Week 4 : January 29th to February 1st
The photo is of the House Committee on Corrections &Institutions. That's my committee. Seated are the Vice-Chair Butch Shaw and Chair Alice Emmons. I'm tucked way back to the left.
This week we began work in earnest. A couple mornings started at 8:30 in committee and though there have not yet been any afternoons stretching beyond 5:00, there will be soon. Each week's agenda is posted on the committee website.
Inside our committee and in the General Assembly important issues are coming to the surface.
- Woodside - Located in Essex, close to the border with Colchester, this is a facility for our youngest incarcerated population. There are anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen youths. Some are only there for a few days while others can be there for months. The problem is the cost. The facility costs about $6 million a year to run and the state recently lost any medicaid funding for its operations. The facility itself is inadequate and needs replacing. The cost of a new facility is about $25 to $30 million. Replacing this building will require some real coordination between our committee the Committee on Human Services and the Administration.
- The Chittenden Regional Corrections Facility - The women's prison located in South Burlington is badly in needs of replacement or extensive upgrade. There are about 150 inmates there.
- Medical Costs - The cost of inmate medical care is about $1,186 per inmate per month. It is paid out of the State's General Fund. When a person enters a corrections facility they loose all private or public medical insurance. There is no medicare, medicaid or private insurance for inmates. It's all paid for though a state contract with a medical service provider (Centurion). The contract with Centurion is ending soon.
- Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) - Opioide treatment for corrections inmates has been a tough issue. Last session we made changes in the law to make such treatment more available to inmates. The result is that over 500 inmates are now receiving medication assisted treatment. That's roughly a third of the average population of 1,500 inmates within facilities.
- Hepatitis c (HCV) - Treating HCV within Corrections is not easy. It is contagious and expensive to cure. This is particularly difficult with a population that is in constant flux with varying lengths of stay.
- Deferred Maintenance - Within the Department of Corrections there is about $20 million of deferred maintenance. That's repairs that have been put off for lack of funds.
We have started working our way through the Governors proposed capital budget. This week we heard testimony from Buildings & General Services as well as the Agency of Human Services. Many of the line items in the proposed budget are million-dollar capital improvements or the replacing of current facilities. There are also several large IT projects that are funded through the capital bill.
Coming up in the General Assembly
There are several controversial bills soon to hit the floor for debate.
- School Consolidation - A bill (H.39) proposing a delay in forced school consolidations should come to the floor for debate next week. This is a contentious and highly emotional issue. A number of small school systems are being forced to consolidate though their school boards voted against it. There is also a law suit about this working its way through the State Courts. This bill will not directly effect Colchester.
- Abortion Rights - There will be a public hearing Wednesday, February 6th from 4:30 to 6:00 in the House chamber on H.57. My page on controversial bills gives a summary of the issue.
- Paid Family Leave - Though there is not yet a bill on this, there should be a couple coming soon. The governor, in his budget address, proposed working with New Hampshire to create a voluntary paid family leave system using a private insurer. The proposal would guarantee such leave for all state workers, thus creating the large pool of contributors needed to sustain such a system.
The bill being written by House Democrats would be universal in that all employees would contribute, with a few exceptions still being ironed out. The employer would also pay into the system. There are a lot of details still being considered for both proposals.
Bills Passed - heading to the Senate
H.47 - An act relating to the taxation of electronic cigarettes.
H.3 - This bill proposes to create the Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Working Group to advise the State Board of Education on the adoption of ethnic and social equity studies standards into statewide educational standards.
Here's a few bills that were introduced last week. If the bill number begins with an "S" then it was introduced in the Senate; an "H" means it started in the House.
- S.71 - An act relating to eliminating the sales tax exemption for candy and using that money to support child care assistance.
- H.110 - An act relating to the elimination of strikes and imposed terms in connection with collective bargaining for teachers’ and school administrators’ contracts.
- H.113 - This bill proposes to expand the beverage container deposit-redemption system to include water bottles, wine bottles, and containers for all noncarbonated and carbonated drinks, except for milk, rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, hemp seed milk, and dairy products.
- S.59 - This bill proposes to create the Sports Betting Study Committee to prepare a report concerning whether and how to tax and regulate sports betting in Vermont.
- H.131 - An act relating to banning baby bumper pads.
- S.66 - This bill proposes to prohibit the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont, except for infrastructure certified by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
- S.68 - This bill proposes to change the name of the legal holiday, observed on the second Monday of October, from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day