The Mountain Times

°F Thu, April 17, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

Weekly news update from the Ledge

The Legislative session is getting close to wrap-up. As soon as the budget bill arrives, the focus will be on reaching final approval, and all other business will wait until the second half of the biennium.

Last week's most compelling work was debating the end-of-life choice bill. There were hours of debate that kept us on the House Floor until 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The topic touches everyone deeply, and there were emotional stories told both in support and opposition.

The bill closely shadows the Oregon statutes and it received approval from a majority. The next day, debate continued as a number of amendments were put forward, but the final bill remained as presented. I supported this bill, and I believe it will offer a choice for few, a comfort for many, and be a non-game-changer for most. It will satisfy a desire for dignity in the final days of life no matter how that may be defined for different individuals. A final concurrence is needed before it becomes law.

This week will start with the presentation of the immigrant driver privilege bill.

Committee members from transportation will share what was learned from testimony and will answer questions. When I first met this issue, I felt conflicted about the thought of issuing a legal document to someone who is in the state without a visa. Learning about the impact of NAFTA on the Mexican agricultural community was the starting point.

Mexican farmers lost jobs in the only work they understood. Word arrived to them that dairy farms in Vermont had a shortage of laborers, and the jobs would offer them a chance to better their families' lives.

Vermont farms, not being able to find local laborers, welcomed workers who would allow their farms to survive.

Once on the farm, however, the workers struggle to take care of their own needs in remote rural locations. They are isolated and at the mercy of their employer to drive them to buy food, see a doctor, visit with others, or do anything beyond the confines of the farm.

The transportation committee has heard that many farmers want workers to be licensed. The Public Safety Commissioner believes workers and others will be safer if a licensing application is followed as for all other drivers. The Banker's Association is comfortable with the differentiated privilege card, which falls short of Real ID standards for Federal identification. The Department of Motor Vehicles already offers the written test in Spanish, and the driver test must be completed without the accompaniment of a translator. Expectations of insurance will be no different for privilege card drivers.

The immigrant dairy workers have not been recognized the same way as migrant workers in the H2A programs who pick apples and other seasonal crops. Sheep farmers have workers that fall into the work visa program as well. It seems the Federal government has lagged in establishing legitimate support for the dairy industry, and there is no federal law that prevents Vermont from taking the action proposed in H. 38.

Later in the week, we will likely take up the budget bill to establish our financial course.  Follow along on VPR streaming when the floor is in session, use the Vermont Legislature website to check on the calendar and look up any bill or contact me directly at or 802-558-0612.