1.30.2015 – Bill Introduction, Budget Adjustment, and the Farm Show

This week there has been a bit of a “dust up” in some media about the so-called “beagle bill” so, perhaps, a little explanation is in order. S. 25, an act relating to recognizing the beagle as the State Dog, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Rodgers. It’s gotten a lot of attention for its frivolous, “waste of time” nature but there is sometimes more to a bill introduction than meets the eye.

In this case, Sen. Rodgers received a petition with over 200 names of Vermonters requesting the bill so as a constituent service he introduced it. In other cases, children from local schools ask to have a bill introduced and then follow its progress learning about the law- making process.

One of my early legislative memories was when children from the Fairfax/Georgia area wanted the apple pie recognized as the State Pie. They came to the State House all dressed up to lobby the legislators, talk with us about why it was important that the apple pie be recognized as the State Pie, and, best of all, offer us slices of delicious, homemade apple pie. Needless to say, the bill passed and the children learned a lot from the experience.

In 2011, the school children of Grafton asked us to introduce a bill (H.19) that would have prohibited retail establishments from providing single use plastic carry out bags and, instead, be required to provide reusable, recyclable, or compostable bags. They, too, came to Montpelier to lobby and testify in front of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The students made a compelling argument for why we should pass the bill citing the environment, especially the oceans, and the deleterious effect these degraded bags have on aquatic wildlife. They were followed on the witness stand by the lobbyist for the VT Grocers’ Association who made an argument for why this would be a hardship for retail stores and the bill did not get out of committee.

While the bill did not pass, it provided the students with a learning experience that will, hopefully, follow them the rest of their lives. It also helped raise consciousness regarding these bags and, I believe, increased the number of people who bring their own reusable bags with them when they shop.

It is important to remember that there are fourteen standing committees in the House and eleven in the Senate not counting the Rules Committees so we can cover a lot of ground and get a lot of work done. It is also important to remember that not every bill gets taken up. Committees generally make choices about what they work on and prioritize important bills. It is my hope, however, that we can continue to allow for a few of these “learning experiences” every year going forward.

This week we passed a bill that would prohibit the manufacture or sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads, which are tiny plastic beads that are used instead of biodegradable, natural, and abrasive materials. They are so small that they are not filtered in wastewater plants, which means they find their way into our waterways. Made of persistent organic compounds, they attract other pollutants that are dangerous to human health and the environment. Consumed by fish, the chemicals from the microbeads transfer to fish tissue, accumulate, and cause liver damage. Fish consumed by humans have been found to have ingested plastic microbeads.

We also passed the Budget Adjustment (BA) Bill, which is a mid-fiscal year review of the needs of the various agencies and departments of state government. In some cases, there are additional needs, in others, they are right on track. When there is additional need, if possible, adjustments are made to accommodate them. This year’s BA bill closes the FY 2015 budget gap and reserves $2 million to address the anticipated FY 2016 budget gap while meeting our commitment to Vermonters.

The House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee made our yearly trip to the Farm Show where we attended an informational dairy meeting, as well as the Dairy Banquet. We heard the bad news that milk prices would be decreasing in the next several months. Milk prices have been good but with increased production and decreased demand worldwide, prices are projected to go from approximately $24 per hundredweight (cwt) to less than $17 per cwt. This is worrisome and we hope that farmers have chosen to participate in the federal Margin Protection Program – a part of the latest Farm Bill that insures farmers if milk prices drop and input prices increase.

The Vermont Dairy Promotion Council commissioned the publication of a booklet called “Milk Matters” that puts together some very interesting dairy facts and statistics highlighting the importance of the dairy industry to the agricultural economy of Vermont. Every day, dairy brings $3 million into the state – it is our anchor agricultural business. It is “the only kind of farming in Vermont in which the majority of farmers generated most of their income from farming”. Value-added dairy product (cheese, ice cream, yogurt, butter, etc.) production increases every year. Ours cheeses are winning national and international awards and we are exporting cheese to France!

It was really nice to have a chance to visit with farmers at the Dairy Banquet and look at the displays of equipment, products, and services. I also got the chance to smell the hay at the forage display, which during these frigid, windy days reminds me of summer and the warm weather to come.