Saturday, March 19, 2016

March 19, 2016 Legislative Update

Legislative Update

Rep. Anne Donahue

March 19, 2016


The House passed some 29 bills last week to get them over to the Senate in time for action this session, but they ranged widely in importance. Some were clarification of existing law and some set out study committees to research more tangled questions of law.

This coming week will be the heavy lifting: the state budget (with increases), the tax bill (with increases), and the fee bill (with increases.)  Amongst House committees, many eyes will be on Judiciary, which is beginning to take testimony on marijuana legalization.

I sympathize when people say we pass too many laws, so I’ll offer one example of a minor bill that nonetheless made sense to act on. Sports teams on the college level or above often travel with their own team doctor. When our teams go out of state, their doctors are usually permitted to practice in that state, as long as they only treat their own team players or staff.

We don’t offer the same courtesy to those coming here, simply because we never passed a law authorizing that exception from medical practice laws. That was one of last week’s 29 bills.

A sampling of others:

Health Care Reform

My bill establishing limitations on the governor’s proposal for a federal waiver for health care payment reform passed on a 124-2 vote of the House. For the first time, we have laid out in law that reform agreements must bar the state from touching any Medicare money.

The bill – described in detail in my previous update – also would establish state regulation of the federally-created “accountable care organizations” that are gaining an increasing role in coordinating, and paying for, health care in the state.

Suspended Licenses

Many Vermont drivers are so overwhelmed by accumulated motor vehicle fines that, unable to pay them, they drive with a suspended license, and then get sucked further down by new fines. This bill proposes an amnesty period with reduced fines, and a new system that will allow for payment plans and fewer suspensions.

There is a fundamental inequity about offering amnesty when thousands of other Vermonters have faithfully paid their fines in the past, even if it was a huge financial struggle for them.

Unfortunately, two counties in Vermont already ran amnesty programs for their own unpaid tickets. That meant relief from old tickets was based purely on what part of Vermont you live in. To me, that is an even greater injustice, and it led me to support the bill.

By rebuilding the system to help people to avoid losing their licenses for failure to pay fines, we will raise less money in the future for the transportation fund in “driving while suspended” fines. That lost revenue will cost each of us a dollar a year in increased vehicle registration fees.


Electronic cigarettes are getting more and more kids hooked on nicotine, and many of them move on to smoke tobacco. Although sale is already banned to those under 18, they are being widely marketed as though they were not dangerous to health.

This bill had two parts: extending the requirement that e-cigarettes be sold out-of-reach of customers along with tobacco products, and extending “no smoking area” bans to e-cigarettes.

I asked that the bill be divided in order to vote in favor of the store restrictions but against the public smoking bans. Such bans are based on protecting persons from the actions of others, and there is not clear evidence that the vapor that e-cigarettes produce have the “second hand smoke” risks of tobacco. Both sections passed, so I did vote for the final bill.

A surprise developed in the form of a proposed amendment to raise the smoking age to 21, on the grounds that it would protect thousands of younger teens from ever starting to smoke.

It is a rare moment on the House floor to see a roll call where there is no predictable outcome, and no party-line voting.  The amendment failed to get a majority, stalling at a 71-71 vote.

I did not support it. I think rights and responsibilities go hand in hand, and our rights as adults include the right to make bad decisions. We have chosen as a society to deem 18-year-olds able to make decisions to shoot others and be shot at war, and to be accountable for criminal actions even to the point of the death penalty. It is hypocrisy to deem them too immature to make decisions about unhealthy activities.

Ban the Box

The goal of this bill is to help persons with a past criminal record to “get through the front door” for job interviews. It doesn’t stop employers from asking about criminal involvement, or doing background checks, but it bans asking the question on a first-round written application.

Timber Trespass

This bill would create civil penalties for cutting timber on another’s property, and was one of several that promoted the importance of our forests as a resource, and as worthy of similar designations as our farm lands.


Another bill addressed our aging prisoner population, focusing on system costs, public safety, and compassionate release. It would make persons eligible to be considered for parole at age 65 after serving at least five years, or at age 55 after serving at least 10 years, even if the minimum jail term had not been served, as long there are no public safety issues.

Impaired Driving

This bill would extend the length of license suspensions for impaired driving, and expand the use of ignition lock systems that require breath testing before and while a car is being driven.

Potable Water

We have drinking water standards for well systems, but not for surface water. As a result, water systems were not receiving permits if they used surface water as a source. This bill sets up standards to allow the use of surface water for drinking water systems for private homes.


Thanks for the honor of representing you! You can contact me or Rep. Patti Lewis by email ( for me; for Patti) or by leaving a message at the statehouse at 828-2228. We welcome your feedback and input.


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