Tag Archives: Bill Lippert

It’s looking like the vaccine bill will get a vote — UPDATED

Although I favor repealing the philosophical exemption for childhood vaccinations, I’ve been predicting that the issue will be pulled from the House calendar due to (1) time constraints and (2) unwillingness to tackle yet another controversy.

Looks like I was wrong.

House Speaker Shap Smith was on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show this morning, and he indicated that the vaccine bill (H.98) would be up for a vote on Tuesday. In his own typically oblique way; if pressed on his answer, I’m sure he’d say that he didn’t promise a vote on Tuesday. Here are his exact words:

It’s very possible that it could come to a vote on Tuesday in the House. It’s not a caucus issue; I don’t think it’s a caucus issue on either side. It looks to me that there is signifant support to remove the philosophical exemption; I think there’s some room around that to maybe give people time to address that. I don’t know when the implementation date will be for it, whether there needs to be a transition plan for schools. There are a number of internal issues that we’ve got to deal with, but it would not surprise me to see that come to the floor next week.

Cute. The guy who’s in charge of scheduling the calendar says “it would not surprise me” to see the bill pop up on the calendar. Hahaha.

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Glass half full, glass half empty

There are two ways of looking at the 2015 legislative session so far. Well, two if you’re on the left-of-center side of the political equation. The right, I suppose, is probably in full Ted Cruz “The World Is On Fire” mode.

You can look at it like Progressive Rep. Chris Pearson during last week’s House budget debate, lamenting big cuts to human services: “There have been program cuts every year since I joined the legislature in 2006.”

The glass is half empty. If you’re a liberal or progressive Vermonter, it seems like we’ve been in constant retreat since Peter Shumlin took office. And it got worse after the November election, with conventional wisdom telling us that Republican gains were due to Democratic overreach, the governor abandoning single-payer health care, and Democrats scurrying to the center.

Then there’s the glass-half-full approach. House Ways and Means Committee chair Janet Ancel noted that this year’s tax bill represented the biggest one-year revenue increase in all her years on the committee. And Health Care Committee chair BIll Lippert had this phlegmatic reaction to the rapid diminution of the health care reform bill:

We knew when we put that together it was robust. That was our job, to articulate priorities and how to get there. But I think in the context of the $35 million that was raised on the floor [in the tax bill], and $8 million for the lake [Champlain], if we were so fortunate as to have $20 million for health care, that’s a pretty big appetite for raising revenue in one year. So I would be pleased to have that much dedicated to health care in a year that’s as financially difficult as this.

And, the unspoken corollary: “I won’t be surprised if we get less than $20 million.”

Which leads back to my previous post, “Peter Shumlin: Defender of Liberalism.” If the House is stripping most or all the funding from health care initiatives, we’ll have to depend on the Governor’s political muscle — if he still has any — to get it back.

Anyway, which way do you see it: glass half full or glass half empty?

The current situation has echoes throughout the five-plus-year tenure of Gov. Shumlin. He’s delivered some good stuff, more than many liberals are willing to admit, while keeping the ship afloat in tough budgetary times. Plus, he’s been swimming against three powerful tides: a sluggish recovery which has yet to benefit the middle or working classes, a tax system that has failed to keep up with our changing economy, and the effort to fully fund public-sector pension plans that were revenue-starved by previous administrations. (Lookin’ at you, Tom Pelham.)

On the other hand, many of Shumlin’s promises have been curtailed or abandoned — most notably single payer health care, the issue that arguably won him the 2010 Democratic primary and hence the governorship. Plus, liberal expectations were inflated, fairly or not, possibly both, by the size of the Democratic majority. Shumlin and legislative Democrats never seemed to realize how much political capital they had; and now, much of it is gone, unspent.

And on the other other hand, it’s not as if the last five years have been without accomplishment. And it’s not as if this legislative session will be a failure if we don’t get significant movement on health care reform.

It’ll just kinda feel like one.

.House Health Care gets the brown plate special

Recently, the House Health Care Committee passed a health care bill that raised $52 million in new revenue to pay for an array of reforms, including better Medicaid reimbursement for providers and more premium support for the working poor. It proposed raising the revenue through a payroll tax and a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

Then it went to the Ways and Means Committee, which couldn’t agree on either tax. Technically they have yet to agree, but they did send guidance to the Health Care Committee that it should craft a plan requiring no more than $20 million a year. Ways and Means is reportedly moving toward a smaller version of the beverage tax to raise that money, although nothing is final.

Well, as one of my childhood heroes, Detroit Lions great Joe Schmidt, says, “Life is a shit sandwich, and every day you take another bite.” When the Health Care Committee reconvened this morning with that guidance in mind, they looked like they’d been served the Brown Plate Special. Glum faces all around. As committee chair BIll Lippert said, tongue slightly in cheek, “We can’t do all that we have to do.”

Committee members had no clear idea how to proceed. There were widely varying ideas. Anytime a specific cut of any size was suggested, sound and reasonable objections were voiced.

When they looked at the overall picture, some members wanted to make big cuts here and hold harmless there; but they all had different heres and theres.

At the end of a necessarily brief discussion (before the House convened for the day), Lippert thanked everyone for their input and said he would try to put together a proposal for futther discussion. And he noted that the committee would need to adopt some kind of bill by the end of the day tomorrow. He didn’t sound very happy.

Whatever Health Care comes up with, it’s likely to face the ax down the road. It’s still unclear whether Ways and Means can pass the reduced beverage tax, to say nothing of its fate in the full House and Senate. If I were a betting man, I’d say any new health care initiatives are going to be whittled down to nothing, or nearly so.

Our Leaders will plead fiscal responsibility in tough times, and perhaps start looking for a bone to throw to disaffected liberals.

For health care expansion and SSBT, a long road ahead

Last week brought some relatively cheery news for fans of better access to health care and of the sugar-sweetened beverage tax. The House Health Care Committee passed a fairly wide-ranging bill that would help close the Medicaid gap, provide more assistance to working-class Vermonters seeking health insurance and encourage more primary care providers, among other things. To pay for all that, the Committee opted for a two-pronged approach: the revised 0.3% payroll tax proposed by Gov. Shumlin, plus the two-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

A good package, a nice bill. But is it a meaningful step, or simply a McGuffin? When you read between the lines of Committee chair Bill Lippert’s statement, and see the slightly shopworn look on his face, well, you start thinking the latter.

I have no illusions that what we propose will be a final product at the end of the session, but it was our responsibility… to identify and articulate priorities that could make a difference now and could be investments for the future, even in a time of tight budgetary constraints.

Glass half full, or glass half empty? I hear a guy resigning himself to the inevitable disembowelment of his bill.

Enough inference. The next stop is the Ways and Means Committee, where opinion is split on the SSBT and there’s widespread opposition to the payroll tax. After that, well, there’s a lot of room for pessimism.

There’s little appetite for raising taxes in Montpelier — or should I say “raising more taxes,” since tax increases will almost certainly be part of a budget-balancing deal. (Front runner: Ways and Means chair Janet Ancel’s plan to cap itemized deductions at 2.5 times the standard deduction.) There’s also the EPA-mandated Lake Champlain cleanup that needs funding. In this climate, it’ll be hard to justify funding the health care package as well.

Regarding the SSBT specifically, Governor Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith don’t like it. Really, there aren’t many real fans; some just see it as the least bad option. Most lawmakers seem allergic to the payroll tax, even in reduced form. But let’s say, just for the heck of it, that the Health Care Committee’s bill passes the House. What awaits in the Senate, that notorious den of centrism where liberal House bills go to die?

“I wouldn’t predict what a vote today would be,” says Senate Finance Committee chair Tim Ashe (more D and less P with each passing day). “I’d say they both start in difficult places in terms of a Senate vote. Individual committees may be more or less favorable, but in the whole Senate, both would struggle to pass at this time.”

Gulp. Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. So I guess that leaves us with no money for enhancing our partially-fixed health care system?

“That’s an open question,” says Ashe. “There are the resources to pay for new initiatives or increased support for existing initiatives can come from existing sources or new revenues.”

Oh really? You’ve found a pot of money somewhere?

“I’ll mention just one resource. …This year, Vermonters without insurance are going to ship about six million bucks to the federal government in a penalty. Next year that money goes up to 12 to 14 because the penalty basically doubles.

“So 23,000 Vermonters will be shipping all that money to Washington, and they will get nothing for it. Question is, is there a way to help them NOT send the money to Washington and get nothing for it, but to keep the dollars here and give them something for it? I don’t know what the answer to that is, [but] it makes you scratch your head and say, ‘Well, jeez, wouldn’t it be easier if they just had insurance here?'”

Nice to see the Senator thinking outside the box, BUT… he himself admits he doesn’t know the answer to that. And even if we could somehow funnel the penalty money into health insurance, we’re talking “about six million bucks” this year and 12 mill the year after that. That’s a far cry from the Health Care Committee’s $70 million a year.

Six million, or even 12, isn’t going to buy you a whole lot of improvement. The Medicaid gap would remain painfully wide, and good-quality insurance would remain out of reach for many working Vermonters.

But that’s the kind of year we’ve got. Best to ratchet down expectations.

Of course, we’re now looking at budget gaps in the $50 million range for each of the following two years. Substantial health care reform keeps receding further over the horizon. And universal access? Rapidly approaching pipe dream territory.

The Good Ship Two-Tax leaves the harbor

“Yes.”

That’s the one-word answer I got from House Health Care Committee chair Bill Lippert (D-’Burbs). The question? Did he consult with Speaker Shap Smith and Governor Shumlin before proposing a two-tax approach to funding health care?

As you may have heard, Lippert’s committee yesterday passed a health care bill including a .3% payroll tax and a two-cents-per-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage tax. Thus confounding the predictions of low-budget Vermont Political Observers (ahem) who thought the introduction of the lower payroll tax might be the death knell for the beverage tax.

Asked to elaborate on his one-word revelation, Lippert unsurprisingly didn’t offer much:

“…there are different points of view on different parts of the bill. That’s all I can say, really. The Governor’s made clear that he’s a fan of the payroll tax and not a fan of the sugar sweetened beverage tax.”

Of course, in this budgetary environment, the governor’s going to wind up accepting some items he’s “not a fan of.”

On the other hand, the Health Care Committee is a relatively safe harbor for the beverage tax; it approved the tax last time around, only to see it run aground in Ways and Means. So, will it be smooth sailing for the committee’s bill this year?

Nah.

“Sail through? No, it will not sail through. There are waves and shoals and whatever metaphor you want to use. I’m looking forward to it not being a shipwreck.”

At that point, we abandoned the metaphor. Point being, Lippert has no illusions about the permanence of the vessel — oops — he’s built.

He makes a good case for it, from a liberal point of view. Since the Governor reduced his payroll tax plan, the combo tax was an alternative way to fund an array of health care reforms aimed at broadening access, reducing the uninsured, encouraging expansion of primary care offerings, and further bending the cost curve.

The bill would improve available subsidies in the health care exchange for those making between 133% and 300% of the federal poverty level. Even with current subsidies, many of the working poor can’t afford health insurance. Or their coverage has such high out-of-pocket costs that they can’t afford to use it. Kind of defeats the purpose of health insurance, no?

The sugar-sweetened beverage tax, Lippertays, makes sense as a funding source for health care because it “raises revenue, but is also a way to invest in longer-term behavioral changes and better health.”

Of course, he acknowledges diverse opinions about the beverage tax, even on his own committee, and expects more of the same going forward:

I have no illusions that what we propose will be a final product at the end of the session, but it was our responsibility, and I was given the direction, to work with the committee to identify and articulate priorities that could make a difference now and could be investments for the future, even in a time of tight budgetary constraints. We may have exceeded that, but we did our best.

A number of us came into this session saying, we’re not going to be able to move forward on the universal access through single payer, but there is still reason for us to move forward in a significant way in health care.

Moving forward “in a significant way” required more revenue than the Governor’s reduced payroll tax would provide. Problem is, there’s pretty broad disagreement on the relative merits of the payroll tax and the beverage tax — across party lines. At this point, there’s no consensus on how to pay for health care reforms, or how much to pay. The likeliest outcome: a lot of the reform provisions will wind up on the cutting-room floor as legislative compromises eat away at the Health Care Committee’s revenue proposals.

Profiles in Courage, Dick Sears Edition… again

It may be the offseason for lawmaking, but there’s still some occasional activity under the Golden Dome. Yes, even aside from the well-chronicled bats in our communal belfry.

Yesterday brought a hearing of the Joint Corrections Oversight Committee. On its agenda: State Auditor Doug Hoffer’s audit of the Sex Offender Registry, which found an 11% rate of “critical errors.” Which triggered a requirement in state law that the Registry must receive a “favorable” audit before the state can start posting home addresses of offenders. Which triggered yesterday’s committee meeting.

Okay, what do you think? Is an 11% “critical error” rate is a “favorable” result?

I thought not.

According to VTDigger’s Laura Krantz, most of the committee also thought not.

Rep. Sandy Haas, P/D-Rochester, said the committee should put in writing that the audit is not favorable. Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, agreed.

Seems simple enough. Ah, but then Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears runbled into action. Or should I say, inaction.

Sears… said to admit the audit is not positive could create fodder for a lawsuit from a defense attorney. He also worried a judgment would be binding and perhaps require another audit before the addresses can go online.

Dick Sears, who gets a lot of credit in State House circles for being a wise old hand, does this a lot. If any idea comes up that might possibly create some legal bills for the state, he puts his foot down. And so, the Joint Committee “declined to pass judgment” on whether the audit was favorable. Thus ignoring plan old common sense and, if you ask me, the requisites of justice.

Because although the vast majority of the problems uncovered in the audit have been fixed, the system remains flawed and is virtually certain to start pumping out fresh errors.

And what if we start publishing home addresses and a non-offender winds up on the list complete with home address? Or if an offender’s listed home address is wrong? Those are critical errors that could lead to disrupted lives, communities in turmoil, or even vigilante justice.

I don’t know where the Legislature goes from here. There’s clearly an appetite for posting home addresses, but there’s an obvious need to make the Registry as mistake-proof as humanly possible before that step is taken. And there probably isn’t much of an appetite for a better system that’d probably cost more money. So I guess they’ve bravely kicked this can down the road. Thanks to the “leadership” of good old Dick Sears.