Legislative Update – March 26, 2015

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Mar 26, 2015 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

bigstock-statehouse-springHouse Judiciary Committee Work

We have been working closely with the House Appropriations Committee to find savings and efficiencies in the Judicial Branch’s budget while maintaining Vermonter’s constitutional right of access to justice.

We are considering the following bills:

S.13: Modification of procedures related to placement on the Sex Offender Registry.

This bill was prompted by audits of the error-rate on the Sex Offender Registry, which were performed to determine whether address information would be included on the Internet version of the Registry. Currently, the Department of Public Safety administers the registry, making decisions as to the posting of an individual’s information to the Registry in advance of an offender’s release from incarceration. S.13 would instead have the Court at sentencing make the determinations related to an offender’s inclusion on the Registry. In addition, the Bill provides a procedure to allow individuals to challenge the information on, or to request removal from, the Registry. The Committee is considering what standard to apply to Registry error rates that would be acceptable to allow an individual’s address information to be placed on the Internet Registry.

H.221: Relating to criminal justice reform.

This bill would reduce the number of crimes punishable as felonies; eliminate jail time for non-violent offenders; keep people from being held in jail due to lack of housing; expand parole eligibility for individuals who have serious medical conditions, were sentenced for an offense committed as a juvenile, or are 65 years of age or older; and eliminate incarceration for violations of parole conditions that are not new crimes. The overall aim of the bill is to reduce unnecessary incarceration and thus reduce Vermont’s prison and associated costs.

S.9: Child Protection.

We participated in a joint hearing with the Human Services Committee. Human Services has possession of the bill and will be considering it before sending it to my committee.

Home Improvement Fraud Bill Passed:

The House passed our bill H.483, which amends current law to make it easier to prosecute home improvement fraud.¬† Please note there is a Home Improvement Fraud Registry, which can be found¬†here. Consumers may want to review it before entering into contracts for improvements. Thank you to the Vermont Home Builders and Contractors Association for working with the Attorney General’s office and my committee to pass this bill.

 

Report on Other Committee Work-Agriculture and Forest Products

RAW MILK:

The committee has taken up H.426, the Raw Milk Bill, and has heard from milk producers, cheese makers, conventional dairy farmers, veterinarians, and the Dept. of Health. The bill has a long way to go and is a work in progress, but our guiding principles are food safety and economic opportunity.

Vermont’s raw milk law has helped small farmers start businesses and meet a growing demand for farm-fresh milk, but many believe that there is room for improvement.

Since unpasteurized milk came under state regulation in 2009, there have been no reported cases of illness associated with producers operating under the raw milk law and in the business of selling raw milk to consumers. Raw milk is potentially harmful when improperly handled or if the health of the animal is compromised, but the risks can be mitigated through appropriate regulation, inspection, testing and market access.

Since the Legislature expanded the law last year by allowing Tier 2 producers (those producing between 87.5 and 280 gallons per week) to deliver their milk at farmers’ markets, the number of T2 producers jumped from two to seven. However, an internal policy decision at the Agency of Agriculture the following summer imposed enforcement proceedings that potentially threatened the viability of some farmers. This bill is ultimately an attempt to restore the legislative intent of the committee’s work last year, expand economic opportunities, and continue to have sound food safety policies in place.

The Committee took testimony from the chair and ranking member of New Hampshire’s House Environment & Agriculture Committee. They testified to the fact their raw milk law, in place since 2011 and more lenient than Vermont’s, has been operating without incident and contributes to their state’s agricultural economy.

H.246 includes the following primary proposals:

  • Expand market access and sales volume for Tier 1 and 2 producers
  • Eliminate the requirement that a customer visit the farm prior to purchasing milk
  • Allow for direct sale at approved locations
  • Streamline and improve the testing regulations
  • Modify the language on warning labels and signage to convey necessary information
  • Allow limited production and sale of value-added products like cheese, yogurt & butter
  • Create a new “neighborly tier” for small amounts of milk for on-farm sale only

There are some controversial elements in this bill but the committee is making progress in finding areas of common ground. Everyone wants Vermont farmers to succeed and consumers to have access to safe products. Raw milk producers have a vested interest in making a quality product; their livelihoods and reputations depend on it.

NEONICOTINOIDS:

Another bill in committee, H.236, proposes to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides because of their potential culpability in the decline of honeybee populations. There are exceptions for special circumstances when it’s needed to respond to invasive insects. There is broad scientific consensus that neonics are harmful to pollinators, and therefore some evidence to suggest that they may be significantly responsible for the dramatic rise in the incidence of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) around the world. Bees are essential for the pollination of a large portion of our food supply and their decline has raised alarm. On the market since the 1990s, neonics are systemic insecticides used to kill insects such as aphids and root-feeding grubs. Varieties include: acetamiprid; clothianidin; imidacloprid; thiacloprid; and thiamethoxam. According to the Pesticide Action Network: “Unlike contact pesticides, which remain on the surface of the treated foliage, systemics are taken up by the plant and transported to all the tissues (leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as pollen and nectar). Products containing neonics can be applied at the root (as seed coating or soil drench) or sprayed onto crop foliage. The insecticide toxin remains active in the plant for many weeks, protecting the crop season-long.” Bees come into contact with neonics while foraging among treated flora. Resulting physical and neurological damage is well documented, and the Agency of Agriculture has discovered the presence of neonics in some managed hives. Vermont Law School has banned use on their campus and the US Fish and Wildlife Service is phasing them out over the next two years. A former director of the EPA’s Biopesticide Division has suggested significantly restricted use of neonics in the field. Internationally, the European Commission has enacted a two-year moratorium.