New Bill Proposals from the Vermont Legislature (through 18 Jan 2013)

Here is a sample of some of last week’s bills proposed in the Vermont Legislature:

H.21: “An act relating to applying for an early voter absentee ballot”
Sponsors: Townsend, Larry; Devereux, Dennis J.; Evans, Debbie; Higley, Mark; Hubert, Ronald E.; Martin, Linda J.
Summary: This adds a requirement to requests for early or absentee ballots that are sent by non-family members (like candidates or political parties) to have the signature of the voter receiving the ballot.
My thoughts: This was probably prompted by some voters who got angry in the last election because they received unsolicited absentee ballots. Requiring a signature on these forms seems like a straightforward and unobtrusive countermeasure.

H.22: “An act relating to standardized ballots and vote tabulators”
Sponsors: Hubert, Ronald E.; Cole, Joanna; Consejo, Michel; Cupoli, Larry; Devereux, Dennis J.; Dickinson, Eileen “Lynn”; Higley, Mark; Juskiewicz, Bernie; Townsend, Larry; Townsend, Maida
Summary: This bill calls for the standardization of ballots and requires electronic tabulators in towns with a population of 1000 or more and gives the decision to use electronic tabulators in towns of less than 1000 to the Board of Civil Authority. It also requires that electronic tabulators be used in all recounts.
My thoughts: There are substantial unresolved issues in the deployment of tabulators in the United States. The major issues include the fact that they are closed-source (that is, the software that runs on them is not available for inspection), evidence of real-world election fraud has already occurred elsewhere in the US, and time after time security researchers have found serious vulnerabilities. Many people, including me, have brought up this issue, and no decision makers seem to take notice. This is an issue that could be (and maybe will be) a post of its own, but for now, I think towns should have the ability to say no to the electronic tabulators if they choose to. The state has not sufficiently convinced me (a security researcher) and several towns (Calais, included) that the tabulators are not subject to the above issues.

H.23: “An act relating to the number of votes required for a write-in candidate to win a primary election”
Sponsors: Stevens, Will; Bartholomew, John; Browning, Cynthia; Burke, Mollie S.; Canfield, Bill; Christie, Kevin “Coach”; Condon, Jim; Conquest, Chip; Consejo, Michel; Devereux, Dennis J.; Evans, Debbie; Greshin, Adam; Higley, Mark; Hubert, Ronald E.; Jerman, Tim; Komline, Patti; Lawrence, Richard; Malcolm, John W.; Marcotte, Michael; Martin, Cynthia; Martin, Linda J.; Moran, John; Mrowicki, Michael; Myers, Linda K.; Nuovo, Betty A.; Pearce, Albert “Chuck”; Potter, Dave; Russell, Herb; Toleno, Tristan; Waite-Simpson, Linda J.; Wilson, Jeff;Winters, Philip C.; Yantachka, Mike; Zagar, Teo
Summary: This bill requires a write-in candidate to either (a) get more votes than someone actually printed on the ballot or (b) receive as many votes as would be required for a petition to get on the ballot. (State Senate is 100, State Rep is 50, etc.)
My thoughts: This is a change-one-word bill. The law currently only requires half as many votes for write-in candidates. Do we really need to make it harder to be a candidate, even as a write-in? What are these legislators hoping to achieve?

H.27: “An act relating to Act 250 and oil pipelines”
Sponsors: Deen, David L.
Summary: Construction of oil pipelines or changes to existing pipelines that are not repairs, or that alters “the capacity, function, or operation of the pipeline” would be subject to Act 250 review.
My thoughts: This seems like a response to reports that the oil pipeline in the northern part of the state may be repurposed to handle tar sands oil. Having pipelines subject to Act 250 makes perfect sense.

H.42: “An act relating to allowing voters to register and vote on the day of an election”
Sponsors: Wizowaty, Suzi
Summary: This allows people to register to vote on the day of an election.
My thoughts:
Something like this that can be done to lower the barriers to participation in voting is a good idea in my book.

S.29: “An act relating to authorizing industrial hemp licenses”
Sponsors: White, Jeanette K.
Summary: The bill removes the current requirement for Vermont to issue licenses for hemp cultivation only once the Federal government (Congress or the DEA) relaxes their restrictions on hemp. Licenses could now be issued on July 1st.
My thoughts: I’m with Rural Vermont on this one. This should pass. It is somewhat of a middle finger to the Federal government, but that shouldn’t stop us.

S.30: “An act relating to siting of electric generation plants”
Sponsors: Benning, Joe; Hartwell, Robert M.; Flory, Peg; Galbraith, Peter W.; Kitchel, Jane; McAllister, Norm; Mullin, Kevin; Rodgers, John; Starr, Robert
Summary: This is the much-talked-about three-year moratorium on industrial-scale wind developments. “The bill also proposes to move siting jurisdiction over all in-state electric generation plants, except for net metering systems, from the Public Service Board to the district environmental commissions and local land use authorities.”
My thoughts: Another anti-industrial wind proposal from a similar cast of cosponsors. This makes a certain amount of sense, but I think I like S.21 better (as I discussed here).

S.32: “An act relating to semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices” (Withdrawn: details here)
Sponsors: Baruth, Philip
Summary: A semiautomatic weapons ban with a (strange to me) laundry list of exceptions and inclusions. It would also ban magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds. It also establishes penalties for leaving guns accessible to children, should an accident occur.
My thoughts: I am not in favor of a ban on “semiautomatic assault weapons”. To a certain extent, I could understand a ban on high capacity magazines. The recent flurry of gun control legislation serves to close the barn door after the cows have already left. The penalties for leaving a gun accessible to a child seems straightforward, though. Even with a strongly Democratic Legislature, I don’t think this will pass in its current form.

S.36: “An act relating to paid parental leave”
Sponsors: Cummings, Ann
Summary: Qualified employees caring for a child following a birth or adoption will be entitled to take up to 15 weeks of paid leave from work.
My thoughts: I would expect a lot of pushback from the business community, but in general, I think this is a good idea.

S.38: “An act relating to expanding eligibility for driving and identification privileges in Vermont”
Sponsors: Baruth, Philip; Ashe, Tim; Ayer, Claire; Cummings, Ann; Fox, Sally; Lyons, Virginia “Ginny”; McCormack, Dick; Pollina, Anthony; White, Jeanette K.; Zuckerman, David
Summary: This bill allows for migrant workers who are “unable to establish lawful presence in the United States” to be issued a driver’s license.
My thoughts: This is part of delivering on what the Vermont Workers’ Center’s “Put People First” campaign is aiming to do. I agree that people should have the ability to get drivers’ licenses regardless of their immigration status.

S.40: “An act relating to establishing an interim committee that will develop policies to restore the 1980 ratio of state funding to student tuition at Vermont State Colleges and to make higher education more affordable”
Sponsors: Pollina, Anthony; Collins, Don; Cummings, Ann; Doyle, Bill; Lyons, Virginia “Ginny”; Westman, Richard; Zuckerman, David
Summary: “This bill proposes to establish an interim committee that will develop policies to restore the 1980 ratio of state funding to student tuition at Vermont State Colleges.” This ratio was 51%, and is currently less than 20%.
My thoughts: This is a smart move. Rather than diving in and issuing a decree, the Legislature is asking the real stakeholders – both administrators, legislators, and students(!) – to determine policies that might work to make Vermont’s public colleges more affordable.

S.42: “An act relating to computer science education”
Sponsors: Ashe, Tim
Summary: Computer science will become a mandatory topic to be taught in every grade.
My thoughts: I’m a computer scientist, so I have to admit to bias here, but aside from balancing coverage of all the important topics students are taught and budget considerations to teaching CS, this makes me really excited. I’ll have to remember to send Tim Ashe a Christmas card next year.

S.45: “An act relating to government surveillance activities”
Sponsors: Hartwell, Robert M.
Summary: Establishes that surveillance should only occur if (a) it’s State (or other government) property being monitored, (b) it is “undertaken on a case-by-case basis in connection with lawful investigation and enforcement activities”, or (c) has been ordered by a court.
My thoughts: Honestly, I was under the impression that this was how things worked currently, but if this closes a loophole that law enforcement agencies were previously exploiting, I endorse this wholeheartedly.

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