Legislative preview: Energy, health care and education on tap for legislators
BRATTLEBORO -- State Sen. Peter Galbraith is not a fan of industrial wind power in Vermont.
About to embark on his second term as a Democratic Windham County senator, Galbraith said he wants to impose a moratorium on development of turbines on state land while also allowing affected communities to have more say in such projects.
"This is an issue that certainly will be a major source of debate," Galbraith said.
He was among the Windham County state lawmakers who gathered recently at the Reformer for a discussion about the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 9.
They expect the legislature to tackle big topics including the environment, health care and energy. One of the most-discussed issues was education, with state Rep. Valerie Stuart saying the state must do more to promote readiness for kindergarten, college and careers.
The Democrat from Brattleboro's District 1 cited statistics including the fact that, when reaching kindergarten age, only 56 percent of Vermont children are deemed sufficiently ready for those classes. Stuart, who hopes to again sit on the House Education Committee, also said post-secondary education is becoming increasingly important.
"Over three-quarters of the jobs of the future will require some sort of college education," she said.
State Rep. Ann Manwaring, a Wilmington Democrat representing Windham District 6, called for a "bottom-up" approach to education policy that would emphasize policies that are working on the local level.
When it comes to educational results, "the needle isn't moving very much, no matter how much we pay for schools," Manwaring said. "I believe we really need to look at education as a system."
Overall, she added, "we have to put public education and the success of it at the same level that we've put health care."
That's a reference to the state's continuing effort to enact a centralized, single-payer health-care system by 2017. Galbraith said he is concerned that the debate about how to pay for such a system could be "kicked down the road" to future sessions.
"Unless you figure out how to pay for it, you really haven't created a system," he said.
The legislators addressed a variety of other issues including:
On the energy front, Galbraith believes encouraging greater energy efficiency is a much more effective tool for addressing climate change than wind power.
"Industrial wind in Vermont is about making a statement that we care about global warming at the expense of our ridgelines, when in fact w''re doing nothing about global warming," Galbraith said.
He wants to introduce legislation that would impose a moratorium on developing industrial-size wind turbines on state-owned land. Also, he wants to require that any such development would need the consent of affected communities.
That includes not only those towns that would host turbines but also those that are situated nearby within view of the towers.
"You need to define what is an ‘affected community,'" Galbraith said.
Encouraging economic development hinges on such initiatives as broadband expansion, workforce development and creation of affordable housing, said state Rep. John Moran, a Wardsboro Democrat who represents the Windham-Bennington House district.
Moran wants a "worker-friendly State of Vermont" that offers livable wages. "If you work and you still can't afford to live, there's a problem there," he said.
Moran also wants to encourage "open and responsive budgeting" at the state level.
"It will give us a (better) sense of how we're allocating our resources," he said.
State Rep. David Deen, a Westminster Democrat representing the Windham 4 district, chaired the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee in his last term.
Deen said he is interested in issues including storm-water management, pollution in the Connecticut River watershed and the controversial potential for transporting "tar sands" oil through the state.
"There will be legislation dealing with transmission of tar sands through pipelines in Vermont," Deen said.
* About 16 months after Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont, the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- and its perceived shortcomings -- still is on many legislators' minds.
"I am going to put a spotlight on them and do some public hearings," Deen said.
State Rep. Tristan Toleno, a Democrat who will be serving his first term representing Brattleboro's District 3, said food issues, health and fitness and obesity are among his concerns.
State Rep. Carolyn Partridge, a Democrat from the town of Windham who represents the Windham 3 district, chaired the House Agriculture Committee during her previous term.
She remains interested in issues including Farm to Plate and the mandatory labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Previous efforts to pass a GMO-labeling bill have failed.
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