Rep. Joan Lenes
Rep. Kate Webb
This is the second article in a three-part series that provides an update on a variety of actions of the 2013 legislative session.
Vermont Health Connect: Legislative action this year focused on transition to health care coverage in accordance with the Federal Affordable Care Act. Benefit package and qualification guidelines for tax premiums and subsidies can be found at www.healthconnect.vermont.gov or by calling (802) 654-8977. Small business owners can also get information regarding choices for health insurance for their employees. You can also watch for upcoming information sessions being held around the state to help Vermonters get answers to questions.
Shoreland Protection: Vermont’s 800 lakes and ponds are a boon to our economy and our tax base primarily due to the peace and enjoyment we experience in their proximity. Across Vermont, too many lakes are threatened from development styles that are known to harm lakes. Removal of vegetation down to the water’s edge increases polluted runoff, degrades habitat, and destabilizes banks, resulting in damage to the health and value of our lakes. Although local control is preferred, only 48 municipalities have set standards for shoreline development. As a result, only 17 percent of Vermont’s shore land is fit enough to provide these essential protections.
Legislation put forward this year was designed to provide coordinated, scientifically-based, site-specific shoreline protection regulation throughout the state on any new development. This was met with considerable resistance from property owners who did not feel they had enough input in the process. Legislation is now on hold. Over the summer, residents can participate in four to five public meetings designed to inform both the public and lawmakers as to appropriate next steps to protect our shore lands.
End of Life Choices: We each think about life and death differently, but most of us hope for a relatively painless, peaceful death. In spite of the increasing availability of palliative and hospice care, for a small number of Vermonters, this is insufficient to relieve suffering. Beginning this summer, patients with a terminal illness and less than six months to live may request medication in order to hasten death. Based on the 15-year-old Oregon model, many safeguards are built into the legislation: evaluation by two physicians; patient capable of understanding and making this decision; two oral requests;º and one written and witness by two people unrelated to the patient. By 2016, Vermonters will have had three years of experience with this law and be able to assess whether best practices are in place. At that time, the law moves to a more streamlined program where the doctor-patient relationship is private and protected. Immunity for the physician is granted only when they follow the precise protocol established in the legislation.
Search and Rescue: What happens when someone is lost in the backcountry, remote areas, or on the waters of the state? Interim standards set last spring will be replaced with a comprehensive search and rescue response that is organized, immediate, and cooperative. The Commissioner of Public Safety will be responsible for coordinating responses with public and nonpublic entities that specialize in protecting this safety: state police, game wardens, ski patrol, municipal police, fire departments, emergency medical service providers, and others. The goal is to save lives and recover lost people as swiftly as possible and help to protect against needless loss of life.
Flexible Pathways to College: With the passage of S.130, Vermont expands its “flexible pathways” program, encouraging high school completion while simultaneously allowing students to earn college credit. This dual enrollment offers two state-funded college courses to qualified juniors or seniors offered on college or high school campuses. Work-based learning, virtual or blended learning, and early college for seniors are some of the new offerings that will be guided by Personal Learning Plans (PLPs). PLPs will be fully implemented in 2017 for seventh-12th grade students. S.130 provides an exciting opportunity to better prepare students for their adult lives with basic core competencies and adaptive skills.
Access to Pre-K: The House passed a bill that would expand 10 hours per week of school-funded quality preschool education for Vermont’s three and four year olds, similar to what already exists in Shelburne. Although research shows the long-term cost savings in terms of special education costs, lower drop out rates and repeated grades, the session ended before the Senate could fully vet these issues. Expect to see action on this next year.