PEAR Vermont Advocacy Update
Mental Health & Substance Use and Misuse Priorities
Legislative Session 2016, Week 18
Legislative Session 2016 Ends
While the 2% increase for Designated and Specialized Agencies survived, as a cost savings measure its implementation was delayed. This effectively reduced the total budget allocation for the upcoming fiscal year, but preserved the 2% standard going forward. Practically this means that the 2% increase will not take effect until September 1 of this year – a two-month delay. Last week we noted that the language relating to implementation and reporting of the increased dollars was a source of some concern to the agencies. This is how the language finally appeared – an improvement in the eyes of agency directors.
“The funds allocated in this act shall be to increase the amounts paid to designated agencies and specialized service agencies. Of this amount, priority shall be given to total compensation of direct care workers and non-executive staff. Each designated and specialized service agency shall report to the Agency of Human Services and the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations regarding how they have complied with this provision.”
As the legislative session drew to a close, the language on the expansion of the Lottery Commission’s powers and purview was removed from the Appropriations Bill. But it did not go out without a fight. The House and the Senate conferees were deeply divided on whether the Commission should be granted permission to place new and different lottery “products” in new and different locations around the state.
Spit Not Polished
Two weeks ago the House passed a bill authorizing roadside administration of a saliva test to screen for driver’s drug use. At session’s end the House conceded that they were not going to be able to persuade the Senate to agree. As we recently noted here, critics were concerned about both civil liberty issues and accuracy of the tests. The latter sited a state-commissioned report from a lab in Pennsylvania, which indicated that the scientific basis for tying a certain level of drugs in saliva to impairment was insufficient.
Pot Goes Poof
In the end there was no marijuana legislation: not legalization, not further substantial decriminalization and not even the authorization of a non-binding resolution in the fall on the question. After spending more time and ink on this issue than any other, the differences between the direction of the House and the Senate on this initiative proved irreconcilable. While the House finalized it’s rejection of the Senate proposal for legalization the Senate nixed the House proposal for a referendum in the late summer or Fall, having suggested such at either the primary in August or the November election. Spurred in part by initiatives in Massachusetts and Maine, the legislature will continue to study this issue this summer and fall.
Health Care Passes
The final version of this year’s health care bill sent new regulations on health care reform to Gov. Peter Shumlin for approval. Bill H.812 establishes consumer protections if the Shumlin administration reaches an agreement to set up an all-payer model for health care reform and directs the state to regulate accountable care organizations. The bill also includes language that calls for analysis and action funding issues for Designated and Specialized Agencies.
Full Legislative Roundup to Follow
Please stay tuned for our full end-of-Session newsletter coming to you next week!