It’s hard to believe, but February is already well underway. The Senate is still meeting remotely but we hope to return in person soon. It’s very difficult, as you may know, to have a truly meaningful discussion on controversial issues when you can’t be face to face. We are doing our best and all hope to meet face to face soon.
The government operations of the Senate, of which I am the president, consider a number of bills. We are working on a state code of ethics. A few years ago, we created the Ethics Commission and we have relied on it ever since. This code of ethics would clearly indicate to public servants what is acceptable and what is not. We are not yet on the verge of passing the bill, but we hope to do so in the near future. The invoice is S171. But you should know that as we continue to meet, the bill is amended. If you want to see the latest draft, it will be on the committee’s web page.
We are also looking at S181 which is a bill that would allow cities to exercise more control over issues that only affect their city. For example, at present, a city cannot put a stop sign or traffic calming devices on city roads without a time-consuming and expensive traffic survey. A city can’t decide how many people it wants on its board – the law says three unless you vote for five. It is difficult to imagine what the interest of the state is in these local affairs. We will continue this discussion and hope to give cities a little more authority on matters that only concern their own city.
We also hear about where cities should post their public notices. Should it be print only, should we only allow online? The bill is S174 and we would like to know what you think about this problem. It’s quite complicated because some people don’t get printouts, but some people don’t have good online access. We have heard from a number of media representatives and are trying to find the best solution so that it serves most Vermonters.
The other day we heard about the dire staff situation in our Department of Corrections. They are currently staffed at around 56 percent. This means that some correctional officers work a 16 hour shift, sleeping in their vehicle because they don’t have time to drive home and back before the start of their next 16 hour shift. This is not healthy for the employees or for those who are incarcerated. We have long-term solutions that are being considered, but we need to address them now, we are at crisis point and we cannot wait for those long-term solutions as important as they are. We are working with the Scott administration to hopefully resolve this issue soon. This may involve bonuses, better planning, etc. We’re not sure of the answer, but we know we need to fix this now.
In the judiciary, we passed a bill that would require companies that discharge pollutants into our air or water to provide medical follow-up to residents who are injured. The invoice is S113. The bill was vetoed by the governor last year, but since then there has been a court case with the Vermont Supreme Court which ruled on the issue and clarified that the companies would be liable. . The new bill has the support of commercial and industrial businesses in Vermont, so we are very pleased that it is finally coming to fruition – those who pollute and cause damage will be held accountable.
Again, it’s important that we hear from you. You can find all the agendas on the committee’s web pages. If you have any problems or wish to testify, contact the chair of the committee and he will try to accommodate you. Our goal is to do good for our constituents and the state. My contact is [email protected] or 802-387-4379. The rest of my colleagues and I will respond as soon as possible – but remember we have no staff or offices so this may take some time.