Report from Montpelier

Thoughtful study, debate, review, and compromise

The flow of the legislative work goes back and forth between the intense, deliberative work in committees and the reporting and debating of that work “on the floor.” Last week was shorter “on the floor” as committees took testimony and prepared their bills to be reported.

This week, several bills that have been in the news will be put before us. Included will be the statewide reapportionment of legislative districts, cloud computing, and the House version of the Senate bill on vaccinations. Because each individual committee of jurisdiction has responsibility for thoroughly covering all sides of issues and coming up with legislation that best represents a solution, my decision often follows recommendations from the committee. Additionally, I ask questions and weigh information from you, my constituents, as well as review current research on the topics independently. I have found this to usually produce a balanced and effective approach that affirms my belief that compromise is often the foundation of good legislation.

Several weeks ago I reported H.765, an act relating to mental health needs of Vermont’s corrections population. We passed it unanimously in the House and it then went before Senate Judiciary committee. They have accepted this with several minor amendments. The main purpose of this legislation is to identify and assess the needs of individuals with serious functional impairment who are incarcerated in a Vermont correctional facility. The team of individuals involved will be from the department of corrections, mental health, disabilities, aging, and independent living and will include stakeholders. The secretary of human services will appoint this team. I look forward to hearing the information that will be reported back to the Legislature in January 2013. I believe it will assist us in helping this population lower its rate of recidivism and more importantly, it will help people with serious functional impairment reintegrate into their communities in a productive and healthy manner. I am pleased that Senator Diane Snelling will report this bill in the Senate.

Tied into this work with people with serious functional impairment, is the work we have been doing in the field of mental health. We are designing facilities to administer acute care for Vermonters in need of that level of care while also designing and building on community-based services. The delivery of care in the community could be offered in conjunction with acute treatment in a facility, or perhaps at times it could serve instead of acute care – in some situations, a crisis can be diverted by early intervention and treatment. Additionally, there are occasions when someone with serious functional impairment has broken a law due to their disability; incarceration is not the best way to rehabilitate individuals in this situation.

A bill that is currently being worked on in the Senate is S.169. I specifically mention this because of the tragic death of a young man on the Emily Proctor Trail in Ripton last January. Currently, the Vermont State Police Division of the Department of Public Safety handles all primary responsibility for finding lost hikers in areas of the state that do not have municipal departments. This bill create a backcountry search and rescue study committee to look at whether the Dept. of Public Safety or a different state agency should “have lead or co-authority for supervising search and rescue operations for missing persons in Vermont’s backcountry and outdoor recreational areas and to recommend an appropriate organizational structure to manage Vermont’s various search and rescue resources.” The committee will have three members from both the House and Senate. They will gather information from rescue and first responder groups, commissioners, law enforcement and firefighters, and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. This report is due to the Legislature by January 15, 2013. A new strategy will not bring back this young Vermonter, but it may serve to help others.

Please feel free to get in touch with me on any of these bills. More information will be forthcoming this week.

You can reach me at jlenes197@gmail.com or 999-9363. Messages can be left at the Sergeant at Arms 1-800-322-5616. Please join Rep. Kate Webb and me at Bruegger’s Bagel on Tuesday mornings 7:30 – 8:30.

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