With the crossover deadline for legislation coming due last Friday, it’s appropriate to briefly review a few of the more significant measures that have been drafted, discussed and passed — starting with the Senate.
Among the most important is S. 130, dubbed Flexible Pathways for its intent to allow high school students more flexibility in their progression to higher education, but which also creates a plan under which every student in the state receives his or her personalized learning plan that is continuously updated from K-12. The plan will identify a range of options for their final years in high school, including dual enrollment (which allows students to take two college-level courses without charge to the family) and early college enrollment, which allows qualified seniors to have their senior year in high school double as their first year in college — a potential savings of 25 percent of a student’s four-year college education.
The plan also has provisions for students who may have fallen behind in school to complete high school, and hopefully get into other forms of post-high school training. The intent of the legislation is to produce more STEM-qualified graduates (science, technology, energineering and math) under the assumption that that’s where tomorrow’s jobs will be.
If the money can follow the student, it will become a significant step to providing a way for motivated high school students to get a jump-start on their plans for higher education — at significant savings.
Another major milestone was passage of S.77, known as the Death with Dignity legislation. Laden with controversy, it outlines the process for a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to those who are terminally ill and have less than six months to live. There are ample safeguards attached to the legislation to protect families and the individual, as well as an out for physicians who do not want to be involved. The driving force of the legislation is to allow the individual to determine his or her own fate, and not have the state prevent (through laws) the ability of the terminally ill to die as they may choose. The bill is now in the House for consideration, where it still faces a tough fight.
The Senate passed out H.41, in reaction to the spate of embezzlement crimes committed in several Vermont municipalities. The bill provides for ways under which public corruption or embezzlement cases can be grounds for denying a public official his or her pension, either whole or in part depending on the severity of the crime.
One bill that’s been in the national news but hasn’t gotten a lot of press locally is S. 4, which directs schools and their athletic departments to notify parents within 24 hours of when their child may have suffered a concussion during any high school athletic activity.
The Senate has also passed S.59, which allows home health care workers to pursue collective bargaining; S.14, which requires any worker who benefits from the practice of collective bargaining (through a union) to pay for some of the costs of that bargaining, regardless of whether they choose full membership in their union; and S.85, a minor provision concerning worker’s compensation for firefighters in which firefighters who become sick with lung disease and other infections caused by aerosolized particles or accidental skin contact with a substance are covered under worker’s compensation.
Sen. John Campbell, the Senate Pro Tempore, put out the list of accomplishments so far in the session, and congratulated the State Senate on a productive first term. “In addition to a first-rate group of new Senators,” he said, “we have a newly revamped set of Senate procedures, and so far those two factors are proving a potent mix. Fingers crossed, but we are on track to have one of the most productive sessions in a good long while.”
The House still has to act on most of these provisions, and they’ve passed along a good number of bills of their own that the Senate must take up — and there’s grappling with a very difficult budget. That is to say, there’s still half of the session remaining, and a lot of tough issues to resolve, so it’s far too early to be in a congratulatory frame of mind.
Still, it’s helpful to see that some progress is being made on several fronts, and that the work of the Legislature is truly the public’s business.
Angelo S. Lynn