In this week’s installment of Under the Dome, local lawmakers talk about why they supported or opposed the Vermont House’s approval of a statewide school-tax increase.
Also, two House members want to redirect some of Vermont’s sales tax to Connecticut River communities where businesses suffer because of that tax. Plus, lawmakers float proposals on engine idling, school-zone speeding, tar-sands transportation and a turbine moratorium.
BRATTLEBORO — A controversial move to raise the statewide school-property tax divided Windham County’s lawmakers.
After much debate on Wednesday and Thursday, the state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to raise the tax by 5 cents to 94 cents per $100 of property value for primary residences. The levy will go up 6 cents to $1.44 per $100 of value for commercial and vacation properties.
“I did not support that bill at any time,” said state Rep. John Moran, a Wardsboro-based Democrat.
State Rep. Dick Marek, however, supported the increase and said he saw no alternative. “All of us like good education, and none of us like paying for it. If anyone knows of a method better than the one we have, let them propose it,” said Marek, a Newfane Democrat.
“All that is required is that it be constitutional, that it raise sufficient funds and that it convince a majority that it actually is better,” Marek said in comments recorded in the official House journal. “I have waited for 10 years for one of the critics to present that, but somehow I never actually see it.”
The latest Under the Dome column details the involvement – on opposite sides of the fence – of Windham County’s state senators on the contentious end-of-life bill.
Also, local educators testified in Montpelier this week on the topic of encouraging students to seek college credit while in high school. And no Windham County House members signed onto a bill that seeks a three-year moratorium on wind-turbine construction.
BRATTLEBORO — In the weighty debate about end-of-life choices for the terminally ill, a local legislator played a critical — and controversial — role in state Senate deliberations this past week.
The Senate bill was designed to allow terminally ill patients in Vermont to legally receive a lethal dose of medication if they so choose.
The initial bill, modeled on Oregon’s “Death With Dignity Act,” included provisions designed as safeguards: For instance, patients had to be mentally competent and had to request the medication three times, including once in writing. Also, two doctors had to agree that a patient had fewer than six months to live.
But on Wednesday, Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Townshend, joined Sen. Robert Hartwell, a Bennington Democrat, in offering a sweeping amendment that replaced much of the original bill with a more hands-off provision: Doctors who write lethal prescriptions to the terminally ill, the legislation said, could not be held criminally or civilly liable and would not be subject to professional disciplinary action.
BRATTLEBORO — Gov. Peter Shumlin wants no part of a moratorium on wind turbines.
The second-term Democrat is well aware that commercialscale wind power is a controversial topic in his native Windham County.
But he also has pushed hard for more renewable energy sources. And during a visit to Brattleboro on Tuesday, Shumlin said he does not agree with a proposed threeyear moratorium on all windpower development.
“Climate change is our single greatest challenge,” Shumlin said. “And I don’t think banning renewables is wise or prudent when we’re losing the battle on climate change.”
The moratorium, which is part of a Senate bill introduced last month, has won support from wind opponents. That includes officials from the Town of Windham, who last year unsuccessfully fought the planned installation of wind-measurement towers that could lead to the county’s first wind farm.
State Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Townshend, backs the moratorium and said he expects it to be considered by the full Senate, though he predicts that the vote would be “very close.”
BRATTLEBORO — Don’t call it a “gun bill,” state Rep. Mike Mrowicki says.
Instead, the Putney Democrat refers to newly proposed firearms regulations as a “public- safety bill” designed to close gaps and address concerns in the wake of high-profile gun violence nationwide. The House bill would ban highcapacity magazines and require instant background checks at gun shows, among other measures. But Mrowicki expects plenty of debate on the legislation in the coming months.
“We know it’s a complex issue,” he said. “We don’t pretend there’s an easy fix.”
Mrowicki and state Rep. David Deen, a Westminster Democrat, were among the dozen House members who introduced the bill earlier in the week. Officials held a press conference on Friday to discuss the legislation.
In addition to the magazine ban and the gun-show checks, the bill imposes other restrictions and requirements including: — Bringing state law in line with federal law, which prohibits felons from possessing firearms.
— Mandating a “course on safe procedures for carrying a concealed firearm by any person who carries a concealed firearm.”
— Requiring the state Department of Mental Health to report information to the national background- check system for gun buyers.
BRATTLEBORO — When it comes to improving education in Vermont, state Rep. Valerie Stuart has an important question.
“How can children go to school and be hungry?” the Brattleboro- based Democrat asked on Friday.
She believes the answer may lie in companion bills in the state House and state Senate mandating that all low-income children receive a free school lunch.
Stuart, a member of the House education committee, said the initiative would address a critical need without requiring a huge investment.
“We’ll be feeding over 6,000 additional kids who right now are in the reduced-price lunch bracket, and it will only cost us about $322,000,” she said.
Other Windham Countybased House members who signed onto the bill are Dick Marek of Newfane, Mike Mrowicki of Putney, Carolyn Partridge of Windham and Tristan Toleno of Brattleboro. All are Democrats.
BRATTLEBORO — Should the state track the number of miles you drive each year — and then charge you accordingly?
That’s just one question under consideration as Vermont lawmakers debate how to address a serious transportation funding shortfall that could cripple construction projects statewide.
As the state Legislature ended its first full week of the new session, finding money for roads and bridges was on the mind of state Rep. Mollie Burke, a Brattleboro Progressive Democrat.
“There are just a lot of things to consider,” Burke said. “We’re going to look at all the options.”
Burke, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said a special committee that examined the issue is projecting a $240 million annual shortfall in transportation funding.
“That’s huge,” Burke said. “And there’s a lot of unknowns with federal transportation funding.”