Shumlin says climate change, health will top agenda

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(Host) The leader of the state Senate wants lawmakers to focus on climate change and health care in the upcoming legislative session.

Senate President Peter Shumlin also says the legislature should de-criminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) With less than a week before the start of the 2008 legislative session, Senate President Peter Shumlin says lawmakers will be right back where they left off last year.

(Shumlin) “We’re going to pass two thoughtful energy bills. The first is the fantastic bill that I remind you Al Gore called the best in the country. The House is going to tune that up and send it back to the governor, with some improvements.”

(Dillon) Last year’s bill would have expanded the state’s energy efficiency programs to cover all sources of energy, not just electricity. But Governor Jim Douglas vetoed the bill because he objected to paying for it with a tax on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

Shumlin says the legislation is needed because Vermonters are spending more and more money to heat their homes and businesses.

He won’t identify a funding source, but he says legislative consultants will recommend one.

And he wants legislation that implements the 38 recommendations of the governor’s commission on climate change. Douglas has delayed action on many of the recommendations because of concern about the potential cost. Shumlin says that’s an excuse.

(Shumlin) “The toughest part of passing climate legislation that makes a difference isn’t how to pay for it. That’s the excuse of folks who want to stand still. The toughest part is figuring out what to do, folks. We’ve got to get off our addiction to oil.”

(Dillon) But Rob Roper, the executive director of the state Republican Party said Shumlin is wrong, and that the state can’t afford new programs.

(Roper) “I think right now Vermonters are worried about staying in their homes, heating their houses, keeping their health insurance on money they have. Can they expect a new tax increase to pay for these new programs? Or the people who are dependent on government programs that are in existence now can they expect to see have benefits cut to pay for these new programs? He didn’t tell us. But there’s an answer in there somewhere.”

(Dillon) Shumlin also wants lawmakers to consider decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

He says the law should reflect what is already the practice in court, where most first time offenders are sent to diversion programs.

(Shumlin) “Prosecutors across the state are starving for resources. Let’s use those resources for the folks that are really changing the state of Vermont. Those folks are heroin, crack cocaine, and regulated drug pushers – oxycontin and the rest – who have resulted in a higher violent crime rate in Vermont than any of us would like.”

(Dillon) And Shumlin spoke out strongly against Governor Douglas’ plan to lease the state lottery for a $50 million up front payment.

Shumlin said if the state wants to make more money from legalized gambling it should do it on its own, rather than allow investment firms to reap the benefit from increased lottery sales.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.



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