Report from Montpelier

by Rep. Joan Lenes

There has certainly been much to deliberate over in the past few weeks. The Legislature has before it several important issues that Vermonters feel strongly about.

One on the minds of many of us is health care and how it is developing in Vermont. On Monday, April 29 from 7-8:30 pm, representatives from the Vermont Health Connect team will be at the Shelburne Town Offices to introduce the new health insurance marketplace where individuals, families, and small businesses in Vermont can compare public and private health plans and select one that fits their needs and budget. They will be covering topics including what the marketplace will offer, who can get coverage through Vermont Health Connect, insurance market reforms that start in 2014, financial help available to many Vermonters, and more. This will be a discussion style presentation with ample time for questions. The link to Vermont Health Connect is www.healthconnect.vermont.gov. I hope that you can attend.

During this week, the House Human Services Committee will continue its work on S.77, the Bill on Patient Choice and Control at End of Life. They will be taking a very thorough look at both the bill as introduced by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, based on the Oregon style process and legislation. They will also look at the Cummings amendment that proposes to change the bill to one that simply provides immunity for doctors who prescribe a medication to relieve pain, even if that medication may also end the patient’s life. It also offers immunity for someone who is present at such a death. After their work, Human Services Committee will pass this on to the House Judiciary Committee for them to weigh in.

Our House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee has been deliberating over S.14, a bill that would ensure that employees, in bargaining units organized under state law who exercise their right not to join the union, pay a fee to the union for the union’s representation.  Unions are required by state law to represent all members of the bargaining unit – both union members and non-members – in both contract negotiations and grievance processes. Unions in Vermont support agency fees, sometimes referred to as a fair share fee.  The State of Vermont, the Vermont Supreme Court, the University of Vermont, Vermont State Colleges, most municipalities, and most private employers with bargaining units all have agency fees in their union contracts.  A minority of school boards – about 20 percent – has negotiated agency fees and the state has employees who do not pay agency fees based on a 1997 agreement.  S.14 would require that all school employees and state employees pay an agency fee. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld and regulated agency fees for over 30 years. Most notably, the court has defined what union activities are “chargeable” to non-members. Chargeable activities include collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance processing. Non-chargeable activities include most lobbying, electoral politics at any level, and public relations activity.  S.14 is consistent with the court’s decisions.  The bill requires that nonmembers be provided an audited financial statement that explains chargeable and non-chargeable expenses, an opportunity to object to the fee, and fee arbitration paid for by the union. Employers cannot be required under S.14 to discharge an employee who does not pay an agency fee.  Fees cannot exceed 85 percent of member dues. The committee heard testimony on the agency fee bill from over 50 Vermonters including the 2013 Vermont Teacher of the Year and many other teachers, school board members, state employees, and representatives of all these groups.

Please join Rep. Kate Webb and me at Bruegger’s Bagel on Tuesday mornings 7:30-8:30 am. You can reach me at jlenes197@gmail.com or (802) 999-9363. Messages can be left with the Sergeant at Arms 1 (800) 322-5616.

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