GMP-CVPS Merger – This ongoing saga continued last week, with little evidence that the controversy over the $21 million refund question would abate anytime soon. At the beginning of the week, the House Commerce and Natural Resource Committees held a joint hearing, largely restricted to the question of proper regulatory process. The clear message was that it would be a dangerous slippery slope for the Legislature to usurp the Public Service Board’s (PSB) regulatory authority in a matter like the CV merger; especially when the PSB has an open docket on the case and is relatively close to rendering a decision (anticipated in June). In these proceedings, the PSB, sitting as an independent judge and jury, has taken testimony from a number of parties, including CVPS, GMP, the Shumlin Administration’s Public Service Department, AARP and others. At this stage, it appears most folks fall into one of the following three camps: 1. those who support the deal cut between the Administration and the utilities, whereby ratepayers would recoup the $21 million through efficiency measures; 2. those who oppose the Administration’s approach on this and would like the Legislature to intervene to order direct cash payments to ratepayers; and 3. Those who believe the Administration’s deal falls short, but still have faith in the PSB to do the right thing. There’s bound to be a good deal more news on this topic next week, as the House Commerce Committee has been given the green light to take testimony on the merger question.
Vaccinations – After weeks of fairly energized debate and public input, the House Health Care Committee’s version of S. 199 made its way to the House floor on Thursday (4/12). The Senate, concerned about the potential effects of falling vaccination rates for Vermont youngsters, had passed legislation repealing a parent’s right to opt out of a vaccination based upon a philosophical reservation. Needless to say, the elimination of the so-called “philosophical exemption” did not sit well with a number of parents who wanted to retain their decision-making authority over if/when their kids get the full regimen of shots. House Health Care restored the exemption in its version of the bill and called for beefed-up education on the consequences of foregoing various vaccinations. On Thursday, an effort to remove the exemption failed by a vote of 93 – 36 (Wilson voting with the majority). The bill, with the exemption still in place, was approved by a vote of 125 – 4 (Wilson voting with the majority) on Friday (4/13). Given the differences between the House and Senate versions of S. 199, a Conference Committee will be appointed to try and work out the bottom line on this one.
Theoretically, there are two weeks to go before the close of the session. With a number of the must-do bills (state budget, transportation bill, capital bill, miscellaneous tax bill) still awaiting final Senate action – it could be a very busy couple of weeks.
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative