Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rep. Maxine Grad - Legislative Update

Legislative Update 2.14.10

I had the honor and pleasure to visit with Doreen Allen and Wendy Rea of the Merchants Bank during their State House visit on Bankers Day. I was pleased to be able to discuss the foreclosure bill I am working on and learn their perspective on this very troubling situation.

House Judiciary Committee Work:

H.470 Judicial Restructuring: We are continuing our work on court restructuring. Our Supreme Court Chief Justice gave very impassioned testimony regarding the urgency of the judiciary’s budget crisis. I asked him if the restructuring is good policy that will create on-going savings, better delivery of services and access to justice. We wanted to know if the current budget crisis aside, would he still recommend such restructuring. He said he would. My committee is getting close to formulating a proposal that will meet the required current financial savings, be fiscally responsible in years to come and meet the judiciary’s constitutional obligation of access to justice.

H.530 Foreclosure. We are continuing to look at the foreclosure problem in Vermont. In 2009 there were 1924 primary residence foreclosures. Many of these could have been prevented if third party, out of state servicers complied with the new federal program that requires a calculation to be done to see if payments could be modified.

We heard testimony by the state agency of Banking Insurance Securities and Health Care Administration (BISHCA) that these foreclosures for the most part are a “true total meltdown of the system”. There is “complete mayhem in the servicers’ world due to lay-offs and turnover”.

Our Vermont banks are doing an excellent job working with their customers. They are not at the heart of these cases. However, with the exception of the Merchants Bank, all of the banks sell their mortgages. At that point, it is between the homeowner and the servicer. We heard testimony that it is virtually impossible for homeowners or even other lending institutions to get in touch with the correct servicer and have it and the homeowners come to the table to consider if a modification is possible.

BISHCA’s representative stated that he has a weekly phone conference with every other state to try to sort this out. He suggested to us that we “don’t put anything on the shelf” in terms of legislation, but to keep working to see if we can find a solution that will keep folks in their homes, while protecting the banking and lending industries’ interests.

Highway Safety

I appreciate hearing from a number of you on highway safety issues. Many of you heard me on VPR's Vermont Edition talking about the House and Senates’ positions regarding doing just a ban on texting or going further by passing legislation regarding cell phones, nighttime curfews for junior operators (16 and 17 yr olds) and increasing seatbelt use. My committee and the House are committed to a comprehensive approach, like the one we passed last year that the Senate has rejected. While I am glad the Senate passed a ban on texting, it is only part of the larger problem. Data shows that cell phone use quadruples a driver’s risk of a crash. Youth are over-represented 2:1 in crashes, yet are a much smaller portion of the driving population. Each year highway crashes cost Vermont 234 million dollars in Medicaid, emergency services, law enforcement, and other programs and

H.363 DUI: Ignition interlock devices. We are continuing to review the use of this technology as part of DUI sentencing. This bill raised questions about our laws on forfeiture and immobilization of motor vehicles. Law enforcement testified that the law became very expensive for the state to enforce, and wasn’t of much value. While it did get cars off the road, forfeited vehicles had liens on them or had very little value, making prosecution in the end more costly to the state. Also, law enforcement found it expensive and difficult to remove and store impounded vehicles.
I am hopeful that we can craft legislation requiring the use of ignition interlock devices.

Other Legislative Issues:
New Law Regarding The Amount Of Lead In Plumbing Fixtures, Pipe & Solder. Thank you to my constituent who contacted me regarding the confusion in the new lead law. Apparently, the department of public service (DPS) sent out a letter that was confusing to many in the plumbing industry. I contacted an attorney at the state house about this issue. After consultation with the Attorney General’s office, DPS revised it’s website. It states:
“Effective January 1, 2010, a new law (known as “Act 193”) restricting the sale or use of plumbing fixtures, pipes and solder, with lead amounts that are above the new limits applies in all plumbing fixtures which convey or distribute water for human consumption (i.e. water that is used for cooking or drinking). The restrictions of Act 193 apply in all buildings, even those buildings not covered by the Plumbing Rules.
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office has issued guidance on Act 193 and lead in plumbing supplies:

Vermont Yankee (VY):

I have received many emails and calls expressing concern over the current situation at Vermont Yankee. Many of you asked what authority the state has regarding VY. A vote by the legislature would be whether to extend VY’s license beyond 2012. The federal government has most of the authority. The state does have some however. As always, the legislature has the authority to monitor the situation and work with our federal delegation.

The following is testimony from Vermont Health Commissioner Davis:

"We have the authority to ask the plant to takes action if our allowances are exceeded, that’s the best way to state it…we have the authority to ask for that suite of steps be taken in order to take what is prudent caution as a response to new information....We make active effort to keep town health officers informed, engaged and up to date on information.......our authority lies in reference to the allowable limits that are provided in the radiological rules.”

Other legislative action: The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee continues to receive updates about the tritium leaks at Vermont Yankee from the Vermont Department of Health, the Department of Public Service. Last week, it heard from the NRC and the EPA in a joint hearing with Senate Natural Resources and House Fish Wildlife & Water Resources. The Health Department, Agency of Natural Resources, and VY employees are working around the clock (with their services paid for by Entergy) to monitor tritium levels on-site and try to locate the source of the leak or leaks. In phone testimony from the NRC and EPA, the committee learned that neither agency is likely to take any action or assume direct responsibility at this time. Testing does show tritium levels rising, though not yet in drinking water wells.

I have been told that here are daily conference calls between our Congressmen, House and Senate leadership and others with the National Regulatory Commission to monitor the situation.

Please stay in touch:; 828-2228 (State House); 496-7667 (home).