Business as usual In Legislature today:

Voting on vote-by-mail fraud, role of Fish & Wildlife, surface water, ivory trafficking, recovery home guidelines, streamlining probation and parole, ban on little plastic bottles in hotels; Homeless Bill of Rights dead

By Guy Page

June 10, 2020 – So, what’s the Legislature up to these days?

With the State House closed and the streets filled with protesters, it’s been easy for Vermonters to overlook the work of their lawmakers. Bills all but forgotten during the pandemic will be addressed when the House meets by Zoom at 2 pm today

The following bills have received initial House approval and are up for third or “final” reading:

H. 833 forms a study group of the environmental and economic impacts of moving surface water, including runoff. Critics of the state Clean Water Act’s huge fees for surface water management fees hope this study will offer more realistic solutions. 

H. 99 bans trade in ivory, animal skins, and other body parts of protected animals including elephants, ocelots, jaguars, lions, mammoths and mastodons. Exceptions include ivory-inlaid firearms, drums covered with protected animal hide, etc..  

H 581 forms a study group to emphasize the wildlife protection role of the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and find reliable funding sources other than hunting and fishing license fees. In effect, this bill would reduce Fish & Wildlife policy and funding control by sportsmen and sportswomen and enhance it among bird-watchers and other non-lethal nature-lovers. 

H783 enacts guidelines for recovery homes, including how to remove residents for lack of sobriety. 

These two Senate-approved bills are up for initial “second reading” approval in the House: 

S. 338, justice reinvestment, attempts to reduce out-of-state “contract” beds and recidivism of furloughed inmates by streamlining and shortening probation and parole

S. 348 authorizes the Secretary of State to require mailing of 2020 general election ballots to every registered voter. Gov. Phil Scott has said he will not oppose this bill. House Republicans (Reps. Myers of Essex, Donahue of Northfield, Goslant of Northfield, Gregoire of Fairfield, Morrissey of Bennington, Quimby of Concord, Savage of Swanton, and Toof of St. Albans Town)  would amend the bill to add penalties for vote-by-mail fraud, and would require the Attorney General to investigate. Similar amendments failed in the Senate, generally along party lines. 

Critics of S348 say the Secretary of State’s office has neither the interest nor a plan to prevent or investigate vote-by-mail fraud, despite many municipal clerks saying it could happen in their towns, and has happened in at least one other state. The House vote on today’s amendment will, at least, put House members on record for their level of concern about possible voter fraud. 

Two bills are on the House “notice calendar,” meaning they will be addressed for second reading at the next session of the House. H 880 would require Abenaki place names on state park signs. H923 expands the crime of unlawful trespass to include entering a vehicle without legal authority. Last year a Washington County woman was terrorized when a man unknown to her entered her car, pushed her over into the passenger seat, and proceeded to drive off. Only after tense minutes of her protests did he pull over and exit the car. 

To controversial bills were “ordered to lie,” meaning they are effectively dead for the 2020 season: H162, removal of buprenorphine from the misdemeanor crime of possession of a narcotic, and H492, establishing a homeless bill of rights and prohibiting discrimination against people without homes.

The pandemic has forced the State of Vermont to alter its care for homeless Vermonters, who have had less access to food, shelter and bathroom facilities due to the lockdown. An estimated 1,100 homeless Vermonters are housed nightly in hotels and motels after traditional shelters were forced to close. H492, conceived “pre-pandemic,” banned discrimination for employment, services, housing, and healthcare, but also protected the right to loiter on public streets – which was objected to by some municipal and business interests. 

Over in the Senate at 1pm today, S227, banning small plastic shampoo bottles in hotels, will be up for final approval. (Critics have noted that the more recycling-friendly alternative, the refillable pump bottle, is also a possible vector for virus transmission.) This bill is discussed at length in a recent Ethan Allen Institute blog post. 

Photo credit: USPIS.GOV