• ‘Death with dignity’ gets to Senate, but fight isn’t over
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     | February 04,2013
     

    The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare gave unanimous approval Friday to legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients.

    But while supporters of “death with dignity” say the bill has the votes needed to pass on the Senate floor, people like Mary Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life, will be working to ensure it doesn’t.

    Beerworth said a “coalition of the unlikely” that includes disability-rights groups, doctors, the Catholic Church and others will lobby lawmakers hard between now and the floor vote to undermine support for the bill.

    The defeat of a similar end-of-life ballot item in Massachusetts last November, Beerworth said last week, is testament to the organizing power of the opposition and the resonance of their message.

    “Everybody’s getting out their base,” she said.

    Dick Walters, president of Patient Choices at End of Life Vermont, one of the founders of the “death with dignity” movement in Vermont, said he’s confident that support for the bill will hold up in the face of the coming attack. A recent poll commissioned by WCAX, Walters said, showed public approval for the bill above 70 percent.

    “This is a settled issue in Vermont, I think,” Walters said. “And I think that when legislators look to their constituents to find out what they think, they will find that the vast majority of people are in favor.”

    The bill heads next to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Dick Sears, an opponent of the bill, will use his committee to expose what he says are flaws in the legislation.

    Though the bill won’t get a favorable vote in judiciary, Sears has already agreed to allow it to go back to the Senate floor for a vote from the full body.

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    Apparently undaunted by the public recriminations issued by Sen. Bernard Sanders last Monday, proponents of a moratorium on mountaintop wind began taking testimony Tuesday on a bill that would halt new development for three years.

    The bill suffered a tongue-lashing in Sanders’ Burlington office. It found a more hospitable host in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources Tuesday, where three of the committee’s five members — including chairman Bob Hartwell — have signed on as co-sponsors.

    First up to testify on the record was Paul Burns, the same wind-energy advocate who had hours earlier suggested that supporting the moratorium was tantamount to rejecting the science behind climate change.

    The senators said they didn’t appreciate his tone.

    “Do you believe it’s possible to believe in the science of climate change and yet disagree with you on the construction of new wind farms on Vermont’s mountaintops?” Sen. Peter Galbraith asked the head of VPIRG.

    “That’s an interesting question,” Burns replied, suggesting it’s difficult to know which is worse — not believing in climate change and opposing wind because you think it’s unnecessary, or believing global warming is real and fighting against wind anyway.

    Galbraith said it’s possible for one to appreciate fully the dangers of climate change, but to believe that the solutions to the global crisis don’t lie on the top of Vermont’s mountains.

    Burns said that if climate-change believers want to shun the “most renewable” energy source available in Vermont, then it’s incumbent on them to identify an alternative.

    “So far I have not seen any convincing evidence that opponents of wind have come up with a plan to provide for the state’s energy needs with an alternative to wind,” Burns said. “It’s conceivable somebody could come up with fusion technology, but I haven’t seen it yet, senator.”

    Galbraith told Burns to consider adopting a more civil tone as the debate progresses. A public conversation about wind is one worth having, Galbraith said. And people on his side ought not be demonized by people like Burns as global-warming deniers.

    “I guess there are at least three flat-earthers here in this committee, in your view,” Galbraith said. “I wouldn’t characterize your position in an extreme way... And you owe it to be respectful to people on the other side and not characterize them in such an extreme way.”

    Supporters of the three-year ban, however, are beginning to seem less attached to the moratorium than they are to revising the regulatory process used to approve or deny wind projects. Included in the moratorium bill is a provision that would shift oversight of wind development from the Public Service Board to Act 250. Supporters of wind oppose that move, likely because the PSB’s ability to take into account “public good” gives a huge check in the “plus” column to projects that generate megawatts of electricity for use by public utilities.

    “Leave the moratorium out of it for a second — let’s pretend the bill is an Act 250 bill,” Hartwell said. “What is wrong with putting (wind projects) in Act 250? We’re not talking about killing off wind. We’re talking about process.”

    Supporters of the wind moratorium might have suffered a public attack from Sanders, but the troops might be rallying elsewhere. The Lamoille County Democratic Party is drafting a resolution in support of the moratorium that could come up for a vote at the group’s next monthly meeting.

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