By Guy Page
While the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and unrestricted abortion bills have received most of the press, other bills have passed House and Senate relatively unnoticed. They will soon become law unless successfully vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. These bills include:
Co-sponsored by several members of the Progressive-leaning House Judiciary Committee, H.518, “fair and impartial policing” requires “an outreach and education strategy to inform Vermonters of the resources available to protect civil rights pursuant to State laws that prohibit discrimination,” including discrimination against undocumented/illegal immigrants. Migrant advocates say some Vermont police are too willing to help federal immigration authorities arrest and detain suspected illegal immigrants.
The bill was approved without a proposed change that would have given the Vermont Human Rights Commission powers to demand police department documents while investigating charges of police bias. The Senate Judiciary Committee considered but rejected this proposal.
H.460, also proposed by four members of House Judiciary, expunges criminal records of arrest or conviction of retail theft, burglary, receiving stolen property, and most drug possession charges. “Upon entry of an expungement order, the order shall be legally effective immediately and the person whose record is expunged shall be treated in all respects as if he or she had never been arrested, convicted, or sentenced for the offense,” the bill says. Individuals who wish to have their records expunged may petition the court. Vermont Legal Aid and other advocacy groups are holding clinics to help people prepare these petitions. The bill was approved by the Senate and sent to the governor May 17.
S.96, Water Quality, is a multi-year bill that will empower local, regional, and state agencies clean up the state’s rivers, ponds, and lakes, culminating in the cleanup of Lake Champlain. The $50 million pricetag for next year was completed with $7million derived from an unexpected state revenue windfall.
S.37, Medical Monitoring, was sponsored by Bennington County senators Brian Campion and Richard Sears in response to the PFOA water contamination crisis in Bennington. It would help people recover medical monitoring costs from local users of hazardous chemicals and out of state manufacturers, if an expert finds they are at risk of harm. Under certain conditions, “a person with or without a present injury or disease shall have a cause of action for the remedy of medical monitoring against a person who released a toxic substance.” Industry and insurers are concerned that the conditions are too broad and that the law may harm Vermont’s business climate.
H.513, broadband deployment throughout Vermont, recognizes that seven percent of Vermont lacks access to high-speed Internet (HSI). It adds half a cent to the universal service fee on telecommunications (cell phones, cable TV, etc.) and funds a full-time state specialist in broadband deployment, help local groups provide local solutions, and authorizes studies of use of utility power lines to provide HSI.
S.30, banning hydrofluorocarbons, is sponsored by Progressive Sens. Chris Pearson and Tim Ashe. The greenhouse-gas reducing ban includes spray foam sealants and refrigerants and will be phased in over five years. Substitute coolants would be required by 2022 for stand-alone residential refrigerators and by 2023 for built-in refrigerators. Prohibitions could be delayed if no suitable substitute is available. HFCs are themselves replacement coolants for ozone-layer endangering chemicals banned in the 1990s.
Clarification: As reported yesterday, House and Senate appropriations conference committee members Monday did drink coffee and talk about their vacations while waiting for final decisions on major spending bills. However, they also held meetings before their break in the cafeteria, and they met afterwards too. At least one conferee said he wished Headliners had more fully reported their activity. Well, now we have. As of today (Tuesday) 2:30 pm several big spending bills remain unpassed. The appropriations conference committee can’t finish its job until others finish theirs.
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.