MONTPELIER — Paying for recovery from Tropical Storm Irene was a top accomplishment for the Legislature this year, the leaders of the House and Senate said Wednesday.
House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell held a joint news conference to tout the session’s achievements. But the event veered into disagreement between them about a question the two chambers fought about: whether police should have access without a warrant to a database of prescriptions Vermont doctors write for their patients.
One of the accomplishments Smith pointed to was a legislative redistricting process that he said went much more smoothly than in other states. Legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years following population shifts found in the decennial census.
“I am proud to say Vermont showed a different way that redistricting can be done,” said Smith, a Democrat from Morristown.
Vermont has only one U.S. House district because of its small population, so there’s no need for the Legislature to change congressional district boundaries.
Smith and Campbell, a Democrat from Windsor, listed several pieces of legislation as highlights of the 2012 session. Among them:
— More than $18 million in money borrowed through bonding and up to $15 million more from the current year’s surplus for rebuilding after the flooding brought by Tropical Storm Irene in August.
— A revamping of the state’s mental health system after Irene’s flooding forced the antiquated Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury to close.
— Passage of a second stage of a health care reform overhaul in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s six-year plan to move Vermont as close as possible to a Canadian-style government-run health care system. This year’s legislation sets up the regulated health care marketplace, or exchange, called for in federal health insurance reform passed two years ago. But it designs Vermont’s exchange in a way that makes it a stepping stone toward the state’s longer-term goal.
“While many throughout the country are busy fighting a health care law that will help middle-class Americans, we saw this as an opportunity for Vermonters to secure health care coverage at a lower cost,” Smith said. He said he hoped other states would “realize the error of their ways and realize the opportunities that exist for health care for all Americans.”
Asked about their biggest disappointments of the session, Smith noted that changes to the tax system hadn’t been accomplished yet, two years after a special commission issued a report calling for them.
Campbell had another: The Senate and Shumlin wanted to give state police drug investigators the ability to get information from the Health Department prescription drug database without a warrant. The House insisted that warrants be required, and prevailed in the debate; the bill to allow warrantless access died.
Campbell attributed the difference to confusion among House members.
“I think everyone is on the same page except for understanding exactly how the process goes,” Campbell said. He said he hoped to gather police, prosecutors, defense lawyers and others early in or before next year’s legislative session and “explain exactly what has to take place.”
Smith said of the difference between the House and Senate: “I think that actually there wasn’t confusion. I think that people just saw it through different philosophical lenses, quite frankly.”MORE IN Vermont NewsClose to three dozen people -- including two dozen from Springfield -- arrested on heroin and... Full StorySpringfield Select Board endorsed the proposed memorandum with the developers of the $170 million... Full Story
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