By Rep. Jim Harrison
This Wednesday, when this column first appears in print, the Vermont House is likely to have an extended debate, potentially into the evening, before voting on H.57, the controversial abortion rights legislation. With no Vermont laws on the books restricting access to abortions, one might ask why we are having the debate. Arguably, H.57, only codifies what is already allowed. Additionally the US Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, prohibits states from restricting access to abortions, at least in the first trimester of pregnancy.
It has been suggested that with changes in the Court, that landmark decision of 46 years ago could be overturned. Even if that were to happen, nothing would change in Vermont because we do not have any laws that prohibit abortions. So this just for political purposes?
With 90 co-sponsors in the House and every member of the Democratic/Progressive majority voting in support in the two committees that have advanced the legislation, there is no question on the bill’s passage.
I do not support the bill as introduced. Should lawmakers even be involved in a women’s decision in this area? On the other hand, who is looking out for the unborn, especially in the latter stages of development? Should notice be required to the parents in the case of a 14 or 15 year olds? And many other questions.
Depending on whether the bill is amended or not, will likely determine my final vote on the measure. I can’t worry about political repercussions. I will try to do the right thing, understanding whatever I do will disappoint a number of people. I prefer to find consensus, but this may be one of those issues where it is impossible.
In other news, a House committee advanced a mandatory paid family leave program funded by a new 0.93 percent payroll tax shared between employers and employees ($93 per $10,000 in wages). The bill, H.107, would offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave for a serious illness to themselves or a family member, as well as the birth or adoption or initial foster care placement of a child. The legislative plan contrasts with the governor’s proposed voluntary proposal that offers up to 6 weeks of paid time off that employers could buy into for about .5 percent of payroll if they wished to offer the benefit.
Also moving forward is legislation in the Senate to tax and regulate a retail market for marijuana. The legislation is likely to pass the Senate in the coming weeks. House action on the measure could take a different path. The committee on which I sit, House Government Operations, has already received some information on how our Liquor Control retail system works for spirits, in preparation for receiving the Senate bill.
A $15 minimum wage bill, was advanced by the Senate Economic Development Committee on a 4-1 vote last week, potentially setting the stage for another showdown with Scott, who vetoed the measure last year. The governor has indicated he prefers to see increases in the wage tied to CPI, which is current law.
On Thursday, a special ioint assembly of the House and Senate will see the election of the Sergeant at Arms, of an adjutant and inspector general of the Vermont National Guard, and of three trustees for the University of Vermont, and Vermont and State Agricultural College.
And finally, with the administration sending a signal that the governor is OK with an increase in the smoking age to 21, this could be the year that the issue advances. This comes on top of a new tax on vape products already approved by the House.
You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or my cell, 802-236-3001. Messages may also be left at the State House during the legislative session at 802-828-2228. I look forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming town meetings in our district towns March 4 and 5.
Jim Harrison is the state representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon.