Gov. Phil Scott has been wearing out the old veto pen this year. He’s rejected a total of 11 bills this year, bringing his lifetime total to 35 according to VTDigger. He has nearly doubled the previous record-holder, Howard Dean, who amassed his 20 vetoes in 11 years. It’s taken Scott less than six years to rack up 35.
Scott has vetoed bills on questionable grounds before. But number 35 may be his dumbest one to date. H.728 would have ordered studies of a number of drug-related issues. But the one Scott objected to was a study of overdose prevention sites — places where people can use illicit drugs without fear of arrest.
I mean, c’mon, a study? The Legislature’s time-honored strategy for postponing tough decisions? What’s so objectionable about preparing a report that’s probably going to wind up sitting on a shelf gathering dust, or whatever the digital equivalent might be?
Well, if you look at his veto message, it appears that he misinterpreted the bill in a very fundamental way.
Scott wrote that the bill “directs the Administration to design a plan for the implementation of one or more overdose prevention sites.” Later in his message he wrote that H.728 “proposes to shift state policy and financial resources away from prevention and toward unproven strategies such as overdose prevention sites.”
The bill does none of those things.
H.728 would have required the Health Department to look into “the feasibility and costs of designating organizations to deliver peer-operated needle exchange.” It did not mandate “a plan for implementation,” and it most definitely did not propose “to shift state policy.”
The only tidbit of truth in the governor’s reasoning is the thing about “financial resources.” It would require some staff time to prepare a study. But Vermont departments and agencies do these things all the time! Gathering information and reporting to the Legislature is part of the job.
I suspect that Scott’s true motivation is antipathy toward safe injection sites. If his people do a study, it might show that the idea has merit. That’d make it tougher to hold a hard line while retaining his fig leaf of moderation.
In his veto message, Scott refers frequently to “unproven” or “experimental” strategies. And then he acknowledges that there is, in fact, evidence suggesting the programs work. But he’s got a ready excuse: the evidence “is for sites located in large cities, so it’s not applicable to the vast majority of Vermont.”
That’s quite the leap he took there. The processes of addiction are not limited to “large cities,” nor is there any reason to believe that metropolitan substance use disorders are different from small-town and rural disorders. If a safe injection site works in one place, it ought to work elsewhere.
Phil Scott is doubling down on his resistance even as record numbers of Vermonters are dying of overdoses. He doesn’t even want a study until we’ve had time to sort out the effectiveness of “the experimental decriminalization of buprenorphine” that he signed into law last year.
Maybe, just maybe, in the face of a substance use crisis — which we are clearly experiencing — it’s time to stop the slow-play and DO SOMETHING. I mean, Scott is always eager to implement unproven economic-development policies like new worker grant programs, tax breaks and subsidies for businesses, and tax increment financing districts.
Or maybe Scott should do it for the sake of his much-beloved rural Vermont. The Addiction Center:
While most people tend to think of large cities and urban areas as being a mecca for drug use and alcohol abuse, the number of people addicted to illicit and mind-altering substances is on the rise and, in some cases, even more prevalent in rural areas.
In fact, the problem is likely worse in rural areas. The Addiction Center observes that “in urban areas, treatment centers are significantly more accessible.” Rural areas tend to go begging, its residents suffering and dying in the shadows. If Scott cared about rural Vermont more than he cares about his outdated moralistic approach to drug issues, he’d be leading the charge instead of making himself an obstacle.
Scott’s almost certain Democratic opponent, Brenda Siegel, is a warrior on substance use issues. She will hold his feet to the fire. Too bad if that makes him a little uncomfortable.