Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rep. Maxine Grad Weighs In on Upcoming Legislative Session

Rep. Grad recently submitted this LEGISLATIVE PREVIEW. A good primer on what to expect in 2008!
I hope this finds you well and enjoying the holiday season.

As the legislative session approaches, I frame my priorities in terms of “big picture”, committee, and my priorities. My priorities will also evolve as I hear from you.

Rep. Grad pictured with other members of the House Judiciary Committee (Rep. Michael Kainen and Rep. Bill Lippert) hard at work

The Big Picture:

1. Property Taxes/education reform: I am hoping that we can pass something that meets the needs of taxpayers, addresses the challenges our schoolboards face, and maintain our commitment to high quality equitable education for our children.

2. Energy: I am hoping we can pass a bill that saves Vermonters money, prepares us for the future, is diverse in considering use of renewable energy resources, and enhances Vermont’s economic development.

3. Health Care: I am hoping we can build on earlier health care innovations in light of the continuing rise in health care costs. Catamount Health was made available in October for Vermonters without insurance, and the demand for this coverage has been strong. I would like to turn our focus to the underinsured, businesses, the self-insured, families and individuals.

4. Affordable Housing: this continues to be a challenge for our communities.

My Priorities: In addition to the issues listed above, I hope to continue my efforts in the following areas. This is the “short” list for now. I also am very committed to my committee work.

1. Veterans issues---especially military retiree pay and income tax consequences
2. Youth and General Highway Safety
3. Working Families

Currently, S.133 that addresses youth and general highway safety is in conference committee as the House and Senate bills that passed are very different. I chair the conference committee. Highway safety has been a priority of mine. The House version is a comprehensive response to the disturbing fact that non-alcohol related highway deaths is the number one killer of our youth. In fact, the Center for Disease Control has named youth highway fatalities as a public health threat warranting action. In 2006, 15 of the 88 highway fatality victims were between the ages of 16-19. General highway deaths continue to increase and we all pay for their costs.

The House version that is in conference committee would prohibit cell phone and hand held devices for junior operators—16 and 17 year olds, require hands free for all other drivers, have a nighttime curfew of midnight for junior operators with work, school and other exemptions, and make not wearing one’s seatbelt a primary offense. I think our bill is even more compelling given the recent tragic death of the Spaulding student where text messaging and lack of seatbelt use were involved.

Junior operator laws are based on clear, substantiated data that teens are easily distracted, do not prioritize in terms of safety, and need experience driving before introducing distractions such as other passengers. Adolescent brain development research also shows that teens do not have the cognitive development we thought they might, so when we say as parents “what were they thinking?” we need to understand, they weren’t, but re-acting.

The Senate version relaxes our current law. The committee was influence by parents who testified that the current law is inconvenient. As a mother of a newly (three week) licensed driver, I couldn’t agree, the law is inconvenient, HOWEVER, given the overwhelming testimony we heard and data I have reviewed, it is better public policy to protect our youth from the number one cause of their death over my schedule and convenience.

Specifically, the Senate passed the following:

Vermont would issue a junior operator's license to person who has operated with a learner's permit for not less than six months instead of one year as under current law which recognizes the importance of driving experience.

Currently, junior operators may carry siblings and no other passengers after 90 days of receiving their license, again based on the data of minimizing distractions. The Senate would relax it to 30 days.

Vermont already has some of the weaker JO laws in the nation. It would be a disservice to our youth and families to further weaken them.

Further, highway deaths are an economic issue.

According to the Vermont Department of Labor, the total cost of workplace traffic crashes over the past three years is $75,593,750, of which $7.5-million is tax payer costs for first responders, fire and police, highway clean up and repair crews, and state government assistance programs.

Three-year third party costs that include the cost of traffic delays of commercial traffic, non-profit assistance to victims and health care providers are in excess of $10-million.

The three-year cost to private insurers is estimated at nearly $38-million while the cost to crash victims themselves is estimated at nearly $19-million.

Committee Priorities:

The following is a partial list of issues my committee, House Judiciary might consider.
· Sexual assault and domestic violence prevention
· Dissemination of criminal and family records by the judiciary
· Inclusion of law enforcement and firefighters in hate-motivated crimes statute
· Examination of the legal and fiscal impacts of adopting changes to Vermont’s sex offender laws federal law
· Recommendations of the victim’s rights study committee
· Review current law regarding children who have been abused or are delinquent
· Continue our review and work on the child abuse registry
· Review the preservation of evidence in criminal cases.

As we do our work, I will advocate that my committee continue its practice of assessing the fiscal impact of any legislation we propose. More is not always better when it comes to laws.

Please stay in touch:; 828-2228 (State House); 496-4244 (home).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Local Democrats "CERV" Up Food Donations

Northfield Democrats held our regular monthly meeting on December 13th. We collected over 100 pounds of food for CERV, our local food shelf at the meeting. This morning I went to CERV to drop off our contribution. This was a great service project, and one every club or organization can help out with. It's fun, easy, and for a great cause.

While at CERV, I met our local coordinator, Betty Hopkins (pictured below in the Santa hat). Betty was busily coordinating new donations and getting them onto the shelves as fast as possible. Despite the challenges involving severe shortages all over the state, Betty and her crew of volunteers are doing a great job!

Pictured from left to right, volunteers Richard Brockway,
Pat Brockway, and Eugene Premont with Betty Hopkins.

Betty tells me that donations tend to spike during the holidays and then drop off again in January and February. A reminder that the need to give doesn't stop once the holidays are over. In fact, that is our time of greatest need.

So, don't forget... it's never too late for a drop off of much needed food for the hungry. The folks at CERV are there with a friendly smile, ready to pitch in and help out - and to accept your donations.

For more information, contact Betty and CERV at 485-4293. Drop-offs are accepted Mondays from 6-7pm; Wednesdays 9-10am, and Saturdays from 9-11am. The CERV offices are located near the transfer station across from the Grand Union.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What a Blast!

No doubt about it... Winter has arrived (with a vengeance). Northfield received a foot of snow (well, actually 11 1/2 inches, but who's counting?!).

Good news for kids looking for a snowday, and even better news for our ski industry!

Now... Time to get out and shovel those rooftops!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Northfield Dems to Meet, Initiate Food Drive - Dec. 13th!

Don't forget our upcoming meeting on Dec. 13th at the Brown Public Library at 6:30 p.m. The Vermont Democrats are sending a representative (Linda Weiss) to make a presentation to our group. There will also be some holiday goodies on hand. Come one, come all.

In addition to celebrating the holidays, we want to make our time together useful. There is a severe food shortage at Vermont Food Banks all over the state right now. Given the shortage and the holiday season demand is far outstripping supply. As we head toward our December 13th meeting, please consider bringing non-perishable food items for donation to CERV/the food shelf with you. It is a small, simple thing to do and makes a big difference for those in need.

Shaw's and Hannaford's have pre-bagged items prepared for local food shelves that you may purchase for $5, $10, or $15 that are easy to pick up and contain the kind of items the food shelves want for distribution. That makes it even easier. Also, to really make an impact, please consider asking your co-workers and/or friends to help you out by matching or adding to your own contribution. That way we can really maximize our efforts.

Thank you, and see you on the 13th!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Racine Mulling Race for Governor

The Governor's race just got a lot more interesting. The Vermont Press Bureau spoiled Jim Douglas' breakfast this morning by reporting that Sen. Doug Racine is considering running for Governor in 2008. Read the whole story here.

Needless to say, Racine would be a formidable opponent to Douglas (he narrowly lost to Douglas in 2002 by a margin of 45% - 42%). Given the upcoming presidential election (which should boost Democratic turnout in 2008) and the tough race Racine gave him in 2002, I'm betting that this is Jim Douglas' worst nightmare.

For more on this, check out our friends at Green Mountain Daily, or go to Mulish Behavior.