PEAR Vermont Advocacy Update
Mental Health & Substance Use and Misuse Priorities
Legislative Session 2016, Week 16
House Passes Saliva Test
After spirited debate the House has approved a saliva test to screen for drugged driving. Passage came in spite of objections from civil liberty advocates who feel that standards are being imposed without the sort of consideration or certainty of efficacy that decades of study have brought to the standards applied to drunken driving limits. Objections were also raised by members who pointed out the long life of THC in a person’s system. On the other hand, law enforcement believes that the saliva test is a reasonable way to screen for drug use in drivers.Currently, Vermont’s legal blood alcohol level is .08. But under this bill the level would drop to .05 if a person had even traces of marijuana in their system. Some House members supported the bill because of the effect of marijuana on a driver’s competence, arguing that depth perception and cognitive abilities change. They also argued that the rest of the world was way ahead of us in their understandings about the safety issue. Democratic representative Bill Lippert – Chair of the House Health Care Committee – pointed out that 100 countries had adopted standards similar to the ones that were under consideration. Saliva testing is included in a larger Senate bill, and they will consider whether to adopt the House version.
Mental Health and the Budget
The Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees were locked in a difficult tangle about resources and spending, but, after all was said, there were cost of living increases for mental health providers. The 2% Medicaid increase that was approved in the House budget was upheld in the Senate’s final version. The administration had proposed reducing the percentage to 1.75 estimating that the reduction would save $400,000. But the committee pushed back. Advocates did raise some concerns about language in the final bill that restricted and directed the use of the money raised by the House/Senate hike. There is language in the bill to authorize studying the impact of reductions in Applied Behavioral Analysis rates. The cuts in group therapy reimbursements were partially restored with the reinstatement of 1/3 of the amount originally proposed to cut. Next the bill heads to the Senate floor and then to a conference committee.
Marijuana Bill Lives On the Wild Side
Senate bill 241 – the bill that would legalize marijuana – continued its wild ride through the House committee system. After the Senate version was gutted in the House Judiciary Committee – which decriminalized rather than legalizing – the House Ways and Means restored a version of legalization. Then the bill went to House Appropriations for consideration. As we predicted in last weeks notes the reception from Appropriations has been cool at best. Speaker Shap Smith was quoted last week saying that the bill was “in real trouble.” The primary concern in Appropriations is that the process of legalization would spawn a corporatized marketplace for a new drug industry. The Senate version is clearly dead in the House. While the Ways and Means iteration has more supporters it is unclear whether a House majority could emerge. Even though the bill is in trouble in Appropriations, it could be voted out with an adverse recommendation. This negative vote could still lead to a rarely seen contretemps on the House floor, with two committees controlled by Democrats – Judiciary and Ways and Means – in a battle over a controversial bill with tremendous public interest. It is an election year nightmare or delight depending on your point of view. More to follow.
Rutland Herald: Final Bills go Under Microscope
Congressional Opioid Conversation
Leaders of a U.S. House bipartisan panel on opioid abuse are pushing a major legislative package they hope will be one of the largest federal commitments to date on fighting addiction.The panel, led by Reps. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), has endorsed 15 bipartisan bills on opioid abuse. The bills include $85 million in local grants and $10 million for prescription drug monitoring programs. The panel’s leaders hope the initiatives will provide a framework for a broader House bill slated to reach the floor next month. The House is entering the debate on opioids taken up in the Senate two months ago – when Governor Shumlin went to Washington to testify. In a rare exhibition of bipartisanship, the Senate reached agreement and approved a bill 94 to 1. The House is now moving forward with its own version. Perhaps not too surprisingly, many House members who face either competitive races, or ones that could become competitive support these efforts. The legislation is expected to head to the House floor the first week of May. As many as eight separate bills could be voted on.
The Hill: House Turns Focus to Opioid Abuse