From the Statehouse

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By Paul Dame

We’re coming up to the home stretch in Montpelier, and the House of Representatives has completed most of the work it will do this year. We will be waiting to see how much of it finds approval, or is undone, by the Senate.

For the few remaining weeks, we will be focused on reviewing the work done by the Senate in the first half of the year. On Friday my committee, House Human Services, completed our work on S.9, the child protection bill that came from the Senate. The largest change has been to remove the new “failure to protect” law that was in the Senate-passed version. There was considerable concern over this provision since it would cast a very wide net and likely serve as a road block for parents coming forward on their own to get help, and put many child care providers at risk of committing a felony.

I am very appreciative to the members of the community who contacted me about this bill with their first-hand experience, either as social workers, parent’s rights advocates, or others. We are expecting another amendment to the bill which would create the office of Child Protection Advocate, which would serve as a watch dog over the Department of Children and Families, the courts and other parts of our child protection system.

Last week we had a very passionate debate about a bill that would have banned both teachers strikes and the ability of school boards to impose contracts on the teachers union. Vermont is the only state in New England that allows teachers strikes. The effort came within one vote of passing with Democrats, Republicans and Independents working together to put an end to the circumstances that put so many teachers, students and parents into incredibly difficult circumstances. However, the Democratic leadership worked hard to ensure that the bill was eventually stripped down and replaced with a “study” of the issue, which ultimately failed.

This served as a lesson to this freshman legislator about some of the workings of the Statehouse. H.76 was originally a bill to ban teachers strikes and contract impositions, but it was amended to remove the key provisions of the bill. So now many who voted against those provisions can tell voters they voted “for” the bill, when what they actually voted for was drastically different. To know where legislators really stand on the issue, voters have to look for roll call on the “LaLonde Amendment” which kept the original bill largely intact.

This comes after the House passed an education bill (H.361) that would essentially require schools to cap spending at 2 to 3 percent over the next three years, so nearly every school board in the state will be faced with the choice of either laying off teachers or significantly cutting back benefits. With teachers unlikely to go along with either, I see too many communities across the state reaching an impasse, with more negotiations than usual coming to either contract impositions or teachers strikes. I hope for the sake of our children and their education I am wrong about this prediction. Either way, I think the legislature missed an opportunity to deescalate a difficult situation that they themselves created for teachers and school boards, which will ultimately affect our kids and families.

Paul Dame represents Essex Junction in the Vermont House of Representatives.