PEAR Vermont Advocacy Update
Mental Health & Substance Use and Misuse Priorities
Legislative Session 2016, Week 8
Senate Passes Pot On
In a close vote the Senate passed recreational pot legalization, sending it over to the House with a 16-13 vote on second reading and a 17-12 on the next day. Rebecca Balint, Democrat from Windham County, changed her vote due to an amendment allowing some better options for small growers, which she said went further to satisfy the desires of her constituents. This bill’s passage represented an example of politics making odd bedfellows, with Republican Minority leader Joe Benning from Caledonia County voting yes while his seatmate Jane Kitchel, Democratic Chair of the Appropriations Committee, voted no. Kitchel and Senator Diane Snelling from Chittenden, both voted yes in Appropriations, but no on the floor, both arguing that even though they did not support the bill, they believed it deserved airing on the floor of the Senate rather than death in committee. All in all, this bill had a tumultuous ride through the Senate. And it looks no less bumpy in the House, substantially more so if anything. According to House Speaker Shap Smith it will spend at least three or four weeks in the Judiciary Committee before real work begins. Smith seems skeptical about his own support of the bill citing drugged driving as a particular concern. Governor Shumlin does not agree, feeling that the bill as passed satisfies the conditions – including drugged driving – that he outlined in his State of the State Address.
From the Dept. of Health: Health Impact Assessment: Marijuana Regulation in Vermont
Focus on Medicaid Funding
At a press conference in Montpelier this week Vermont’s Designated Mental Health Agencies requested a 3% Medicaid rate increase for each of the next four years. Mary Moulton, Executive Director of Washington County Mental Health Services, said that, “the designated agencies will not be able to meet their commitments to their communities or our contractual obligations to the state without significant Medicaid rate increases.” The agencies are experiencing a significant staffing crisis, as they are unable to keep up with salaries offered outside of the agency system. Statewide agency turnover rates are now at 25.7% annually. Hundreds of Vermonters are on waiting lists because of staff vacancies. A wide variety of statewide organizations – including VAMHAR – were present in support of the need for an increase. Speaking for Psychiatric Survivors, Director Wilda White received an ovation when she called the current direction of the system’s funding an act of discrimination.