By Rep. Mike Yantachka
Now that we are a few weeks into the session, the 14 committees of the House of Representatives have settled into their main work: taking testimony on bills and on the Administration’s initiatives. A bill’s main sponsor as well as interested parties, administration staff, lobbying organizations and interested private citizens are invited to give their insight and analysis of the subject. Committee Chairs take very seriously the responsibility to make sure every side of an issue is heard. It is detrimental to the success of a bill if key testimony has not been heard when the bill comes to the floor for a vote of the full chamber. On the other hand, convincing testimony against a bill might kill it in committee so that it never reaches the floor for a vote. Since there are more bills introduced in a session than can ever be adequately considered, most bills stay “on the wall”; that is, they are posted on the committee’s bulletin board where they remain for the duration of the 16 week session.
In spite of these constraints, some bills are so obviously beneficial that they just sail through committee, are read on the floor and pass unanimously. This happened with a water quality bill last week that prohibits the sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads. Microbeads are plastic beads less than 5 millimeters in diameter that are suspended in lotions and cleansers as a mild abrasive. The problem is that they are so small that they pass through wastewater filtration systems are discharged into rivers and streams, and end up suspended in Lake Champlain. They adsorb (attract to their surface) toxic chemicals and are ingested by small fish which confuse them with food. They, in turn, are eaten by larger fish, which are then eaten by humans. In this way the toxins become concentrated up the food chain and pose a hazard to us as well as threaten the sport fishing industry which is an important part of our tourist economy. On a roll call vote, H.4 passed unanimously 140 to 0.
Many issues require a lot of testimony even before a bill is introduced. Such is the case with education financing. The Education Committee has a new Chair, Representative Dave Sharpe of Bristol. Dave was a member of the Ways and Means Committee for many years and brings valuable experience with taxation to his new role. At the same time, the House Rules Committee revised the authority of the Education Committee over education financing. Previously, the Ed. Committee made education policy and the Ways and Means Committee addressed the financing. The new arrangement will allow a comprehensive approach to this high priority problem. The committee has already heard from many individuals and organizations and is expected to draft a bill in the next few weeks. Already a change in approach is emerging. Whereas the current method requires setting the statewide property tax rate to be according to the total amount of school budgets throughout the state, the committee is looking at fixing a statewide property tax rate to raise a given per-pupil amount which would be allocated to school districts regardless of the size of the budgets that they pass. Needless to say, the devil is in the details, and we’ll be hearing more about this topic before anything is settled.
It was also a pleasure to see a contingent from the Charlotte Community School (CCS) sixth grade present their report on composting at the Statehouse during the Farm-to-School awards presentation last week. CCS was awarded a grant last year and the composting project was the result. Kudos to the whole sixth grade team.
I continue to welcome your thoughts and questions and can be reached by phone (802) 233-5238, by email at email@example.com, or visit www.mikeyantachka.com.