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.