The legislative district that includes Guilford and Vernon is one of the most unusual in the state. A nuclear plant and two towns, one majority Republican and the other majority Democrat, make it a difficult place to run a political campaign. Believe me, I know from first-hand experience.
Once the election smoke clears voters hold some hope that their elected representative will be sensitive to the issues that are important to them. In the case of the Vernon-Guilford district Rep. Mike Hebert-R-Vernon has done a good job of representing Guilford on the Sweet Pond restoration project. On other more political issues, his voting record indicates he has followed the Republican party-line.
Hebert made it clear during his campaign that he was a supporter of Vermont Yankee and that he was no fan of the state’s push to move to a single payer health care system. The voters knew what they were voting for and they elected the Republican from Vernon.
You can’t fault a politician for sticking to his ideological guns, but you can criticize him when it seems that he is trying to play both sides of the fence on issues. A case in point is the current equal pay bill that has passed the House and is now moving to the Senate.
The bill aims to equalize pay for men and women. It is a personal issue for me because I have worked in a mostly female profession for 35 years and, I am sure, if nursing was a mostly male profession that wages would have moved up much faster than they have.
In a Reformer story about the bill last Friday, reporter Mike Faher explained, “But state Rep. Mike Hebert, a Vernonbased Republican, said he hopes his constituents look beyond the bill's name and understand that he does not oppose equal pay for women. Instead, Hebert said he could not support other, unrelated portions of the bill that he believes will unnecessarily burden business owners.”
This is Hebert’s second term in a Democratically controlled legislature. He knows that he has very little power and that taking ideological stands on issues contrary to the best interests of the majority of his constituents only serves his interest as a party soldier.
Of course, he also knows that his vote has little influence, so voting his conscience will not sway any issue. When a legislator says that he supports the main piece of a bill but votes against that bill because of another part of the bill, one has to wonder about his priorities.
According to last Friday’s Reformer piece, “The law would ban ‘retaliation’ against employees who exercise their rights as set forth in the bill. Hebert wonders whether that could stop an employer from firing a staffer who clearly is not performing his or her job; the employer, Hebert contends, might fear that the worker would claim he or she is being retaliated against.”
Hebert went on to say, “I’m concerned with the business owner who gets caught up in this. Most responsible employers deal with flexibility and pay issues on their own without legislative action being necessary.”
This bill is intended to provide equal pay for everyone, not protection for employers. Rep. Valerie Stuart-D-Brattleboro put the inequality issue in perspective stating in the Reformer story, “It pains me to say that, during my over 30 years as a professional woman, with 14 years spent working in New York City and 19 here in Vermont, I experienced some of the most unfair and abusive treatment by a male supervisor who got paid twice as much as I did and who worked half as much as me and my staff of five,” Stuart said in House journal comments. “Do I believe our daughters need us to continue to fight for equal pay and fair treatment under the law? You bet.”
It is clear that Hebert feels that it is more important to protect the needs of business owners than it is to correct a social injustice. Saying that he is in support of equal pay for women and then not voting for a bill that provides for equal pay does not pass the smell test. He is not a naïve legislator. Not voting for this bill, no matter what he says, clearly shows us his priorities.
There is nothing bad about setting such priorities, but voters need to make sure their elected officials are really telling them where they stand on issues. If their words cannot be trusted then their voting record is the best trust test available.
And, I wonder how he can continue to use his influence to make any progress on the Sweet Pond restoration project when he has said he will not be voting for any more taxes. Taxes support state projects. You can’t say you support a state-funded project and then vote against the only means for supporting that project. Let’s see how this one plays out.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at email@example.com.
BENNINGTON — School boards across the state have watched closely over the past two years as North Bennington Graded School District pursued replacing its elementary school with an independent school operating in the same building, educating the same students, but escaping some of the state’s mandates.
North Bennington’s exploration — justified as a way to ensure sustainability of a small community school that has seen dwindling enrollment and increased expenses — has evoked discussions among a handful of districts about following suit. A bill in the Vermont Legislature, however, aims to squash that possibility before more public schools are replaced.
House Education Committee Chairwoman Johannah Leddy Donovan, D-Burlington, first introduced a standalone bill that would no longer allow independent schools to replace public schools, however the language has since been added among other education law changes to the “miscellaneous education” bill, H.521.
The bill states, “A school district shall not cease operation of an elementary school with the intention, for the purpose, or with the result of having the school building or buildings re-open as an independent school serving essentially the same population of students.” The bill, which has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee, also includes similar language specific to secondary schools.
The proposed changes have been spoken about favorably by members of the State Board of Education and Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca. Both the secretary and state board Chairman Stephan Morse have stated numerous times they do not believe the process allowing the formation of independent schools was intended to provide a path to replace public schools. Instead, they have said, it was intended to outline a process to create independent schools to augment options in a community, such as Southshire Community School in North Bennington.
One point of contention, and argument against replacing public schools with independent ones, is that independent schools still receive state funds even though they do not have to abide by the same requirements as public schools.
Donovan did not respond to multiple attempts by the Banner to reach her over the past week.
There are others, including those in North Bennington who support replacing North Bennington Graded School with the independent Village School of North Bennington, who believe the proposed legislation would further strip local control from communities.
“One of the things that I hope happens is there’s a preservation of local control for communities to determine what is best for their community and their children, and I think this bill, should it pass, would eradicate that completely,” said Eva Sutton, a former member of the North Bennington Prudential Committee who is now cochairwoman of the Board of Trustees for the independent Village School of North Bennington, which hopes to replace the public school in the fall.
The primary reason North Bennington is looking to go independent — which voters and the state have already approved, however a final decision has yet to be made by the Prudential Committee — is to sustain a school. An independent school, Sutton believes, will be able to attract more tuition-paying students and be more successful fundraising than the public school is. That increased revenue would offset costs for taxpayers and fund new educational opportunities, supporters claim. For those reasons, Sutton said independence should be an option considered around the state.
“It’s a shame not to be able to adopt a model that is progressive and sustainable,” Sutton said.
Sutton described Donovan’s proposal as an attempt to make one size fit all, which should not happen in Vermont, where every community is unique.
“For the state to legislate that there is one proper way to educate every child in the state of Vermont is ... shortsighted,” she said.
Prudential Committee Chairman Raymond Mullineaux offered similar reactions to the bill, which he testified against in Montpelier last month.
“Local decisions should be respected,” Mullineaux said. “What is the harm that is done (by replacing a public school with an independent school)? I have yet to see a way it hurts children, or what ways it hurts public education.”
North Bennington’s efforts have rekindled conversations about replacing public schools with independent ones, however 15 years ago Winhall became the only school district in the state to make the change when The Mountain School opened in place of the public elementary school.
Including Donovan’s proposal in H.521 received support from the majority of the House Education Committee, however Rep. Brian Campion, a democrat who resides in Bennington and also represents North Bennington, opposed adding the language to the bill that covers a broad array of topics because of its significance. The Education Committee proposes a miscellaneous bill with odds and ends that are generally corrections and minor changes to laws, Campion said. Including what could be a significant change to law in H.521, Campion believes, puts legislators in a difficult place as the independent school part could pass even if people do not agree with it.
Campion stayed out of the process in North Bennington because he viewed it as a local decision and he wanted to be available to people on both sides of the argument that residents became very passionate about.
Campion said he still needs to hear more testimony to get a better understanding why the law should or should not be changed before he takes a stance on the issue. The hope, Campion said, is that the independent school language will not be overlooked as a piece of a larger bill.
“For me, my issues for any big policy change is that enough testimony is taken and we really weigh all the pros and cons,” he said.
If H.521 were to go to a vote without undergoing any revisions, Campion said he would likely vote in favor of it because of his support for other parts of the bill, which includes language to increase protective services of children.
Vermont Senate delays immigrant license bill MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Senate is delaying action until next week on a bill allowing immigrant farm workers to become Vermont drivers.
The Senate had been expected to debate the measure this week. It was approved last week by the Transportation Committee by a vote of 4-1.
But now it's being sent to the Finance Committee for review because it contains a fee — which an immigrant would pay to get the special driving privilege card.
Vermont dairy farms employ an estimated 1,500 Mexican farmworkers, many of whom are in this country illegally. The bill would allow them to drive provided they pass the usual learner's permit and driving tests.
Begin forwarded message:
From:"Allen, Susan" <Susan.Allen@state.vt.us>
Subject: AFTERNOON MEDIA CLIPS AND BLOG STORIES FOR MONDAY, APRIL 1 (FINAL):
Date: April 1, 2013 4:01:50 PM EDT
To: "Allen, Susan" <Susan.Allen@state.vt.us>
Neighbor appeals Brandon DRB decision on pot dispensary By Lee Kahrs BRANDON — A neighboring landowner has appealed a recent Brandon Development Review Board decision to permit a medical marijuana dispensary on Lovers Lane.
Joanne Nichols filed an appeal to the Vermont Environmental Court on March 21, citing numerous concerns with the proposed facility, including issues of safety, privacy, odor and air quality, pesticides and fertilizers, and the potential risk of living next to a “high-crime target.”
On March 7, the Brandon DRB issued a decision unanimously approving a change of use application for Alexandra Ford and Rutland County Organics for a building at 84 Lovers Lane. The property, owned by Chuck Mitchell, is in the Rural Development zone and was permitted for light wood manufacturing. The DRB approved a change of use to a licensed medical marijuana dispensary and manufacturing facility.
All appeals of local permitting decisions go before the Vermont Environmental Court. To overturn the DRB’s decision to issue a permit, the appellants must prove that the project would have adverse effects on the building, the character of the area, traffic, local bylaws and ordinances, and impacts under the Act 250 land use law.
The Vermont Medical Marijuana law of 2004 allows for up to four dispensaries statewide to serve almost 500 patients on the state registry. There are currently two dispensaries permitted, one in Burlington and one in Waterbury. There are almost 200 patients on the state registry living in four southern counties of Vermont who are unable to access the more northern dispensaries.
By law, a patient must suffer from a “debilitating medical condition” in order to qualify for the medical marijuana registry. Patients must have the approval of a physician they have been seeing for at least six months, who authorizes the use of medical marijuana for the patient once all other avenues have been exhausted. Patients must be screened by the Department of Public Safety, submit to a background check and agree to no-knock searches by law enforcement before being accepted onto the state registry.
The dispensaries operate under the authority of the state Department of Public Safety. They must operate by appointment only, and only one patient at a time is allowed to be seen. The facility must be equipped with surveillance and alarm equipment.
Some Brandon residents have recently expressed their disapproval with the plan to establish a medical marijuana facility in Brandon, saying it will increase drug use and the crime rate in Brandon. There is no proof that a medical marijuana dispensary has that effect, but opponents also cite the fact that children live in the area around the proposed dispensary site. At the very least, opponents say, the selectboard should have held a public information meeting about the issue before it went to the DRB. The selectboard did not act on the proposal, remanding it to Town Zoning Administrator Tina Wiles and the DRB since there was no town ordinance banning such a facility.
In her appeal, Nichols also noted that there is no letter of support from Police Chief Chris Brickell regarding the dispensary. In fact, Brickell stated at a March 11 selectboard meeting that Ford mischaracterized his support of the project. While he said a February meeting with Ford went well, he did take issue with a line in the minutes from the Feb. 19 DRB hearing, which he did not attend. In the minutes, Ford said, “The chief told her he is comfortable with everything they are proposing.” Brickell said that is inaccurate.
“We talked about security and surveillance and I would say it went well,” Brickell said in a March 11 interview with the Brandon Reporter. “But to say I’m comfortable with everything they’re proposing is inaccurate.”
Brickell said he, too, has been concerned that no public information meeting was held on the issue.
“I have a responsibility as the police chief to look at how this affects my community,” he said. “I do have a problem with this (dispensary) becoming a potential target for criminals. Certainly it’s a legitimate business, but it’s a much broader social issue about what we want to bring into our community.”
Brickell did say that he and Ford came to an understanding of the police department’s role should the dispensary be approved, and there is the possibility of a memorandum of understanding with the Brandon police. That would give Brickell the same authority as the Department of Public Safety, the overseeing body of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, to perform surprise or “no-knock” searches and spot checks.
According to Nichols’ appeal, she was also unclear about her rights as an abutting landowner when she attended the Feb. 19 public hearing held by the DRB on the dispensary application. While she acknowledged receipt of a letter apprising her of the hearing, Nichols said she was not told of her rights as an abutter.
“The letter did not say I had to attend or be sworn in to testify to appeal any decision made by the DRB,” Nichols wrote, adding that the condition of being sworn in was not made clear at the hearing either.
“I assumed I would be able to ask questions at that meeting,” she wrote. “I did not realize it was a judiciary hearing.” Nichols added that she did not have ample time to prepare for the hearing.
A number of people attending that hearing had the same complaint. According to Wiles, Town Attorney Jim Carroll has told her that everyone who signed in at the public hearing should be included on a list of interested parties. That will give them the right to appeal, but the Environmental Court will ultimately determine party status.
That said, there is still time for other appeals in this case. The 30-day period in which to file an appeal is up April 6.
Gas pipeline meeting in Middlebury on Monday evening By Addison Independent
MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Gas Systems will hold an informational meeting on Monday, April 1, in the Middlebury Municipal Gym, from 7-9 p.m. to discuss potential pipeline routes for its proposed natural gas pipeline.
VGS in its Addison Natural Gas Project plans to build a pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury (Phase I) and then in Phase II extend it through Middlebury, Cornwall and Shoreham and on to the International Paper Co. mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y. In a letter to Middlebury residents last week, VGS project manager Steve Wark said company representatives will present a preliminary route for the Phase II pipeline through Middlebury, and they are interested in hearing feedback from the public.
For those who may not be able to make this meeting, a second and similar meeting is scheduled for April 15, again at the municipal gym, from 7-9 p.m.
Editorial: Another plug for a carbon tax By Angelo Lynn Here’s another reason a tax on carbon dioxide emissions (a carbon tax) makes good economic sense: According to a study done for the International Monetary Fund, governments throughout the world are subsizing cheap energy to the detriment of the world economy (not just the environment) to the tune of $2 trillion in 2011.
The enormous negative impact — that $2 trillion annually — is not just cash subsidies used minimize fuel costs, but also, as a Washington Post editorial said on Sunday, “what policymakers are refusing to do. Burning fossil fuels produces a range of negative side effects, such as pollution. The only economically rational response is to build those costs into the price of energy through an efficient tax… Government policies that make prices artificially low encourage people to use too much energy, resulting in pollution that dirties local environments, congested streets and global warming. At the same time, subsidies distort investment; instead of allowing capital to flow to where it would do the most good, they push it toward fossil-fuel production — and away from enterprises that would more usefully employ some of the money, such as clean energy. Supports also hurt government budgets by diverting resources away from worthier state spending… Every country in the world would benefit from the honest pricing of energy. The Group of Eight recognized this in its summit at Camp David last year, when its member countries recommitted eliminating fossil-fuel supports.”
What’s difficult to negotiate is getting buy-in from the global community so one country isn’t punished economically by implementing the tax while others benefit by not implementing something similar. That’s a tough nut to crack, but it needs to be a top concern of the Obama administration if it is to help lead the world in solving the problems caused by a warming planet.
Editorial: Colorado first of a trent on gun control? By Angelo Lynn In a sign of what the nation might hope is the start of a continuing trend, Colorado became the first Western state to adopt tougher gun control laws with the recent signing of legislation.
The measure, which is similar to what Vermont legislators were asked to consider but decided not to tackle this year, bans magazines for automatic assault-style weapons that hold more than 15 rounds and requires background checks made online or through private parties (like gun shows).
Colorado is the first state beyond the East Coast to strengthen its gun laws since last year’s shootings in Aurora in a movie theater killed 12 people and left 60 wounded, and the more recent shootings in Newtown, Conn. In addition to the ban on magazines holding more than 15 rounds, the law bans magazines with a smaller capacity but which can be easily converted to hold more than 15 rounds.
In their tired response, Republican opponents criticized the legislation saying some criminals will find ways to skirt the laws and that the measure will hurt the state’s economy by eliminating jobs. Seriously. In their response, Republican opponents offered no recognition that this style of assault weapon has been used by mentally ill people to walk into public spaces and wreak senseless havoc, and yet could buy the assault weapons with no questioning about their background — including criminal records or mental stability.
The modest proposals being made to bring a little sanity to state and national gun control laws is yet another argument (same sex marriage and the notion that we can’t keep cutting taxes to the wealthiest few are two others) in which Republicans need to take an accurate measure of the public’s pulse (roughly 80 percent of Americans support increased background checks and stricter control of assault-style weapons) before they discover, once again, they are on the wrong side of history.
The issue here is not about preventing Americans from owning guns, in general, but rather limiting access to highly specific weapons whose primary intent is to kill people with rapid-fire precision. Surely we can get most Americans, and even the gun lobby, to support a commonsense approach. Kudos to Colorado for leading the West. Hopefully in Vermont, we will take much needed action next year.