Rep. MIKE YANTACHKA
The end of the legislative session is getting closer, and in the last week the House passed several Senate bills with amendments. If the Senate does not concur with the House amendments to a bill, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences. Then both chambers would have to vote on the report of the committee without further amendment.
The Transportation Bill (S.149) had several House amendments, including a primary seat belt provision which allows law enforcement to stop a vehicle if the driver is not wearing a seat belt. While 9 percent of drivers do not wear seat belts, around 50 percent of fatalities involve unbelted occupants. Stricter enforcement of seat belt use has been demonstrated to save lives. Another amendment allows all emergency vehicles to use both red and blue lights. Tests have shown that people respond more to blue lights than red in emergency situations.
Another Senate bill passed by the House with amendments was S.40 which authorizes testing and remediation of lead in the drinking water of schools and child care facilities. A total of $2,400,000 is appropriated to fund remediation for fixtures testing above 5 parts of lead per billion (ppb), which is also the allowed level for bottled water, although no level is really safe for kids. This is not as strict as the action level of 3 ppb set by the Senate and may result in another Conference Committee. The state will cover the actual cost of replacing drinking water fixtures up to $2,000 for public drinking fountains and ice machines, $700 for outlets used for cooking and $400 for all other outlets.
To better address the opioid problem, the House also passed S.43 with amendments to prohibit a health insurance plan from requiring prior authorization for medication-assisted treatment as well as for counseling and behavioral therapies associated with medication-assisted treatment. If the plan provides prescription drug coverage, it must ensure that at least one medication from each drug class for the treatment of substance use disorder is available at the lowest cost level of the plan.
One bill we expect to see this week is for clean water funding. The Ways and Means Committee is proposing to use 4 percent of the rooms and meals tax for the Clean Water Fund. This will provide a sustainable source of funding as required by the federal EPA. The 4 percent will come out of the 25 percent of the tax allocated to the Education Fund. However, the amount is expected to be made up by a change in the sales tax which will now apply to software program packages purchased online. The same tax will be assessed as if it were purchased in a store. All sales taxes are allocated to the Education Fund per a law enacted last year.
An opinion piece by the president of the conservative Ethan Allen Institute in last week’s Citizen called out Democrats in the legislature for being “ideological.” The Ethan Allen Institute is on the record of believing climate change is not happening, but if it is, we can’t do anything about it, so we shouldn’t try. Well, I must disagree, and will continue to advocate for policies that will help Vermonters reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money by reducing their use of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment and bad for our wallets. Did you notice that gasoline prices jumped from $2.58 in March to $2.83 this week? Are you getting more mileage from that gas? If we had a 2 cent per gallon tax that would be dedicated to helping Vermonters purchase more fuel efficient all-electric and hybrid electric vehicles, Vermont drivers would save both money and the environment.
As for my statement that legislators need to be leaders and not just followers, there are times when we need to take bold steps. Climate change is just such a situation. We must have the political will to pay a little more today and invest it in measures to prevent a greater cost for our children, grandchildren and future generations.
I welcome your emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone calls (802-233-5238). This article and others can be found at my website (www.MikeYantachka.com).