Legislative Update – February 25, 2016

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Feb 25, 2016 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Vermont State HouseI look forward to seeing you at Town Meeting Day. I will try to get to all the meetings. I will also be at Moretown’s pre-Town Meeting.

The following is an update on my and other committee work and 3 service member bills I have sponsored.

My Committee Work: House Judiciary

Minors-Relief From Abuse: H.749, passed out of committee, allows individuals who are 16 years old or older to seek a relief from abuse order on his or her own behalf (currently one must be 18 years old or older to seek such relief).

Highway Safety: We are finishing up our work in our DLS and DUI bills and hope to vote them out this week.

H.818: Stalking: We will continue to work on this important issue. This bill would update Vermont’s stalking laws. In Vermont, 3 out of 4 stalking civil protective order requests are denied, due to the inflexibility of and confusion surrounding the definition of stalking. The modern stalker is usually not “lying in wait.” Rather, he (or she) is using different technologies to monitor, observe, and threaten victims. H.818 would modernize what it means to stalk.

The bill changes other elements of the crime of stalking. It relieves prosecutors of having to prove a negative, namely that there was no legitimate purpose for the alleged stalking behavior. It prohibits conduct that causes a reasonable person to fear for the safety of another such as a child, not just fear for his or her own safety. It does not require an offender to make an overt threat; he or she need act in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to feel threatened. It clarifies that the stalker need not have had the intent to cause the victim’s fear, but that a reasonable person in the victim’s circumstance would have felt that fear.

Other Committees

Agriculture

House Ag. passed a bill creating a Pollinator Protection Committee by a vote of 10-0-1. The PPC will convene to establish a state Pollinator Protection Plan to respond to mounting and numerous threats to pollinator health – including pesticides, parasites, viruses and loss of forage habitat. Pollinators, which we predominately associate with honeybees, also include birds, bats, butterflies and other insects. A substantial portion of our food system is reliant on pollinators, and the threat to pollinator populations has had an economic impact on beekeepers and growers of fruits, vegetables and nuts. The Pollinator Protection Committee will include ten non-compensated members representing a variety of stakeholders, including beekeepers, farmers, and pesticide applicators, with the authority to consult with other interested or impacted stakeholders.

Farm to School: The Agriculture Committee recently attended a hearing on the Farm to School program and heard from students, teachers, administrators and farmers about how important the F2S program is for building a strong sense of agriculture literacy among young people; improving students’ diets with the consumption of more healthy, local products; and continuing economic development in our food system.

Corrections and Institutions

During the last two weeks, the Committee has continued to take testimony on the Capital Budget Adjustment Bill. Areas of particular interest include: improvements to the safety and security of State office buildings and courthouses; an update on the construction of the new Vermont Agriculture and Environmental Lab (VAEL); and Agency of Human Services IT projects.

The committee reviewed a report on the decommissioning of the Vermont Interactive Technologies. At this point, all sites have had the equipment and furnishings removed and they are currently being stored by BGS.

The Committee has taken a significant amount of testimony on an act relating to the confidentiality of inmate and offender records. The focus has been on specifically requiring the Department of Corrections to follow the APA process for rule-making, which they have previously not done. Additional testimony is planned to consider inmates’ access to records.

The Committee also heard additional testimony regarding the potential to consider school construction debt forgiveness and is reviewing potential options in this area.

Transportation Committee

Cell Phones and Driving: Our cell phone bill, passed two years ago, is proving to be difficult to enforce and is virtually ignored. A road work crew of flaggers decided to count the number of drivers passing them that were illegally using hand-held devices. When, in less than an hour, they reached 100, they lost count.

Transportation Board Study: The Transportation Board has completed a study of both national and Vermont driving habits. Last year’s study was of the Millennial generation. This year’s was of everyone. The study finds that up until the price of gasoline plummeted, vehicle (automobile) miles traveled continued to drop; commuting by bicycle increased; commutes by foot increased; the percentage of public transit trips increased and Vermont Amtrak boarding’s and disembarkments increased by 89%.

These great trends have been reversing since the price of gasoline dropped. The League of Cities and Towns and others are once again urging the committee to consider an increase in the per gallon tax on gasoline in order to raise the funds so sorely needed for water quality, filling and not cutting the Public Safety budget and helping municipalities to help pay their share of our public transit systems. At this time, virtually all funding is federal with a hefty 20% coming from the towns.

My Bills

Veterans Issues: Two House committees asked me to discuss bills I have introduced on behalf of USA4families—a partnership between the Department of Defense and Individual States. The bills pertain to allowing service members to stay on waiting lists for traumatic brain injury treatment while deployed, Vermont employees who serve on non-Vermont National Guards to maintain their health insurance if sent to duty in their home state, and hiring preferences for service men and women.

Please let me know if you would like any more information on any of these issues.

Please stay in touch: mgrad@leg.state.vt.us or 496-7667/828-2224.