Vermonters may feel the effect of new sanctions on Iran in the form of a higher gasoline prices. So for ‘carbon pricing’ supporters — many of whom voted for Sens. Leahy and Sanders – the news isn’t all bad.

Raise minimum wage in Chittenden County ONLY? No way, House says

Rep. Bob Helm (Castleton) sent a message to the Chittenden County lawmakers, who back S.40, increasing the statewide minimum wage to $15: you go first.

The Rutland County lawmaker proposed that because economically-strong Chittenden County is better equipped for a dramatic, mandated wage increase, “the General Assembly deems it prudent to increase the minimum wage to $15 in Chittenden County by 2024, while increasing the minimum wage by the rate of inflation in the other regions of the State.”

The proposal failed 19-127. Not one Chittenden County legislator supported it. (The lawmaker from the closest district was Carl Rosenquist of Georgia, just north of Milton.) The statewide incremental minimum wage increase to $15 by 2024 passed 77-69 (with 23 votes from Chittenden County).

“Vermont Wrap” debut goes after gun, pot laws

Keith Hanson’s TV “Vermont Wrap” show on the YCN network debuted this past weekend. The conservative broadcast news veteran sounds (and even looks a little!) like a Vermont version of Rush Limbaugh – fact-filled, authoritative, combative, and relishing his unpolitically correct views. The next show airs this Saturday and Sunday evening on YCN — here’s the link for last week’s program and for more information.

Medical Marijuana legislation may proceed WITHOUT universal prescription – but will promise be kept?

Under pressure from Senate and House of Representatives leadership, the Vermont House Human Services Committee may allow a new version of S.216, the Medical Marijuana bill, to proceed towards approval – if the controversial section allowing universal prescription of marijuana for all medical conditions is removed.

Headliners dropped into House Human Services this week and witnessed the following: Chair Ann Pugh (South Burlington) informed her committee the Senate wants the language of S.216 approved and will accept the removal of universal prescriptions — a highly controversial aspect of the Senate bill as originally approved. The latest Senate proposal would only address non-medical issues, including background checks of employees, and may be rolled into another Senate bill. House Human Services members seemed cautiously OK with the new version but several — including Chair Pugh — expressed great concern that once they release the bill, universal prescription could then be restored on the House floor or in House/Senate conference committee.

“It makes me very nervous,” Ranking Member Topper McFaun (Barre Town) said. Chair Pugh agreed. She told her committee she will advise senators of their cautious acceptance, while also warning them to keep their promise unless they want to experience her temper tantrum.

Other committee members also seemed skeptical. It is unclear why both House and Senate leaders are pushing hard for a bill that just fiddles with medical marijuana dispensary employment and operation practices. Is it possible that Medical Marijuana will become a bargaining chip in a multi-bill veto showdown between Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature? Vermonters may contact their House and Senate representatives to ask them to refuse to expand prescription use of medical marijuana, under S.216 or attached to another bill.

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; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR
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