It’s early in the Vermont legislative session, but lawmakers have already passed key legislation, some of it already headed to either the other chamber or to the governor’s desk.
Lamoille County lawmakers participated Monday in the first Legislative Breakfast of the year, hosted by the Lamoille Chamber of Commerce. Menu items included large servings of health care and climate change.
Participating were state Sen. Rich Westman, R-Cambridge, and Reps. Dan Noyes, D-Wolcott, Mark Higley, R-Lowell, Avram Patt, D-Worcester, Lucy Rogers, D-Waterville, Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, and Dave Yacovone, D-Morristown. Rep. Matt Hill, D-Wolcott, was out sick.
Rogers said her House Committee on Health Care is working on changes in OneCare, the state’s affordable care organization. She said that, while she thinks health care reform is a good thing, she understands that reforms often come with extra administrative burdens, too.
Scheuermann takes a dim view of OneCare, and perhaps an even darker one of the Green Mountain Care Board. She said the five-member board was formed to facilitate a single-payer health system that never materialized, so what’s the point?
“I have huge concerns about five unelected officials making the decisions that they do,” Scheuermann said.
As for OneCare, she said, “I feel like health care is going the same route as education, where bigger is better and one size fits all.”
Yacovone chimed in, likening the care board to a Bill Belichick, or a school principal: You need someone to be in charge.
“No matter how thin the pancake, there are always two sides,” Yacovone said.
Westman and Yacovone said it is estimated that 3,900 nurses, out of 25,000, will leave the system in the next five years, a particularly troubling scenario for places like The Manor or Lamoille Home Health and Hospice. And there aren’t enough coming up through the ranks to fill that gap, Westman said — he said colleges and universities graduate only about 260 nurses each year.
“We are at a crisis stage when it comes to primary care,” Westman said. “You can’t do it without people to do the work.”
Other health care-related bills Rogers is working on include one that she said would bring more transparency to health care pricing, “preferably prior to going in for a procedure.”
She is also working on increasing access to hormonal contraceptive protection, like birth control pills. Rogers said many prescriptions are for a year, but recipients are able to get only three months’ worth at a time. She said there’s a study suggesting a significant increase in unwanted pregnancies unless one can get better access to contraception.
The House Committee on Energy and Technology, on which Higley, Patt and Scheuermann sit — “the three of us spend a lot of time in a little room,” Patt said — is tackling issues of cyber security and artificial intelligence.
Higley said AI could be used from dairy farm milking parlors to, one day, possibly, implant chips in people’s heads so they don’t have to talk on the phone.
A more immediate issue is climate change. Patt said the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act could move out of committee soon.
The act aims to reduce the state’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050, and would “create a fair, workable, cost-effective, and legally enforceable system” to do so. A portion of the bill would set up an avenue for Vermonters to sue the state if it doesn’t cut emissions by a quarter over the next five years.
Patt said each legislative committee “owns some piece of this issue,” and is contributing to the proposed law.
“Everyone has a part to play in bills both large and small to get ahead of this issue,” Patt said.
Jessica Bickford, head of Healthy Lamoille Valley, said a survey taken among local youth last year suggest a 3 percent increase in marijuana use by teens, up to 27 percent of them.
Westman, who supports regulation of pot, said the state made a mistake in legalizing it and leaving it to the black market to profit.
“Where we are now is exactly the wrong place to be,” Westman said.
Somewhat related, Westman said the Senate health committee is working on a bill that would ban flavors for vaping devices and looking at the statutes that originally created family centers around the state.
Higley said he opposes a regulated market, and thinks towns ought to be able to opt in on whether marijuana can be sold there, rather than making them opt out.
Higley also said he suspects the spike in hemp production last year is due in part to out-of-state people taking “an initial step” into possible future legal pot-growing operations.
“I wonder what some of their final intentions are,” Higley said.
• Amy Olsen, director of Hyde Park’s Lanpher Memorial Library and president of the Vermont Library Association, said the association is part of a working group exploring the status of Vermont’s libraries. Of particular import is compensation for librarians because, Olsen said, a lot of them perform extra duties outside their work week “out of the goodness of their hearts.”
• Kathy Cookson, director of the Morristown After School program, said there is a “huge shortage” of lead teachers, the people who work with day care directors to come up with programs for kids.
• Higley said he’s on the Vermont Forest Carbon Sequestration working group, seeking a way to keep California interested in protecting the 5,500-acre Burnt Mountain forest in Montgomery, as a place for California air polluters to offset their carbon emissions.