Daily Chronicle: Lawmakers to address climate change, plastic, Act 250, insanity defense, prisons, distracted driving, marijuana, and State House ‘CEO’

By Guy Page

The Vermont Legislature reconvenes Tuesday, Jan. 7 for the second year of the 2019-20 biennium. Issues listed below may get attention, as indicated by between-session legislative committee activity and media reports.

Retooling state government to meet stringent carbon reduction goalsS.173 was enthusiastically supported at the end of the 2019 session by lead sponsor Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor). It would replace current statutory language of “it is the goal of the State to reduce carbon emissions” with “the State shall [emphasis added] reduce emissions of greenhouse gases” by 75% by 2050. It also empowers all arms of state government to rule on the side of carbon reduction whenever possible. A common-sense qualifier, “whenever practicable,” has been removed. House versions of this bill have been endorsed by climate-caucus leader Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford) and others. Veto possibility: high.

Carbon taxes — bills like H.255 and H.277 to directly tax fossil fuels were introduced last year with endorsements by influential lobbying group backed by the renewable energy industry, which stands to add market share. A tax would make fossil-fuel energy competition more costly and generate revenue for state renewable energy programs.  Veto possibility: high.

Guy Page

Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) — the carbon-tax wary Legislature might first want to see what Gov. Phil Scott thinks about this 13-state initiative to impose a stealth carbon tax in the form of emissions fees on fuel dealers, who would pass them along to consumers at an estimated 5-18 cents per gallon in the first year and likely escalate from there. One scary wrinkle: even if Scott says no, other states might still jack up the price at the Vermont pump with assessments on regional fuel storage terminals. Would federal courts call it an unconstitutional state-to-state tariff?

Asked on VPR if Vermont needs more urgency in its climate change efforts, Scott said Vermont is already moving towards 90% renewable energy by 2050 with current investments in electronic vehicle (EV) charging stations, incentives to buy EVs, and grid-scale battery storage. He predicted Vermonters will buy electric as all-wheel drive passenger cars (Nissan Leaf, Subaru CrossTrek, Toyota Prius Prime), motorcycles (Harley-Davidson) and pickup trucks (Ford F-150 electric by 2021) reach the market. “That means things are changing,” he said. “EVs are where it’s going to happen.”

Will Scott be content to let incentives and new technology woo Vermont drivers? Or will he push the TCI in an election year, despite his long-stated opposition to carbon taxation? Vermonters should know sometime after TCI releases the final plan in December.

The TCI would harm rural drivers more than city dwellers and will raise farm costs, the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association noted in November: “This proposal negatively impacts low income Vermonters, particularly those that live in rural areas of the state. It would only help those who are considering purchasing a new electric vehicle and/or those that live in urban areas with access to public transportation. Furthermore, while some consumers may be able to choose public transportation or an electric car to avoid the increased cost in gasoline, there is no viable option for businesses that need diesel trucks. In Vermont, 25% of the motor fuel sold is diesel — and we need diesel trucks to haul milk, logs and other products that benefit our agricultural economy. Diesel is also sold with increasing blends of renewable biodiesel, which is critical for Vermont and the Northeast to meet our energy goals.”

Plastic Ban 2.0 — the Single-Use Products Working Group has met regularly since the end of the 2019 session. As required by the plastics ban law passed this year, this group is considering improvements to the law even before it takes effect on July 1, 2020.

One change under discussion: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), requiring single-use plastic makers and middle-men to pay for the cost of recycling. It’s appealing to lawmakers who don’t want to add public costs on Vermont consumers. But recycling consultant Chaz Miller told the working group Oct. 22 EPR (1) removes consumer initiative, (2) gives the industry a monopoly on recycling practices, and (3) double-charges consumers. In addition to paying existing fees to trash haulers and solid waste districts and taxes to government, consumers would pay EPR costs passed along to them by industry. When a lawmaker suggested government might reduce taxes and fees, Miller laughed and said that in his long experience in the recycling business he has never seen government willingly reduce its trash-related revenue.

Distracted driving — House Transportation Committee chair Curt McCormack supports H.239, more penalties for distracted driver, and more renewable transportation spending in the House Transportation Bill.

Act 250 revision — as in 2019, the House Natural Resources Committee may spend most of 2020 revising Vermont’s land use and planning law. The revision in process would change the review process, decrease “fragmentation” of forests caused by human activity, link urban housing development with alternative transportation (bus, bike, train), and limit “sprawl” — i.e. development outside of urban centers. It’s still a work in progress. The governor’s office has been involved in discussions and is said to favor at least some aspects, including streamlining Act 250 regs for urban areas.

Insanity Defense — A proposed bill would give convicted murderers who are insane a mandatory three-year term in a mental health facility. Discussion of the bill became more urgent after Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George dropped charges on three murder suspects because they were deemed insane. The subject was discussed Oct. 18 by the Joint Justice Oversight Committee.

Reducing inmate population — Urged on by a Vermont ACLU report, the Vermont House Judiciary Committee will at least consider taking up legislation to dramatically reduce Vermont’s prison population. The ACLU recommends decarceration of women and of eliminating jailtime for conviction of most crimes involving drug possession, shoplifting, writing bad checks, and the sex trade. Which, if any of these policy recommendations the progressive House Judiciary Committee adopts will bear watching. There is widespread dissatisfaction with Vermont’s aging, overcrowded facilities and the practice of ‘outsourcing’ incarceration to out-of-state prison systems.

Also, the Legislature is considering creating or eliminating controversial offices and boards, including:

Eliminate Vermont State Board of Education — the Sunset Advisory Commission is discussing whether to advise changes to or elimination of the Vermont State Board of Education, the source of highly unpopular forced school mergers. The Vermont Agency of Education has argued that it can handle most of the duties now performed by the governor-appointed state board.

Create new position of “State House Executive Director” and staff to oversee the five separate offices that serve legislators: Sergeant of Arms, Capitol Police, Legislative Council, Joint Fiscal Office, and Information Technology. One former legislative leader griped today to Vermont Daily Chronicle: “If 180 lawmakers can’t solve their own problems then how can they expected to solve the state’s problems? We as taxpayers don’t know what the issues are and if they warrant adding another $100K/ year employee to the state payroll to try and solve them.”

House leadership reportedly would like a ‘CEO’ to resolve “turf wars” between the departments and perform administrative tasks it now performs. One department head told VDC in October that hiring a CEO to tell the departments how to do their jobs seems top-heavy and unnecessary.

Create Office of Child Advocate — H.215, which stalled in the House Human Services committee this year, calls for the Legislature to create an Office of the Child Advocate. As explained by Voices for Vermont Kids, the OCA would work for a state-paid contractor (likely a not-for-profit) and serve as a watchdog over the Vermont Department of Children and Families (DCF). Staff would include an Advocate and a Deputy Advocate, with authority to hire for services.

Legalized Production and Sale of Marijuana — The same questions remain after S.54 passed the Senate and moved into the House before the session ended this year. How much to charge in taxes? How much to spend on education, prevention, law enforcement, Marijuana Control Board administration? Will it pay for itself? Is there a roadside driver intoxication test for marijuana comparable to an alcohol “breathalyzer”? The respective answers are ‘don’t know,’ ‘don’t know,’ ‘don’t know,’ and ‘no.’

Whether the 2020 Legislature sufficiently answers these questions deemed important to Gov. Phil Scott two years ago, and whether he still deems them important, may decide whether he vetos any bill passed by the Legislature passes.

Also: local government advocates worry opposing towns would be required to “opt out” — i.e. ban local operations — rather than be required to “opt in,” i.e. allow local operations.

This list of possible 2020 action items isn’t comprehensive. Paid family leave, the $15 minimum wage, more money for housing, and a dozen other items could be added.

See more of Guy Page’s reports at the Vermont Daily Chronicle.

Image courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR
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13 thoughts on “Daily Chronicle: Lawmakers to address climate change, plastic, Act 250, insanity defense, prisons, distracted driving, marijuana, and State House ‘CEO’

  1. Ok, some things we don’t know – perhaps because some don’t want us to know…..

    Our ordinary car batteries last 3, 4 or 5 years and cost $150 to replace. Easy.

    How long do these electric car battery replacements cost? $5-8000, and how many years do they last when punished by ultra cold weather and road salt and dirt roads here in Vermont. Will we be junking electric cars 7 – 9 years old because the batteries cost more than the car is worth???!!!

    Why am I the first to ask……………………….

  2. They haven’t proposed one single thing that helps normal people who grew up here, stay here. — that is corruption of the highest level.

  3. So just the same ol leftist ASSAULT AGENDA and nothing to address
    the cost of living here. Same as the national D’s it’s all about the poor
    criminals and climate hoax and more people control…
    What we really need is a WHOLE lot less government….

  4. If these are the top priorities of the incoming legislature, I have a suggestion, STAY HOME!!! If you do, you’ll be rendering a great service to the folks in Vermont. On the other hand, if you will address the real issues such as high taxes, the unfriendly business climate, the woefully under funded pensions, the aging population, for openers, you will be doing what you were elected to do.

    • “Stay Home”; great suggestion, I love it and I wish the ‘professional Congress’ be disbanded as well. Now that would be PROGRESS!

  5. Lead by example; drop the thermostat in the whole state house
    to 50 degrees, Always.Best to lead by example!!

    And cut their travel allowance in half – to keep them from
    spewing carbon all over the state.

  6. Let’s see how much the lawmakers listen to their constituents on these issues. It’s been my observation that they will push their agenda forward regardless of what the voters want. It’s easy to do whatever you want when there are no consequences for your actions.

  7. Yes, retooling state government to meet stringent ” carbon reduction ” goals, but that would
    mean that all of the ” Liberal Legislators ” will have to go !!

    With all the toxins liberals they spew out ” BS bills “, read above what’s being promoted just
    more nonsense, that’s what we have in the statehouse, nonsense.

    Vermont, we have some of the cleanest air in the nation, all these feelgood policies are only
    part of an agenda…….all they’ll do is take your $$$$

    If you want a clean Vermont, start with cleaning the statehouse !!!

  8. Winter just started. Appears Cabin Fever time has struck the legislators early as this is disillusional. Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) in her tenure has proposed over $350 million in spending. What to heck, it’s other people’s money. This is all very costly,the continued agenda.

    Wonder if CA proposes as much legislation.

  9. I can understand them wanting Insanity defense because every one of the Liberals promoting this garbage in Vermont is going to need it

    Please get out and vote for conservative Republicans we need to get rid of the Rhinos and any of those running for office that have voted for Obama or Clinton or Bernie Sanders or any other sell out to America

    It is time for us just stand up and take Vermont back from the Socialist that have slithered into our state and are hell-bent on destroying our way of life.

  10. If the state raises taxes high enough and makes regulation sufficiently onerous and its rules sufficiently Byzantine it will motivate people to emigrate from the state. The reduction in population will reduce generating capacity demand and help Vermont meet its carbon dioxide reduction goals. The issue, I note, is loaded with more doctrinal leftist propaganda than used car dealership adverts. Vermont could go absolutely dead in terms of carbon dioxide emissions without affecting the state or the world’s climate at all. Carbon dioxide is no more “carbon” than water is hydrogen. Petroleum IS an organic fuel. What is meant by “biological”? Originating from living organisms? Like coal and oil? Electric vehicles may well supplant gasoline powered ones – when they are economically and pragmatically competitive – which is why cars supplanted horses. Forcing it with taxes and subsidies is inefficient application of financial resources. Chevy Volt is a prime example, never mind Solyndra. Let the market make the decision. The only reliable thing about the AGW models is that, so far, they have been wrong.

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