A Long Week in the House

As the legislative session winds down (about two weeks left), long hours and controversial bills have been the norm in the House.

This past Wednesday and Thursday, the House took up a bill related to the Patient Choice at End of Life law, also known as the Death With Dignity Act. That law, which was passed in the last biennium, provides immunity for doctors who prescribe medication for the purpose of hastening a patient’s death. The law provides a number of protections, among which are the requirements that the patient must make two oral requests for medication to be self-administered for the purpose of hastening the patient’s death; the patient must make a written request for such medication in the presence of two witnesses who are not interested persons (e.g., family members, acquaintances); a physician must determine that the patient is, in fact, terminally ill, is capable, and is making an informed and voluntary decision; and the physician must inform the patient of the patient’s diagnosis, prognosis, range of treatment options, availability of palliative or hospice care, and the probable result of taking the prescribed medicine. The law also provides that these protections would sunset on July 1, 2016. After these protections sunset, physicians would still be immune from prosecution for prescribing medications that would hasten death. Apparently, to get this law passed, this sunset provision was included to get the votes of certain lawmakers who did not want the state involved in the matter.

The bill before the House would repeal the sunset provision and thus would keep the protections in place. Before voting on whether the repeal should go to a third reading the House considered an amendment that would have repealed the law in its entirety. After long debate, this amendment was defeated by a 60 to 83 vote, and the bill then was passed to a third reading.

The next day several amendments were offered at third reading to modify certain requirements of the law and to impose additional reporting requirements. Most were defeated except for one directing the Department of Health to adopt rules to facilitate the collection of certain information. The bill then passed, thus the protections of the Act will be retained.

I did vote for the bill, as I think having some control over one’s end-of-life choice is important, so long as protections are in place that ensure the choice is appropriate and informed. Representative Komline summed it up well when she said at the close of debate that “They take this medication when the time for hope is over. They’re not choosing death. They’re just choosing the way they die.”

On Thursday, the House next took up S.9, a Child Protection Bill. I have provided a description of this bill in a previous post. When the bill was first introduced in the Senate, it included a provision that would have created a felony for failure to protect a child. This provision sparked significant controversy primarily because it could act as a disincentive for people to get involved in trying to protect children. The bill that passed excluded any new or enhanced crimes and overwhelmingly passed the House.

Also on Thursday, the House started its consideration of a health care bill. My next article for The Other Paper, which I will post on Thursday, will address the main aspects of this bill. Here, I will mention three aspects of the bill that The Other Paper article will not address.

First, the bill was amended to include tobacco substitutes (electronic cigarettes) in current law regulating the display, sale, and use of tobacco products. In addition, it imposed a tax on the sale of tobacco substitutes.

Second, the bill relies on revenues generated through expanding the sales tax to include sales of candy and soft drinks, increasing taxes on tobacco products, and imposing a meals tax on items purchased from vending machines. These taxes, and the tax on tobacco substitutes, are appropriate sources for funding health care reform. The prices of these products do not fully reflect their costs to society, namely in the increased costs of health care due to obesity and tobacco use. Taxing these products internalizes some of the external societal costs that they impose – it makes the price of the product more accurately reflect their true cost. In addition, by increasing their prices, their consumption and use should decrease, with the resulting decrease in health care costs.

Finally, the bill includes provisions establishing performance milestones for Vermont Health Connect (“the Exchange”). Among these milestones will be the delivery of functioning technology by May 31, 2015 that addresses change of circumstances, and delivery of a fully automated system by October 1, 2015 that allows for 2016 plan enrollment. The bill provides for the independent review of the Exchange by the Joint Fiscal Office and requires the Agency of Administration to explore alternatives to the Exchange in the event the General Assembly decides to seek an alternate path to Vermont Health Connect.

Fortunately, it was not all controversy and work this past week. On Wednesday morning, I sang the devotional with the Statehouse Singers (see prior post). And on Thursday evening, after 10 hours on the House Floor, I participated in the annual Cabaret. This fund raising event features skits, jokes and songs performed by representatives, senators, and Statehouse staff, poking fun at each other and our work. I played guitar and sang a solo, the Gun Bill Blues, sang to the tune of Fulsome Prison Blues, and accompanied Judiciary Committee members in a tune about gaining weight over the course of the Session because of eating too many snacks in the Committee room. After a long, tiring day, the event was a welcome respite.

Town Meeting Day 2015

Today is Town Meeting Day in South Burlington, and tomorrow is Election Day.  I prepared a summary of my Committee’s activities so far, as well as other relevant legislative updates, as a handout for my constituents on Election Day.





Announcement of Candidacy

Martin LaLonde announced his candidacy for the Vermont House of Representatives from Chittenden District 7-1, which encompasses the southwest section of South Burlington. LaLonde, his wife Anne and their two children, Griffin (15) and Tess (12), are residents of Four Sisters Road.

“I am seeking election to the Vermont House to use my experience in law, education, and natural resources issues for the benefit of South Burlington residents and all Vermonters,” LaLonde said.

LaLonde, age 50, is an attorney educated at the Michigan Law School, Michigan Business School, and Alpena Community College. Upon graduating from law school, he worked for a federal appellate court judge and a federal trial court judge. LaLonde then became a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., where he worked for 13 years. In 2007, already knowing Vermont from spending time here for vacations and family gatherings, LaLonde and his wife decided to move here to raise their family.

LaLonde has been active in the South Burlington educational community, including volunteering extensively at his children’s elementary school, where he and his wife in 2013 received the South Burlington Educators Association Layman’s Award for service to the school. He has been a mentor at the Orchard School and assisted in building sets for this year’s middle school plays. LaLonde is currently serving his second three-year term on the District’s School Board and is also on the Board of the Vermont School Boards Association.

“Educational policy is certainly one of my passions,” LaLonde explained. “My wife and I have found the public education offered in this community to be excellent and I have worked to maintain that excellence as a member of the School Board. But I feel that some of the greatest challenges our schools face, both here in South Burlington and throughout the State, will need to be addressed at the State level.” Among these challenges are how the state should fund education and whether and how the state’s school governance should change. “In Montpelier,” LaLonde said, “I hope to be able to use my experience to ensure that Vermonters have first-rate educational opportunities, from pre-kindergarten through college, at a cost the State’s taxpayers can afford.”

“Vermont’s exemplary schools help attract businesses to the State,” LaLonde continued, “and this and economic development initiatives will help Vermont thrive.” LaLonde’s view of how smart growth can occur has been informed by his participation on the South Burlington Form Based Code Committee, which has been drafting an update to the land development regulations for City Center – part of which is included in a tax increment financing (“TIF”) district. “I have learned a lot from this process – the importance of gathering diverse view-points from the real estate and development community, neighborhood and school district representatives, and environmentalists to come to a consensus on how growth should occur; and using incentives such as the TIF district designation to stimulate economic development. I would look forward to taking these lessons to the State House.”

LaLonde believes that growth in employment opportunities in Vermont is crucial, while at the same time emphasizing protection of the state’s natural resources. “I went to law school in 1990 specifically due to my interest in environmental issues,” LaLonde said. “During thirteen years defending the federal government’s land management agencies such as the National Park Service, Forest Service, Minerals Management Service and others, I learned to navigate the conflicts between conservation and using our natural resources.” LaLonde believes that this experience and his immersion in environmental policy issues would serve him well as a member of the Vermont House.

LaLonde also looks forward to the challenges involved in the complicated and controversial issues involved in health care reform. He believes that quality health care for all Vermonters is an imperative – and to achieve that goal will require figuring out how the financing can and will work. “While this is not yet an area of my expertise,” LaLonde said, “I have the skills and commitment to help craft a solution that will work for Vermonters and Vermont’s businesses. It should be quite an interesting couple years for the legislature dealing with this issue.”

The current representative for Chittenden District 7-1, Michele Kupersmith, has decided not to seek another term. She will be LaLonde’s campaign treasurer. “She has done an outstanding job for the district,” LaLonde said. “If elected, I will do my best to carry on her tradition of community engagement and working for Vermonters from all walks of life.”

LaLonde has had the privilege and good fortune of being the primary at-home parent in the LaLonde household. He has found time outside his stay-at-home dad duties to enjoy Vermont’s beauty through biking, cross country skiing, and watercolor painting. He has also had the opportunity to indulge his love of music through learning to play the guitar, singing with his daughter, and listening to his son play the piano and his daughter play the violin. “My family and I have a good life here in Vermont. With my kids settled in at high school and middle school, I am eager to become further involved as a State Representative in making Vermont even better for all of us.”