Report from Montpelier

By Rep. Kate Webb

With the money bills now in the Senate, this seemed a good time to review a few bills residents have asked about. The pros and cons of the following have been fairly well presented in the media. Here is an update on their status: 

Decriminalization of Marijuana:  This bill does not legalize marijuana, but reduces the consequences and makes them consistent across counties. An offense would be treated much like a traffic ticket – still illegal and subject to a fine similar to speeding, but would not have the life-altering criminal penalties.  It is currently in the House Judiciary Committee and I expect it to be voted out of committee this week.

Should the bill pass as is, adults over the age of 21 possessing up to once ounce of marijuana would face a fine of up to $300. Those under 21 could have civil penalties waived upon successful completion of the Teen Alcohol Safety Program. The biggest incentive for teens to complete the program is avoidance of lost driving privileges. Additional offenses trigger bigger fines and intervention. The bill calls for a task force to report back to the legislature next January as to how to address the issue of driving under the influence. I expect to vote for this bill.

Hemp:  Hemp is an unusually versatile commodity and specialty crop with significant economic development potential for Vermont. Unfortunately, hemp is still on the federal List of Schedule I Controlled Substances as a “drug or substance having a high potential for abuse.”  As a result, it is illegal to grow hemp in this country. Action is occurring at the federal level to reclassify hemp. The Vermont Senate passed a bill to initiate a state application and inspection process. Should this occur, Vermont would be ready to allow farmers to go into production.

Genetic Engineering, Right to Know Labeling Bill:  As the lead sponsor of this bill, I hope the House will vote this out in May allowing the Senate ample time next year to act on it. Extensive testimony in the House Agriculture Committee indicated we could win a lawsuit from the biotech industry. The deeper I go into this issue, the greater my concern that we are losing control over private production of our food with a blatant disregard for emerging health risks and the unknown long-term risks to health and biodiversity. We all have reason to be very, very concerned. This bill does not outlaw or restrict this process. It simply grants us the right to know if our food was produced using genetic engineering. 

Death with Dignity:  The bill passed out of the Senate stripped away all of the safety measures, leaving in its place only immunity to doctors prescribing a lethal dose of medication. House Human Services will begin hearing testimony this week, including a joint hearing with House Judiciary on April 10. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for the evening of April 16 in the State House. I anticipate the original essential requirements and protections to be put back into the bill.

Healthcare:  Preliminary rates for plans in the Vermont Health Connect exchange were released last week. The rates still have to go through the full approval process, but we expect they will be comparable to what we see today. In the Vermont Health Connect exchange, all plans have to offer a standard set of benefits and cost sharing arrangements. Vermont Health Care Connect is offering a forum on April 29 from 7-8:30 pm at the Shelburne Town Offices.

Please join Representative Joan Lenes and me most Tuesday mornings at 7:30 am at Brueggers. I am also available by appointment, through email:  katewebbvt@gmail.com, or cell phone: 233-7798.

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