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).

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