Vt. Legislature faces busy week ahead
MONTPELIER — Senators expect to debate the fate of the Department of Employment and Training's regional offices this week as they consider midyear adjustments to the state budget.
State energy policy will also be on the agenda in the Senate this week. And in the House a bill designed to protect consumers from fraudulent telemarketing practices is likely to be debated. In a Senate committee a perennial issue that always it politically touchy is scheduled for a hearing: whether the Abenaki Indians should be recognized by state government.
Also this week, Gov. James Douglas is likely to be presented with a bill that has been at the top of the Democrats' list of priorities. Senate leaders said they expected to concur with changes made by the House in a prescription drug importation bill.
The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the House changes. Douglas has said he would sign the bill when it reaches him, which is expected to be the end of the week.
Senators will be moving on by then to the budget adjustment bill. The Appropriations Committee supported most of the decisions made by the House in the more than $30 million in adjustments.
But the Employment and Training Department issue was not resolved.
The Douglas administration proposed reorganizing the department, sharply cutting back on its presence in six of the 12 communities where it has offices.
A number of lawmakers opposed the plan, fearing that the offices slated to be closed or scaled back would end up offering fewer services to some of the state's areas of highest unemployment.
Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, has been one of the most vocal critics and he wants to address the issue as part of the adjustment of the state budget. He has been particularly concerned about the offices in Newport and St. Albans, which he says are areas of persistent unemployment that need easy access to state resources.
He has prepared an amendment to the budget bill that would guarantee "delivery of services to employers seeking workers and the unemployed seeking work. You can't effectively deliver those services operating out of the trunk of your car."
Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Ann Cummings, D-Washington, said her panel would be looking into a couple of energy issues.
It is scheduled to review a bill that would require the state's utilities to maintain a minimum portfolio of renewable energy in its mix of sources of electricity. Representatives of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant also are due before the committee as they seek permission to store nuclear fuel waste in so-called dry casks. The reactor is quickly running out of room in its current spent fuel storage area, which is a large pool of water.
House Commerce Committee Kathy Keenan, D-St. Albans, said she expected a bill that would prohibit telemarketing companies from misrepresenting themselves in order to obtain consumers' bank account routing codes and then deducting money. Keenan said the practice had cropped up among companies operating outside the state.
Indian affairs will be the topic of the Senate Economic Development Committee. It plans a hearing Tuesday on a proposed resolution by Sen. Julius Canns, R-Caledonia, that states the Legislature "recognizes the existence of the Abenaki people."
That has been a politically touchy topic for years because the attorney general and others have feared that it could lead to federal recognition of the tribe, touching off potential land claims and a bid to operate gambling businesses. The resolution seeks to blunt such criticism.
"While this recognition is not intended to confer any special rights upon the Abenaki people, such as claims to Vermont lands or privileges not extended to other minority groups, it is intended to ensure the Abenaki people receive the same recognition and privileges extended by the state of Vermont to any other minority group," the resolution says.
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