Welcoming a local page, clarifying key issues on the legislative table

By Rep. JESSICA BRUMSTED

This past week we said good bye to our first group of Legislative pages, eighth grade Vermont students who work in the State House, offering them the opportunity to see their representatives, senators and administration officials at work and often times, the added opportunity to see history in the making. This week, we welcomed a new group of pages, a group that includes one of our own, Shelburne resident Ella Byers.

Each group of pages works with us for six weeks, and though it hardly seems possible, the incoming of the second group reminds us that we are now about one third through the scheduled 2019 session. Business is picking up in all legislative committees as we prepare for Town Meeting break and “cross-over”, the last day for a bill to pass out of the chamber in which it was introduced if it is to be considered in the opposite chamber this session. 

The House Judiciary Committee moved H. 57, an act relating to preserving the right to abortion, out of committee by a vote of 9 to 2; H.57 was voted out of the House Human Services Committee earlier in the session on an 8-3 vote. The bill is expected to go to the House floor for debate this week. As proposed, the bill recognizes the fundamental right to the freedom of reproductive choice for women. Because this is an emotionally charged issue, it is important to understand some of the facts. This bill does not change current practice in Vermont, or in fact, the practice as it has been for more than 40 years since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade – notably one of the Supreme Court’s most controversial decisions. Given the politics in Washington, there is considerable debate about whether the Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade and leave jurisdiction of reproductive choices entirely up to individual states.

This bill does not allow for partial or full birth abortions that are specifically prohibited by the “Partial Birth Abortion Act” enacted by Congress in 2003. 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. Testimony revealed that abortions in Vermont are declining due to improved education and increased access to family planning and birth control; that’s good news. In Vermont, only 1.3 percent of abortions occurred later in pregnancy – and then only because of the mother’s health or the 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. 

The House Human Services Committee, of which I am a member, has spent a great deal of time building its knowledge base around Vermont’s child care system as members get ready to consider a series of child care-related bills. Vermont maintains a mixed delivery system made up of 1,246 public and private regulated center-based programs, family child care homes, and after-school programs serving 32,432 Vermont infants, toddlers, pre-school, and school-age children.  Statistics from the last three years show a marked dip in the number child care slots. That has resulted in targeted strategies and investments undertaken by organizations like Let’s Grow Kids, the Vermont Agency of Human Service’s Child Development Division, and other advocates stepping up to address the problems with new facilities and home-based programs coming on line every month. The biggest challenges for Vermont families continue to be access and affordability, though it’s important to note that the quality of childcare programs is on the rise with more providers participating in the STARS program, the state’s quality recognition system. Next week, we plan to look more closely at the low pay and benefits our child care providers receive to understand better how to address it. Child care is a high priority for the entire Human Services Committee, so expect to see some progress very soon.

The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee voted 8-1-1 to pass H. 107, Family and Medical Leave Insurance on to the House Ways and Means Committee, where they will hear further testimony before the House Appropriations Committee reviews it as well. The bill proposes up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave financed through insurance premiums  with the costs shared equally by employers and employees. That cost is currently proposed to be a .93 payroll tax equally split. 

Although I don’t often report on Senate bills until they  move to the House,  I have heard from many of you who have questions regarding S. 54,  an act to regulate cannabis, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 4-1 this past week. This bill creates a Cannabis Control Board at the state level. The five-member board would oversee the administration of a cannabis regulatory program, have rulemaking authority, and generally oversee the new industry.  There would be licenses for cultivators, wholesalers, product manufacturers, retailers, and testing laboratories. The state would assess a 10 percent excise tax at the retail level, with a 1 percent local option tax going to municipalities that host marijuana establishments. Local officials have repeatedly said that voters need to determine if marijuana establishments should be located in their communities, and S.54 does give municipal voters the authority to opt out of hosting a marijuana establishment. We in the House are just learning about this legislation and its ramifications, but I believe that it is in every Vermonter’s interest to ensure that municipalities be given the time, authority, and resources to ensure an efficient, fair and responsible rollout of a commercial marijuana marketplace.

All of these bills are important and complex. As I learn about them, I also rely on comments, suggestions and viewpoints from all my constituents. Please continue to be in touch. The best way to contact me is by e-mail at jbrumsted@leg.state.vt.us  Representative Kate Webb and I are also available to meet by appointment and we will be at Village Wine and Coffee on Saturday, March 16 from 8 till 9:30 a.m. for coffee and conversation.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to serve.

Remember if you want more information, each legislative committee has a homepage. This is a great tool for the public to follow our work and issues of interest, and content is updated daily by most committee assistants. The page includes committee agendas, bills in the committee, witness testimony, reports and much more.  Visit the legislative page at www.leg.state.vt.us

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