Thursday, August 3, 2000

Taking a look at how county legislators voted the issues

Published in the Addison Independent

Editor's note: This report does not include information from the 1999-2000 legislative session. The state Legislative Council has not finished compiling and publishing all of the data regarding legislation proposed and passed during the most recent session. That information will be available on-line by September and in bound form by November, according to the Legislative Council office.

Method: Using the Vermont Legislature's web site at, the Addison Independent looked at the record of all Addison County legislators at the state level. The web site lists bills by primary sponsor and then by co-sponsors, who frequently sign on to a bill after it is written. The Addison Independent looked only at bills whose primary sponsor was an Addison County legislator, and examined the outcomes of those proposed bills.

ADDISON COUNTY - In judging the performance of Addison County's legislative delegation, like an annual job performance review, one objective measure is to review the legislation that has been enacted with their influence.

The Independent researched the number of proposals each member of the county's delegation has authored - from the date the legislator was first elected - and whether any of those proposals made it out of committee, through the House and Senate, and into law.

While it is only one measure of a legislator's performance, the types of legislation proposed and the success of those proposals is, at least, indicative of how effective the county's delegation has been.

Comments from each legislator were sought to allow them to reflect on what they considered their most effective role to be, as well as to comment on their legislative records.

Rep. Tony Dominick, I-Starksboro, wrote one bill during his first two-year term in 1997-98, which proposed restructuring Vermont's electrical utility industry to allow Vermont residents to choose their electrical company. That bill died in committee.

Dominick said the local government committee, on which he sits, isn't a big newsmaker. "They don't make a lot of headlines, which is fine with me," he said.

He is pleased with the campaign finance reform law, which is now beginning to make itself felt as state elections get going.

"As far as statewide impact, I think that was the most challenging and rewarding for me," Dominick said.

Despite that success in committee, he is concerned that legislators spend too much time in meetings and involved in committee work.

"We should spend more time on the (House) floor," Dominick said. "There's a tremendous amount out there that we have to get informed about."

Writing legislation is not his priority, he said, though this past session he sponsored bills benefiting Starksboro and Lincoln residents.

"I don't go around looking to write bills because there are so many out there now," Dominick said.

His electrical restructuring proposal, he said, didn't have a good outlook, even at the beginning.

"It was doomed from the start," Dominick said.

But he said the regulatory work is constraining proper business practices; he expects electricity rates to keep climbing as a result. Dominick said he also expects restructuring to happen in Vermont, but on a slower timetable than it would have been under his proposal.

Rep. Anne Ginevan, R-Middlebury, sponsored no bills in her first term in the House in 1997-98. She was on the Education Committee and helped pass a bill that helps parents save for their children's post-secondary education.

"It's doing quite well," Ginevan said, "better than they had expected."

She said she was part of efforts to increase the funding for the state's institutions of higher education. The total budget for University of Vermont, the state colleges, and the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, Ginevan said, went up 7 percent in that year's budget.

Ginevan has supported elderly services, environmental issues and helping revitalize downtown areas throughout the state. She is also concerned about health care including prescription drugs and mental health, she said.

Ginevan said she represents her constituents well.

"I will certainly sponsor legislation that my constituents ask me to," she said, adding that she is planning to introduce some constituent-requested bills in the next session. She would not give details, though, saying the form of the bills is not yet final.

Rep. Connie Houston, R-Ferrisburgh, proposed having seat belts in school buses in the 1993-94 legislative session. That idea, and six other Houston-sponsored bills, never made it to the House floor. Her proposal to expand coverage of the working farm tax credit was approved by the House, but did not make it past the Senate Finance Committee.

In the 1995-96 biennium, Houston was the primary sponsor of eight bills, none of which made it past the House. Those proposals included requiring government agencies to report on the economic impact of their proposals, restructuring property taxes, requiring additional grading and regulation of schools, and mandating motor vehicle owners have insurance. In 1997-98, Houston again sponsored the latter bill, which again died in committee.

"I don't really care if I pass a bill," Houston said. "All I really care about is representing my constituents."

She said he has assisted members of her constituency with state bureaucracy in matters ranging from the Act 250 permit process to health insurance.

"My priority is the people," Houston said.

She has, she said, also worked to reduce taxes and protect the Northeast Dairy Compact. "We appropriated money to keep the compact continuing," Houston said.

Rep. Bruce Hyde, R-Fayston, proposed one bill during his first session, limiting to one the number of bear a hunter can take in a season, and shortening the bear-hunting season from 16 weeks to just four. During his second year, his proposal giving state consent to the United States Forest Service buying land in Vermont passed the House but died in a Senate committee. None of his proposals were enacted.

"I've been on the Natural Resources committee for six years," Hyde said.

He advocates simplifying the Act 250 permit process to better coordinate with the Agency of Natural Resources and the Water Resources Board, which also often issue permits for projects requiring Act 250 clearance.

"One agency doesn't know what the other agency is doing," Hyde said. "It just seems that things take forever."

Rep. Thomas McGrath, R-Ferrisburgh, proposed four bills in his first biennium, 1997-98, two of which dealt with regulations on emergency vehicles' license plates and colored lights.

Three never escaped discussion in committee, but the other passed the House. That bill proposed allowing Vermonters to display a Fraternal Order of Eagles commemorative license plate on the front of their cars, much like the Vermont bicentennial commemorative plate issued in 1991. That bill, however, never left the Senate Transportation Committee.

"I feel pretty comfortable that I do represent my constituents," McGrath said. "The biggest thing is being able to serve."

Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, wrote four bills in 1997-98, her first term in the House after taking several years off from politics. She wanted to double speeding fines for people who drive too fast in construction areas, and to give $50,000 to the Addison County Career Development Center to build and addition and renovate some existing space. None of Nuovo's proposals made it out of committee to a second reading on the floor of the House.

"There's lots of bills that get pieces through in other ways," Nuovo said. "It takes several years to get things through."

She was, she said, able to help get some money for elderly services and for the Middlebury sewer plant, but she is happiest with her stands on recent statewide issues.

"I've been most proud of the civil unions and Act 60," Nuovo said.

Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, was new in the 1999-2000 legislative session. He sat on the House Agriculture Committee, and worked to get relief for apple growers hurt by last year's summer drought and autumn winds. That work was unsuccessful in the Senate, but Smith also helped deal with big agricultural concerns.

"The permitting process for large farms is permanent now," Smith said.

Smith said he also helped to broaden the range of input into the state's educational planning system, including putting a student on the state Board of Education.

He said he is concerned with giving adequate money to programs the Legislature deems worth funding.

"They have several good programs out here," Smith said, "but they seem to be chronically under-funded."

Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Sudbury, is not running for re-election. She used her first term in 1997-1998 to propose funding for an experiment to control Eurasian water milfoil in Burr Pond using a combination of chemical and non-chemical methods. The bill proposed the experiment should happen during the summer of 1999. This bill passed the House, but never left the Senate Natural Resources and Energy committee. The bill passed in the 1999-2000 session and the experiment was carried out in the summer of 2000. Results are not yet available.

Rep. Bill Wisell, D-Bristol, started slowly in 1991-92, sitting quietly without proposing any legislation. But the following year that observation paid off.

He proposed two bills, both of which were enacted into law. One, of which he was the primary sponsor, was a collaborative effort of a committee on which Wisell sat. It required Vermont motorists to wear seat belts. The other successful bill that year was part of the combination of the village and town of Bristol.

In 1995-96, he did not propose any legislation. In 1997-98, he proposed three bills, none of which made it out of committee.

"I haven't introduced many bills," Wisell said. "My feeling is that there's enough of it."

His main work, he said, is "trying to represent in the general Legislature what I think is in the interest of the people of Bristol."

Rep. Mark Young, R-Orwell, sponsored one bill that became law in his first session in 1993-94, bringing $15,000 in state funding to the Shoreham school district for its heating system. Since then, he has proposed six bills, one of which extended workers' compensation to volunteer firefighters undertaking department fund-raising activities. That bill passed the House but stalled in a Senate committee during the 1997-98 session. All of his other proposals failed to pass the House.

"I've served eight years on the Commerce Committee," Young said, acknowledging his work has been not as visible as some other legislators. He said his work has been more valuable on a statewide basis than directly to his constituents.

Young said he sometimes votes across party lines, to be in accord with what he feels is best. This, he said, sometimes confuses members of both parties, who expect him to stick more to the party's position.

"I keep them all guessing," Young said.

Young said he has tried to help with road projects in Shoreham and the sewer project in that town. He said he is running to bring some experience back to the House, though he expects about half of next session's representatives to be new.

"There needs to be somebody back there," Young said, stressing the value of continuity in the House. "It helps to have some legislators with a track record and some time there."

Sen. Tom Bahre, R-Addison, has proposed a total of 59 bills, seven of which have become law. In 1991-1992, his first term, Bahre proposed a referendum on the death penalty, as well as a bill entitled "Fetal Homicide and Other Crimes." Three of his 15 proposals were enacted that session, including a bill giving a 20-year permit for Shorewell Ferries of Shoreham to operate a ferry across Lake Champlain at Larrabee's Point.

In 1993-94, among his 19 bill proposals, Bahre proposed requiring bicycle owners to pay a $25 registration fee. He also proposed a bill to require parental notification of a minor's abortion. Both of those failed in committee.

Bahre was able to secure nearly $8,000 for the Addison Central School to defray the 1991 expenses the town had incurred to install a modular building. The other bill he proposed that was enacted in 1993-94 established statewide programs for helping children at risk of school failure.

In 1995-1996, Bahre's third term, he proposed 14 pieces of legislation, one of which became law, establishing increased controls on commercial waste haulers. He also proposed a bill to base property tax appraisals on present use, rather than potential development use.

In 1997-1998, Bahre sponsored 11 bills, one of which was enacted, designating a portion of Route 22A in Vergennes as Kayhart Crossing, in honor of Roger Kayhart, a longtime county legislator. Bahre also proposed that a part of the old Burlington-Vergennes highway in New Haven be designated as part of a historic roadway.

Bahre, who sits on the Senate Agriculture, Transportation and Finance committees, said he is able to benefit the county in the context of the statewide issues those committees handle.

"I do the county some good by being able to be there," Bahre said. As examples, he mentioned the road improvement projects on Route 22A in Vergennes, the intersection of Cider Mill Road and Route 125 in Cornwall and Route 125 in Addison.

"I've been a voice for infrastructure maintenance and repair," Bahre said. "I maintain some attention to those in the agency (of transportation)."

Since the 1991-92 failure of his proposal to consider the death penalty in Vermont, Bahre has not proposed it again, because, he said, he is concerned that the state's judicial system won't handle a capital case properly.

"I've lost quite a lot of my confidence in the courts," Bahre said.

He has other major concerns now, though: primarily health insurance and prescription drug prices.

"Being in a minority in my committee, I couldn't stop the foolishness of the prescription drug proposal," Bahre said. "The state of Vermont has loused up health insurance for people."

He said has worked to oppose what he calls "social medicine," state support of health care, and to increase the number of companies offering health care in Vermont, as well as legislation allowing Vermonters to set up medical savings accounts.

"The health insurance trouble is getting worse on a daily basis here in Vermont," Bahre said.

As for his bicycle registration fee, he remains adamant. "The concept of bicycles paying for public infrastructure isn't a bad idea," Bahre said.

Bahre said he has been effective, though not always through directly authoring legislation. As an example, he cited his work to reduce license plate fees for local emergency vehicles. He proposed eliminating the fee, which was phased out over several legislative sessions, ending with its elimination as a rider to another bill.

"If I wasn't there holding their feet to the fire it wouldn't have happened," Bahre said.

He said it doesn't matter whether legislation gets passed in its own bill or as part of another, as long as it does, in the end, succeed.

Sen. Elizabeth Ready, D-Addison, has proposed 89 bills, 10 fewer than all of the county's other incumbent state legislators combined. Ready has served one more term than Bahre, the next most senior elected official from the county.

In her first term, 1989-90, Ready wrote four bills that became laws, allowing administrative enforcement of some environmental laws and establishing a statewide commission to discuss the future of Lake Champlain, as well as other issues. One of her proposals that failed was a state equivalent of the federal Clean Air Act.

In 1991-1992, Ready wrote nine bills that were enacted, including giving additional power to the citizen committee to address issues regarding Lake Champlain, set up procedures for converting mobile home parks to condominium-style organizations, and increased energy efficiency of state government offices. Ready proposed a state Clean Air Act again, which again did not make it out of the House.

Her third term, 1993-94, saw the only gubernatorial veto of a bill proposed by a sitting Addison County legislator. Ready proposed regulations for water and sewer systems at mobile home parks, which was approved by the House and the Senate but vetoed by Gov. Howard Dean. Four other of Ready's 26 proposals during the 1993-94 legislative session, were enacted, including screening of children for lead poisoning, preventing people convicted of certain crimes from being professional waste haulers, and to prevent monopolies in the waste hauling business. She proposed requiring using recyclable packaging for certain types of products, and establishing a security fund protecting milk producers from defaulted payments from milk handlers.

In 1995-96, Ready proposed increasing control on motor vehicle emissions, but that and six other of her proposals failed. She did successfully write and pass an act streamlining some permitting for waste haulers.

Her fifth term, in 1997-98, saw her propose 22 bills, of which three became laws. One was a moratorium on the use of herbicides in commercial forestry. Another act Ready wrote was to help large farms deal with their animal waste and methane emissions. She also effected the identification of the northern leopard frog as the official state amphibian.

Some of her proposals that failed to be enacted included requiring lobbyists in Montpelier to wear badges identifying their employers, and expanding the beverage container deposit law to juices and other drink containers.

Ready, a 12-year member of the Senate Natural Resources committee and its chairwoman for four years, said she has made her priorities environmental issues and the quality of life of working people.

"Those are the areas that I really came to the Senate to work on," Ready said.

In her second term, she said, she became involved in prioritizing spending for those issues and others.

"We found ourselves really awash in a whole sea of red ink during the deficit years," Ready said. "I became part of the team that balanced the budget and retired the deficit."

She is proudest of a collection of bills about environmental issues, including use-value appraisal for some property taxes, energy efficiency.

"A lot of these are first-in-the-nation bills," Ready said.

The Clean Air Act proposal was not a complete failure, she said, explaining that other laws enacted small segments of the larger proposal.

"We ended up doing it in bits and pieces," Ready said.

Her biggest legislative disappointments, she said, have been difficulties passing comprehensive utility restructuring and prescription drug price controls.