Shumlin confident death with dignity, child-care worker unionization, marijuana decriminalization bills will pass this year

Gov. Peter Shumlin at a Fifth Floor presser, Nov. 27, 2012. Photo by Anne Galloway

Gov. Peter Shumlin at a Fifth Floor presser, Nov. 27, 2012. Photo by Anne Galloway

Gov. Peter Shumlin told reporters on Tuesday he is confident the Vermont Legislature will pass bills that address four social issues he sees as priorities this year: death with dignity, child care worker unionization, marijuana decriminalization and a plan to issue driver’s licenses to migrant dairy farm workers.

“I’m confident whoever leads the various bodies in the Legislature that we can pass decriminalization of marijuana, death with dignity and the workers bill for child care workers,” Shumlin said. “We’re going to get them done.”

Several of the aforementioned bills faced significant opposition from lawmakers in the Democratic majority of the Vermont Senate in the last biennium. Death with dignity, a bill that allows terminally ill patients to take their own lives with a prescription of lethal drugs, was bottled up in the Senate Judiciary last year and was tacked onto legislation banning teenage tanning bed use. The blue dog Dems in the Senate then blocked passage of the measure on the floor. The child care worker unionization bill met a similar fate. House Speaker Shap Smith has openly opposed the marijuana decriminalization bill, but has said he “will not stand in the way” of legislation this year. The migrant worker licensing bill was relegated to a summer study committee last session.

What makes the governor so sure that the four pieces of legislation will pass? “It’s the right thing to do, and the Legislature will do what’s right for Vermonters,” Shumlin said.

“Listen, when we look at our drug policy in this state, we’re facing major challenges and hurdles,” Shumlin said. “Every day there is some accident, some tragedy that reminds us Oxycontin, heroin and other drugs are driving crime, driving addiction and breaking up families. To spend our limited law enforcement resources going after folks who are using small amounts of marijuana just doesn’t make any sense. A lot of states have figured that out already. Vermont’s usually a leader; on this one we’re a lagger.”

Shumlin said he supports the death with dignity bill because he doesn’t understand why the state should interfere in a private decision made by an individual who has a terminal illness and wants to avoid suffering through the last 10 to 14 days of life.

The governor wants to see the state pass legislation to enable issuance of a modified driver’s license to migrant workers because “we can’t bring milk to market without guest workers in Vermont.”

Chuck Ross, the secretary of Agriculture, will play a major role in developing migrant worker license legislation.

“We think we can come up with a solution for Vermont that’s different than the existing driver’s licenses everyone else uses, but will allow our guest workers to get to the store, get their kids to the doctor,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin portrayed his re-election as something of a referendum on the issue. (His opponent Randy Brock, a Republican, adamantly opposed the license legislation.)

“Vermonters feel that getting milk to market, allowing our agricultural communities to prosper is important,” Shumlin said. “We think national immigration policy is ill-advised and it’s not serving Vermont well. Meanwhile, we ought to acknowledge we have migrant workers in Vermont and give them the ability to … be part of our communities.”

He said nationally, the election results show that thoughtful immigration reform is an issue both parties, Democrats and Republicans, must address.

“This isn’t a white boy country any more, and you better be prepared in public policy to embrace the great melting pot of this country,” Shumlin said.

The child care unionization bill is also a high priority for the governor, though a boost in state subsidies for workers could be some time off as the state faces a $50 million deficit in the coming year.

“The most productive thing we can do for the future of the state and for Vermonters is invest in early childhood education,” Shumlin said. “We continue to pay substandard levels of pay for the most important work anyone does in this state, so i just think it makes common sense that we give them the right … to work together as providers. I don’t think Vermonters would begrudge them of that right.”

Shumlin will also push ahead again with a prescription drug monitoring bill that would allow law enforcement to view aggregated pharmaceutical data. The Vermont American Civil Liberties Union led a pitched battle against the bill in the last session over fears that the legislation would give police access to private medical information. Shumlin dismissed that notion.

“We are not asking to give law enforcement access to anyone’s medical records,” Shumlin said. “We don’t think that would be the right thing to do. All we’re asking for is the ability for the community to share with law enforcement access to pharmacies that may have been abused in the last weeks and months.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:11 a.m. Nov. 28.

Follow Anne on Twitter @GallowayVTD

Anne GallowayAnne Galloway

Comments

  1. David Black :

    Like the saying goes: Becareful what you wish for. By the way, what is wrong with the way thing were or are?

  2. Guy Page :

    Speaking just for myself, it should be noted that Gov. Shumlin has confidently predicted passage of the assisted suicide law every year, and every year it goes down in flames. As it did in Massachusetts this November – in one of the most under-reported stories of the year, the people of Massachusetts, with the urging of the widow of Sen. Ted Kennedy, rejected a “death with dignity” referendum, even while voting for Pres. Obama and electing a Democratic senator (Warren) over a sitting Republican (Brown). The Bay State did not have a Tea Party experience, rather they acted on their own cherished values of compassion for the needy, and said “no” to end-of-life suicide.

    IMHO there are many good reasons for its persistent failure, despite a determined push from national activists. For starters, the active support for assisted suicide as Vermont law is quite narrow – the core, a group of politically active seniors from Shelburne, do not lack for persistence, but they are not representative of a grassroots trend of Vermonters, whatever they might claim. Their oft-mentioned poll numbers are based on a “feel good” question that bears little real-world resemblence to the nitty gritty of assisted suicide as it would be practiced. And that is the problem – the nitty gritty. The devil is in the details, the real-world consequences. I have seen the expression on the face of my troubled, suicide-prone teenaged son as he declared that the bill’s supporters were hypocrites because they are preaching one thing to him (“it never gets so bad that suicide is an option”) and another to themselves (“if you want, suicide is an option”). Against such a conclusion there is drawing distinctions or making fine points – it is just waved away as adult BS. I have also heard the fear in my wife’s voice as she told me, shortly after enduring some very expensive surgery, that some hospital social worker wanted her to sign a “do not resuscitate” order. To Diane (sinced passed away), this was not due diligence in trying to determine the patient’s wishes – the message she heard was “you are expensive and if we can avoid further expense, that would be okay with us, sign here if you agree.” So just the fear of her medically-permitted demise drove a wedge between her and her caregivers at a critical time in her care.

    Patients like my wife need to know that the doctors are on their side, always. Teens need to hear an unequivocal message that suicide is never an option. Both of these vital social contracts are compromised and corrupted by making doctors the bringers of death. I could go on and on, and I expect other Vermonters also will share their stories about why this is not a good idea, at all, for society at large.

    And I close with one final thought – in explaining his support for the bill, Gov. Shumlin invoked the fear of a woman dying in terrible pain. This fear is horribly understandable by all, but I have been told by medical experts that the norm in end-of-life care now, even for cancer, is a dignified, pain-free passage. Vermont must continue to provide for all of the needs of the living patient, so that they may have true “death with dignity.”

    • Karl Riemer :

      If I understand you correctly, you are sufficiently convinced that because your teenage son misconstrued a message, and your fearful wife mischaracterized a routine offer, we should collectively forbid anyone from making a private decision that you, yourself, might not make.
      It’s true that many approach this issue with the discerning intellect of angry teenagers, or the paranoia of helpless hospital patients, but holding up their false reasoning and false conclusions as standards by which we should judge the merit of this legislation is irresponsible.

  3. Margo Howland :

    I would like to see three of the four bills passed. The so-called “death with dignity” law needs to be relegated to the ash heap. It’s assisted sucide and flies in the face of the Hippocratic oath, “First do no harm.” There should be more education about palliative care. Properly provided, palliative care provides the person in the end stages of life comfort and freedom from pain. Both of my elderly parents spent their final days in their own home, free from pain, aware of and enjoying the presence of their loved ones around them. My father died a few days before Christmas nine years ago. He looked around at his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren standing in the glow of the Christmas lights singing Christmas carols to him, and he beamed at my mother and said, “This is the happiest day of my life.” My mother also died during the Christmas holiday season (New Year’s Day) and spent her last days with a contented smile as her extended family spent time with her, reading to her, reciting poetry that she loved (she’d recite right along with us), and sharing music. She had hospice, the best of palliative care, and comfort measures. Now THAT was a dignified death.

    • Karl Riemer :

      If only it could always be so.
      As is often the case, anecdotes about when something isn’t needed are utterly irrelevant to a discussion of when it is. Often, this being a case in point, the arguments against seem predicated on an assumption that allowing an option makes that option normal, usual or mandatory. Has legalizing same-sex marriage triggered an epidemic of previously content people trading in their opposite-sex spouses for ones of the same sex? Seriously, try, even occasionally, speaking to the actual issue, which is the sanctity of a personal, private decision between a doctor (who has probably thought about the Hippocratic Oath in more detail than you have) and a patient that is really none of your business.

  4. Jim Barrett :

    Shumlin or should I say skumlin is just another example of a person who many of you voted for………! Now the elderly, sick, depressed, those without family for protection have to worry about is a damn government killing them. This entire issue is sick bigtime to even think of some government agency having the responsibility for ending another humans life via a doctor. This country is going straight to he.. and no one seems to care…….there is no one left for the sick to depend on. Anyone who trusts any government to supervise a killing of anyone is totally dreaming, they can’t run a social security program or medicare to say nothing of participating in the premature death of a citizen. If this is passed, it will be the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it and SKUMLIN should be held responsible!

    • krister adams :

      Jim: Neither the State nor anyone else but the individual gets to decide to end their life. As the article states…”Shumlin said he supports the death with dignity bill because he doesn’t understand why the state should interfere in a private decision made by an individual who has a terminal illness and wants to avoid suffering through the last 10 to 14 days of life.”

  5. Stephanie Wheelock :

    Governor Shumlin got it right – allowing child care providers to organize is a first step to fixing our child care system. While we are all dedicated to the work that we do, there is still a 40% turnover rate in our profession. It is time to elevate the profession to the level it deserves

  6. rosemarie jackowski :

    About the ‘Death Bill’… First we need to never allow 300 cases of reported abuse of the disabled and elderly to go ignored. Then we need to understand that the leading cause of violent death of elderly wpomen in Vermont is murder by a family member. Then we need to stop ‘suggesting’ that it is the elderly, in the last months of life, who use up all of the money for health care. Imagine the guilt that lays on Grandpa. I could write a book on this topic, but it would probably be banned in Vermont (just like the last book I wrote).

    Then we need to end ‘agism’ in our culture. This form of prejudice against the elderly/disabled/ill would not be tolerated by any other group. “Death with dignity” is hate speech. Let’s call it what it is. We need to insure ‘life with dignity’ till the very end.

    Please see this article and the comments that follow it.
    http://mwcnews.net/focus/politics/16528-humanize-or-euthanize.html

  7. William Dods :

    This is a curious agenda indeed for Shumlin to choose for a headline for the second term. The governor has chosen to highlight social issues rather than the huge economic issues that face this state and will obviously have a greater impact on the lives of Vermonters. Why no mention of his massive overhaul of healthcare? Why no mention of the costs of rebuilding after Irene? Why no mention of some strategy for economic growth? Why no mention of energy policy?
    This is either an attempt to distract the public from the really “hard things” or the beginning of the Democratic Party overreaching. Or both.

  8. rosemarie jackowski :

    Why is it not available at my local public tax supported library? I had donated copies to them so that no one would have to pay to read it.

    You are correct. It is not banned at independent book stores – such as The Northshire… hopefully it will be back up on Amazon soon.

  9. Bob Moyer :

    The “Death With Dignity” bill should be passed – many of us would like to have that choice. Faced with a fatal, debilitating illness, if I did not have the assurance that someone could assist my departure from this world, I would feel I had to take steps to do so myself while I was still able to do so, probably long before I would choose to do so otherwise.

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