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Shumlin: Energy, Health Care Will Top Agenda

Herb Fellow

New Member
MONTPELIER -- The top Democrat in the Vermont Senate on Wednesday said energy and environmental issues would top his party's agenda for the upcoming legislative session, with further health care reform also figuring prominently on lawmakers' to-do lists.

Sen. Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, the president pro tempore of the Senate, said Vermonters "spend more than the state's entire education budget for heating fuel and gasoline," with the economic cost compounded by the environmental costs of burning those fuels.

He said he and his Democratic allies in the Legislature were crafting a two-pronged strategy to deal with energy costs and global climate change:

Lawmakers will try again to pass a bill calling for an "all-fuels efficiency utility," modeled on the electricity-saving program Efficiency Vermont, to help homeowners and businesses install more efficient heating systems, insulation and take other steps to reduce the costs of and emissions from heating.

Republican Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed a similar bill in 2007, saying he didn't like that it relied on a new tax on the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant as its principal funding source, and that the new efficiency utility was not clearly defined in the legislation.

Shumlin said lawmakers had asked two former high-ranking state officials on energy issues who are now consultants, former Public Service Commissioner Richard Sedano and former Public Service Board Chairman Richard Cowart, to form a clearer picture of what the all-fuels efficiency utility would look like and how much it would cost. He said their report is expected soon.

"We believe that will tell us how to run an efficiency utility and how to pay for it, and we'll plug that in and send it along" as legislation, Shumlin said.

There also will be legislation, Shumlin said, to implement most of the recommendations of the Governor's Commission on Climate Change, which issued an extensive report in October outlining 38 steps from improving forestry practices in the state to improving public transportation.

On other issues, Shumlin said he wants:

Lawmakers to look for ways to expand the state's recently established Catamount Health program. He said that could help to address the problem of Vermonters who have health insurance but are finding premiums, deductibles and co-pays increasingly difficult to afford.

To see the state move toward decriminalization of marijuana. Shumlin said most minor marijuana possession cases result in the offender's being sent to court diversion, rather than being prosecuted, and that the state law should reflect that.

Legislation to ensure there is enough money in the Vermont Yankee decommissioning fund when the plant shuts down and is ready to be dismantled.

He said he takes a dim view of a proposal floated by the Douglas administration to lease the state lottery to private investors. Douglas has said that would reap a one-time payment of $50 million to help alleviate education property taxes in the short term.

Source: Burlington Free Press
Copyright: The Associated Press
Contact: Dave Gram, The Associated Press
Website: Burlington Free Press.com | Local/Vermont
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