Report from Montpelier

By Representative Kate Webb

With the Senate poised to vote out the budget this week, we are on the road to adjournment by the end of the first week in May. The only must-pass bills before adjournment include the spending and revenue bills. All of those have moved to the Senate and as they return to the House, committees will work to reconcile differences.

There is still a great deal of activity in the committee rooms. In Agriculture and Forestry, committee members are reviewing policy and funding of the Rozo McLaughlin Farm-to-School Program. The Farm-to-School program has positively changed school cultures. Communities consistently report improved nutrition and health education along with the expansion of children’s interest in eating vegetables beyond carrots. The program has helped connect schools to local producers while also generating an interest in agricultural heritage.

Funds used here have helped schools purchase new appliances for raw food preparation while others report setting up a successful schoolwide composting program. The committee is also reviewing a bill to revamp on-farm slaughter rules for poultry producers, as well as updates to the water quality rules related to Required Agricultural Practices.

The Commerce and Economic Development Committee members are at work on two large bills related to consumer protection and economic development. They are also reviewing proposals developed by the Department of Financial Regulation related to insurance and securities law as well as a bill requiring telemarketers to provide accurate caller identification information. We will report on these in coming articles.

The Health Care Committee is working on a bill related to mental health care and care coordination. This bill is in response to concerns about the number of psychiatric patients waiting in emergency rooms as well as the challenges in recruiting and retaining mental health workers. The committee heard recommendations for smarter systems in the community to divert the number of patients to going to emergency rooms to better services. They also learned that there are more than 400 vacancies in the mental health workforce. The bill will ask for a review and recommendations on how to address these concerns.

The Judiciary Committee has been particularly active this year. A bill coming soon will address news media privilege. This stems from the recent trial of Senator Norm McAllister, in which prosecutors issued a subpoena to a reporter for information acquired in confidence. This bill helps to provide appropriate protections for the news media, clarifying degrees of privilege and who holds it.

The Transportation Committee is reviewing the annual bill related to the Department of Motor Vehicles. A few items under review are increasing the number of points for using a handheld device while driving; allowing driving privileges to remain in place for those on “total abstinence” using certain medications prescribed by a physician; use of chains across recreational trails that have contributed to injury or death; and sobriety retests on ignition locking devices.

I am available and have enjoyed meeting with many of you in Montpelier Tuesday-Friday; and Shelburne Saturday-Monday. I am most easily reached via email: kwebb@leg.state.vt.us or voice/text at 802-233-7798. Barring an evening legislative session, I will join Representative Jessica Brumsted at the Pierson Library on Tuesday, April 25 from 6 to 7pm for constituent conversation.

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