The signs in Montpelier are clear; we are coming to the end of the 2016 Legislative Session. The first sign is that the lawn in front of the State House has greened and the tulips are coming up in the gardens. Frisbee players and picnickers abound and even sunbathers have shown up on the few warmer days we’ve had. It is such a delight to serve in a state where we can still be so relaxed about the use of the State House grounds.
I picked up and delivered the Green-Up Day materials for the coordinator of the Green-Up program for the Town of Windham. As I drove home this week, I reflected on the fact that we do Green-Up Day in Vermont and how wonderful that is. I wonder if there are other states that pick up after themselves (and others) after the winter. I’m sure that participation in this activity also makes Vermonters think twice before littering.
In one respect, things quiet down on the House side and lobbyist activity seems to focus around the two Senate money committees – Appropriations and Finance – since it is their turn to work on the budget and revenue bills.
Meanwhile on the House Floor, we are reporting bills that originated in the Senate. In some cases, we have made changes to them and send them back for the Senate’s review. We are also getting House bills back from the Senate with the changes they have made. If we agree with the changes, we simply concur. If we want to make additional changes, we can concur with further proposals of amendment. Ultimately, if there is not concurrence, we can ask for a committee of conference.
Committees of conference consist of six members, three from each body. It is considered an honor to be placed on a committee of conference. One of the prerequisites for being chosen is that you had to have voted for the bill in the first place. The Speaker will strive for a political balance but that is impossible if no one in a particular party voted for the original bill. I don’t know if that is a rule or customary practice but I have never seen it violated.
A number of our House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee bills have made it through the process. Our Agricultural Sales Tax Exemption Bill (H.864) is done and on its way to the governor’s desk. We concurred with the Senate’s changes to the Pollinator Protection Committee (H.539), the On-Farm Livestock Slaughter (H.860), and Regulation of Treated-Article Pesticides (H.861) Bills. We have decided to send the State Enforcement of the Federal Food Safety Modernization Act (H.778) and Adequate Shelter for Dogs and Cats (H.512) Bills back with some minor changes. Hopefully, the Senate will concur with our changes.
One bill that seems to be missing in action is the H.65, an act relating to designating the Gilfeather turnip as the State Vegetable. The Senate Agriculture Committee voted it out of committee on April 8 but it has not made its way to the Senate Clerk’s Office yet. Typically, a bill is voted out and the reporter of the bill takes it directly to the Clerk’s office. It will then appear on the Notice Calendar the next day. It is very curious that sixteen days have passed and it’s still not on the Senate Calendar. Anyone interested in the bill should contact Sen. Bobby Starr who is the Chair of Senate Agriculture. A message can be left for him by calling the State House toll-free at 1-800-322-5616. The children of Wardsboro worked very hard on this bill, as well as the entire community, and it would be a shame to see it lost in the shuffle.
This week, we passed S.20, which is an act relating to establishing and regulating dental therapists. It creates a dental practitioner level that is between dental hygienist and dentist. We know that many people in the State of Vermont do not get adequate dental care for a variety of reasons including lack of access and unaffordability. We also know that poor dental health can cause many other health problems that end up adding to the Vermont health care cost bottom line.
The plan is to create a program to train dental therapists at Vermont Technical College. It is estimated that it will take one to two years to become accredited and begin the program. Dental therapists will have to first become dental hygienists and then have an additional three semesters of training. Additional time will have to be spent working under the supervision of a dentist.
The main opposition to the bill came from the Vermont Dental Society. There is concern that dental therapists will not be able to perform techniques properly, which should be addressed by the training program that is set up. There is probably also concern that this will create more competition for current dental service providers, however, the availability of dental care at an affordable price is of great concern and many Vermonters just go without.
This is reminiscent of the concern that was expressed when the positions of nurse practitioner and physician’s assistant were created and now they are part of everyday life and we don’t think twice about seeing one.
When my children were little, we accessed dental care for them through the Tooth Fairy program. It was difficult because the only dentist who took Tooth Fairy patients was all the way in Brattleboro, a 55-mile round-trip. I know this has changed somewhat but, hopefully, dental therapists will make dental care more of a reality for Vermonters who really need it.