In Committee, this week:

In Committee

Prison rape culture. Who’s at Woodside and why? Social justice in schools. Pay hike for Speaker, Pro Tem, chairs? Contraception. Act 250 and slate quarries. Homeless Awareness Day. Vehicle registration fee hikes for mileage, weight. Barre-Montpelier commuter rail

Beginning this week, for readers inside and outside the Vermont State House, Vermont Daily Chronicle is publishing In Committee, a single-sheet calendar listing the upcoming week’s Vermont House committee activity. (At present we lack bandwidth to do the same for the Senate.) More information on House and Senate committee agendas, reports, and testimony can be found on committee links on the linked sheet or at www.legislature.gov

By Guy Page

January 13, 2020 – The House Corrections and Institutions Committee will hear reports on the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and an update on issues plaguing DOC. It will review funding for placing inmates out-of-state and learn more about youth placed at the Woodside juvenile facility. Also: funding for a project at the Brattleboro Retreat and a State House space utilization study. 

Tuesday the Human Rights Commission will brief House Education on status of social justice and equity for public schools, as required by H1 of 2019. 

Wednesday several committees will participate in Homeless Awareness Day at 9 am in the House Chamber. 

Every House Human Services member except Mary Beth Redmond (D-Essex Junction) and James Gregoire (R-Fairfield) co-sponsored H663, expanding access to contraceptives. Set for review on Wednesday, H663 would require health insurance plans to cover all methods and forms of contraceptives without cost sharing, require school districts to make free over-the-counter contraceptives available to all secondary school students, and direct the Department of Health to coordinate with stakeholders to make free over-the counter contraceptives available in a variety of settings statewide.

Former Burlington Free Press reporter, St. Michaels College journalism professor and unfailing open government watchdog Mike Donoghue will appear before the Government Operations Committee Wednesday re: media and general public accessibility to public records. Attorney General TJ Donovan insists on costly fees for any state employee-assisted document review. Here’s one example, cited on VT Digger by GOP gubernatorial candidate John Klar: 

“My own experience gives a textbook example of his abuse — he wants $7,232 for me to view his correspondence with Planned Parenthood in 2019. Whatever one may feel about the abortion issue, this is a question of respect for campaign finance laws and ethics rules. But no citizen can discover whether any wrongdoing occurred without investing a fortune, while he interposes a fallacious assertion that he is protecting us from corporations and litigators.”

Gov Ops also will get its first look at H614 (Jim McCullough, D-Williston) a 20% pay hike for the Speaker of the House, Senate Pro Tem, and all committee chairs. It also would raise all other lawmakers’ in-session weekly pay to $743 in 2021, with annual increases thereafter indexed to state employees’ raises. 

House Natural Resources’ two-year revision of Act 250 will focus Tuesday on oversight of slate quarries. Wednesday, NR will review proposed cannabis regulations, in part to review concerns that that legalized cultivation could despoil groundwater and soils, as has occurred in California. 

House Transportation will consider ‘feebates,’ through which gas guzzlers would be assessed higher registration fees, and a register-by-weight scheme. On Thursday, Transportation will review the study finding that it would cost up to $96 million to rehab train tracks between Barre and Montpelier for commuter rail. Renewable power mogul David Blittersdorf hopes to operate self-propelled diesel-powered cars between the twin cities, but expensive upgrades are needed – hence the state-paid study published in December, and Thursday’s review.