PEAR Vermont Advocacy Update
Mental Health & Substance Use and Misuse Priorities
Legislative Session 2016, Week 12
Marijuana Public Hearing Scheduled
Two House committees have scheduled a public hearing on the legalization of marijuana for Thursday, March 31 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the State House. The House Judiciary and Government Operations committees are convening the hearing on S 241. With a large crowd expected in the House Chamber, speakers will be limited to two minutes of testimony. Fasten your seat belts!
New Agency For Health Care Picks Up Steam
The move to break up the Agency of Human Services is gaining momentum. Senator Jane Kitchel’s bill to set up a Health Care agency is moving to the House. Kitchel says that the new agency would help control health care spending, and that rising health care costs make it almost impossible to fund many other social service programs. The Governor disagrees believing that the move will build another “silo” in state government making the integration of client services more difficult. The Agency of Human Services funding now accounts for almost half of the state’s budget. The changes proposed would amount to the most substantial restructuring of state government in five decades.
Doyle’s Marijuana Divide
Senator Bill Doyle’s annual Town Meeting survey has offered up yet another statewide take on the question of marijuana legalization. While the Doyle poll is notoriously unscientific the numbers are nevertheless always intriguing. The marijuana question virtually split the nearly 11,000 survey respondents with 42 percent in support, and 44 opposed. While other statewide polls have shown stronger support for legalization, the Doyle result may indicate some tightening of opinions on the issue.
House Hike Heads to Senate
We reported last week on an energetic advocacy effort to raise the Medicaid rate by 3% in the 2017 budget for designated and specialized service agencies. The House Appropriations Committee voted out the 2017 budget bill with a 2% rate increase. While not everything advocates asked for, it was something to celebrate in a tough budget year. The bill came out of committee with a vote of 10 – 1, but the one dissenter – Representative Marty Feltus of Lyndonville – has been supportive of funding increases for designated and specialized service agencies. Now the bill will move to the Senate where the recommended hike will no doubt receive further review.
Middlesex Beds to Stay?
The state wants to keep the psychiatric facility in Middlesex open past the date it was due to close. Actually they just want to make it official, as it already has stayed open past its original closing date – the beginning of this year. The seven-bed temporary facility was opened after Irene flooded the Waterbury State Hospital. It was designed to tie the state over until the opening of other facilities. The Shumlin administration is now asking Middlesex town leaders to let it stay open until 2020. In addition, Commissioner of Mental Health Frank Reed says that the Legislature has asked that the department consider expanding the size of a proposed permanent facility in Middlesex designed to replace the temporary one. This has slowed the process, Reed says. The state is considering a 16-bed facility for inmates with mental illness. This will allow the inmates to come out of prison and into a more appropriate secure residential setting. The town of Middlesex Select Board is asking for additional information before indicating their support for the proposed project. Among other things they want to know more about the state’s criteria for the facility’s residents.
Vermont Public Radio: State Seeks To Delay, Again, Shuttering Of Temporary Psych Facility In Middlesex
Partisan Divide on Smoking
In what House Human Services Chair Ann Pugh described as the first partisan vote in the committee this biennium, the committee voted to approve a bill that would gradually raise the legal age for smoking from 18 to 21. Bill H.93 would raise the minimum age to purchase and consume tobacco to 19 beginning in 2017. The age would rise until 2019, when 21 would become the legal standard. The bill was passed out of committee with a vote of 7 -1. All four Republicans on the committee voted against the bill. The Republicans feared undue government intrusion and enforcement challenges, while the Democrats saw it as a health care bill, with significant potential for cost savings down the road.
The bill is very similar to an amendment to the e-cigarette bill proposed by Rep. George Till of Jericho earlier this month. That amendment failed to pass after a tie vote in the House. Governor Shumlin has said he opposes the bill.
Explore More: Bill H.93
VTDigger: Committee Supports Smoking Age Increase