Week 5 was a very productive week in Montpelier, with a number of bills making their way through the House. Here’s this week’s snapshot:
Redistricting – Every ten years states are required to use census data as the basis for redrawing legislative district boundaries. Throughout American history, this redistricting process has been fraught with all sorts of political and contentious shenanigans (ah yes – gerrymandering). The process in Vermont, thus far, has been remarkable because it has been so low on partisanship, and high on consensus. After a second reading vote of 138 to 5 on Wednesday (Wilson voting with the majority), the House passed its reapportionment plan by a voice vote on Thursday (2/2). The Manchester House district (my district) was one of fifty districts that remained unchanged under the bill. The Manchester district has a population of 4,391, which is 5.25% more than an ideal sized single member district of 4,172. The only amendment to the plan proposed by the Government Operations Committee involved a change championed by Bennington County Representatives Browning and Miller. They objected to Committee’s recommendation to put both of them in a two-member district, and add Stratton to their district. I supported the Browning-Miller amendment, because it didn’t make much sense to me to take Stratton out of Rep. Olsen’s “mountain district” and cobble it onto the new Arlington, Sunderland, Shaftsbury district. This, however, didn’t fly with the rest of House and the amendment went down to defeat by a vote of 106 to 35 (Wilson voting with the minority).
New Mental Health System – Overhauling the decrepit State Hospital in Waterbury has been a vexing problem the State has been trying to deal with in fits and false starts for more than a decade. Tropical storm Irene dramatically jump-started action on this issue by rendering the current 50 bed acute care Waterbury facility uninhabitable. The new plan, approved by voice vote in the House on Friday (2/3), calls for a new 25 bed facility in central Vermont, 14 beds at the Brattleboro Retreat, 6 beds at the Rutland Regional Medical center and 5 beds developed within the corrections system. Although the plan, which also includes an array of community based services, won robust support in the House (a preliminary roll call vote passed 124 to 3, Wilson with the majority), the Governor favors a smaller 16 bed facility in Central Vermont. He will try to convince the Senate of the wisdom for the 16 bed approach as the bill heads to the other body for deliberation.
Fracking – The House easily passed legislation on Thursday (2/2) calling for a three year moratorium on fracking (the injection of water and chemicals under high pressure to drill for natural gas). Given the environmental concerns raised in other states over fracking, there was wide spread support for a” time out” on this one.
Vermont Strong – The “I Am Vermont Strong” license plate won speedy approval this past week. Vermonters will be able to replace their front license plate with the Vermont Strong plate until July 1, 2014. The plate will cost $25, with $18 directed to Irene assistance, $2 to the Vermont Food Bank and $5 for DMV processing. The Vermont Grocers Association has stepped up to help promote and sell the plates.
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative