Legislative Update – February 14, 2019

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Feb 14, 2019 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

My Committee/House Judiciary

Vermont State House Montpelier VT

By John Phelan – Own work, CC BY 3.0

We passed H.19, a bill that prohibits sexual conduct between a law enforcement officer and someone in his or her custody. We are continuing our work on Fair and Impartial Policing, Statute of Limitations in child exploitation and manslaughter cases, expungement of criminal records, and bias related crimes.

We have begun our work on H.57 – “An act relating to preserving the right to abortion.” As proposed, the bill recognizes the fundamental right to the freedom of reproductive choice for women. This bill does not change current law or practice in Vermont. The law and practice has been in place for more than 40 years since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Given the politics in Washington, there is considerable concern about whether the Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade. This bill addresses those concerns as Vermont addressed concerns regarding the sharing of personal identifying information in Act 5 shortly after President Trump was elected. Act 5 was signed into law by Governor Scott last session.

This bill does not allow for partial or full birth abortions that are specifically prohibited by the 2003 “Partial Birth Abortion Act” enacted by Congress. All medical providers must comply with this federal law. The bill does not change the ability of a woman to sue for wrongful death if something goes wrong during her pregnancy. In Vermont, 1.3 percent of abortions occurred later in pregnancy – only because of the mother’s health or viability of the child – not for elective purposes of the mother. No elective late term abortions are performed in Vermont according to the Vermont Medical Society.

In the end I believe that these decisions are intensely personal, and best made by women with consultation from their medical providers.

If you want to watch the progress of the bill you can do so on the legislative website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.57

Treatment courts

We continue to consider how best to provide state-wide access to problem-solving treatment courts. A great model can be found here in our county that our State’s Attorney is taking the lead on. For an explanation of the program, see:  https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/WorkGroups/House Judiciary/Treatment Docket and Treatment Court/W~Rory Thibault~Treatment Court Testimony~1-31-2019.pdf

Other House Committees’ Work:

Energy and Technology

The Energy and Technology Committee heard from energy regulators and utilities, with a focus on limitations in our electric grid in the northeastern portion of Vermont called the Sheffield-Highgate Export Interface, or SHEI. The practical upshot of this is that there are limitations on the capacity to transmit energy out of northern Vermont. Hydro power enters from Quebec, and with several wind and other power generation facilities in the area, combined with rooftop solar on homes, wind power generation is at times curtailed to avoid overloading the transmission connections to points south. Reinforcing those transmission lines is a significant expense, so some other solutions include intelligently increasing power consumption in the area, or reducing power generated from wind farms and other renewable sources.

The Committee passed H.135 authorizing the creation of the Agency of Digital Services (ADS). ADS centralizes much of the management of the executive branch’s technology under one roof. It begun to look at some broadband access issues including analyzing the Governor’s proposal, increasing fees paid into the Universal Service Fund to support more broadband buildout, assisting Communication Union Districts, and exploring the options for electric utilities to offer broadband services.

Corrections and Institutions

The Corrections and Institutions Committee has been busy continuing to hear testimony on the capital budget. It has heard testimony from the Department of Corrections; the Department of Human Services on Woodside, the integrated eligibility enrollment system and the need for more in-patient mental health beds; the Vermont Veterans Home, the Vermont State College System, and a wide variety of other departments and entities that are capital budget stakeholders.

On the policy side, the committee is looking at medically assisted treatment for opioid use disorder (MAT) and treatment for Hepatitis C within our correctional facilities and correctional facilities’ ability to provide the programming they are intended for.

Commerce and Economic Development

The Commerce and Economic Development Committee is focusing on a wide range of topics that have an impact on our economy, including: career technical education, affordable housing, childcare, recreation, conservation and workforce and economic development. We have continued to learn more about the benefits of Career and Technical Education. There is a clear need for opportunities for middle and high school students, and adults in a career technical education. These opportunities should be readily available for both college bound and those wanting a technical career.

Please stay in touch: [email protected] or 802-552-8065.