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Reason #62,742 Why I Love Vermont

April 20, 2011 1:49 pm Category: News Leave a comment A+ / A-

The last time I was this thrilled with the Vermont Speaker of the House was when Mike Obuchowski held the job, but not anymore. Now let’s add Speaker Shap Smith to the list of courageous Vermont Speakers for the ground breaking work that has been coming out of the House lately. As I look around this country and see some of the insane things that are happening in other states, it makes me so proud to be a Vermonter. It’s almost like we’re not even part of the same country. It’s like we live in some alternative universe where people look out for one another and where government is part of the solution, and not as others would have us believe, part of the problem.
For your review, two examples of how a small state can lead the nation: First, what was affectionately called the “Break Bill;” and next, what we’ve all been waiting for, meaningful healthcare reform legislation.
While many of us were drinking Guinness Stout and dancing jigs on Saint Patrick’s Day, the Vermont House was embroiled in a debate over whether workers deserve breaks while they work. Yep, your read that right. As crazy as it would seem, Vermont had no real rules on the breaks that employees would get while on the job. Employers were expected to give “reasonable” breaks to employees. This was interpreted by some unscrupulous employers to mean no breaks at all, and it has been an issue that was never really enforced by our Department of Labor because of the ambiguity of the state statute. That’s about ready to change.
According to the Vermont Workers Center in Burlington, one of the chief complaints they get from workers from all around Vermont is the inability for them to take proper breaks while working. It would seem that to go to the bathroom, or to stop for a bite to eat, or even to step out of the fray long enough to catch your breath is an unacceptable burden on employers. If you listen to the Vermont Chamber of Commerce (VCC), and the Vermont Grocers Association (VGA), you’d think that this new law is going to shutter every Ma and Pop store in the state, but then, they say that about any law that will effect their members. Well, at least they are consistent.
I don’t know about you, but it would seem to me that regular breaks are a good thing. In the utility world regular breaks give you a breather from hard and dangerous work in weather conditions that aren’t always ideal. It gives us a chance to measure progress of a given job, and map out the strategy that will take the task to completion. I know that if I’m hungry, or hot, or cold, or need to go to the bathroom, it means I’m distracted. In the utility business a moment of distraction can mean a lifetime of pain and suffering, or even death. That’s why we get regular breaks. It keeps us sharp and more productive, and wouldn’t every employer want sharp and productive workers?
Next up was healthcare reform. Once again, after two days of heated debate, the Vermont House passed a groundbreaking healthcare reform bill, and became one of the first states to comply with Obamacare and set up our “healthcare exchange.” This is huge! Once again, if you are looking around the country you’ll find that there are states that would rather fight Obamacare in the courts, than to begin to take the steps to control costs and provide affordable care for their residents. Even here, the usual cast of characters (VCC & VGA) were out in force to kill this bill, and the vote was more or less along party lines.
It’s sort of funny that all of the tired old arguments that were so effective at gutting our national healthcare reform effort were useless here in Vermont, and I think I know why. Two things, first, we have been talking about healthcare reform since the early 1970s and there are very few aspects of this debate that Vermonters don’t have a deep understanding of, and this makes it virtually impossible for us to be misled; and second, it doesn’t matter who you ask under the Golden Dome, to do nothing is no longer an option. Between our aging population and the run-a-way costs of health insurance, Speaker Smith summed it up when he said, “I think that we all know, and there was universal agreement on the House floor, that the current system will bankrupt us. Costs of healthcare in Vermont are going up one million dollars a day. They are two billion dollars more than they were ten years ago. We have a problem and we need to solve it.”
The bill is by no means perfect, and there are still lots of details that need to be worked out. For example, there really is no way to pay for a single payer healthcare system in this bill, and it doesn’t call for one to be in place before 2013. Ah, as they say, the devil is in the details. However, for now, let’s all just wallow in the glow of being so far ahead of the rest of the nation on this one vital issue.
Meanwhile, these bills are now entrusted to the very capable hands of our very own State Senator, and now President Pro Tem of the Senate, John Campbell. With his leadership I just know that the bills will only get better before they make their way to the Governor’s desk. Wow, I’m so proud of our lawmakers!
Contact the author at stautdter@sover.net

Reason #62,742 Why I Love Vermont Reviewed by on . The last time I was this thrilled with the Vermont Speaker of the House was when Mike Obuchowski held the job, but not anymore. Now let’s add Speaker Shap Smith The last time I was this thrilled with the Vermont Speaker of the House was when Mike Obuchowski held the job, but not anymore. Now let’s add Speaker Shap Smith Rating:
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