Following the appointments of two conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, Vermont legislators have proposed a bill to protect women’s rights should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, brought draft bill S.25 to the table Wednesday, proposing the right for Vermont’s residents to have an abortion.
“We have nothing prohibiting abortion in Vermont,” said Lucy Leriche, vice president for Vermont Public Policy for Planned Parenthood in Northern New England. “All of our rights come down to the constitutional right to abortion in the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.”
The bill says that the decision, which recognizes the right to have an abortion under the 14th Amendment to the constitution, “will likely be invalidated” according to “some constitutional scholars.”
“I think most legal experts, most people believe that there is a very high probability that Roe will be challenged and affected,” Leriche said from the State House on Wednesday.
“Before there was a sense that abortion would remain the law of the land,” said Chloe White, policy director at the ACLU of Vermont. “Now with the new makeup of the Supreme Court, that may not be the case anymore. There’s a renewed fervor to enshrine the law within our constitution.”
The bill proposes that the right of an individual to terminate a pregnancy should not be restricted; a health care provider who performs or assists with a legal abortion won’t be subject to liability or penalty; and any law that tries to prevent or restrict someone from asserting her right to have an abortion will be void.
“I’m sure Senator Baruth’s bill is only one of a few that will pop up this year,” White said. “Here in Vermont, we’re very protective of abortion, but there’s not a lot on the books. I think the House and the Senate are going to come together and take initiative on abortion. ... Most certainly there will be huge support for any bill protecting abortion this year.”
Leriche said there are currently 13 cases on abortion and 25 cases on reproductive health that are one step away from the Supreme Court, which means the court will hear and talk about the rights on a fairly regular basis.
Not all attention is positive attention, Leriche said.
“Each of the 13 abortion-related cases could result, if they made it to the Supreme Court, in eroding, overturning or dismantling of reproductive rights,” Leriche said. “It would be all up in the air again. States will have the right to restrict abortion rights.”
None of the cases are from Vermont, Leriche said, and for abortion to be illegal in Vermont, there would have to be a law specifically saying so.
A lot of the cases currently circulating in the lower courts, Leriche said, concern what are called “trap laws,” or arbitrary regulations that health clinics offering abortion services are required to abide by, such as hallway width or other building regulations.
“They’re absurd things that don’t have to do with quality of care,” Leriche said. “But (it provides) an opportunity to take it to the Supreme Court.”
Which means Roe v. Wade could go one of three ways: It could remain as it is, be overturned completely or remain in name and be gutted by a thousand cuts, Leriche said.
Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be affected financially by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, since the organization doesn’t receive federal funding, but it would affect who is able to access abortion health care in their home states, especially if they have limited resources or transportation, Leriche said.
“We do get Medicaid and funding for low-income people and the disabled,” Leriche said. “There could be an impact on our organization (there).”
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a constant need for more access, White said.
“There are certainly private funds from the state funds that help fund legal abortion,” White said. “I don’t think their phones ever stop ringing.”
White said if the right to a safe and legal abortion is overturned, Vermont and other states that ensure the right can expect to see people traveling from other states to seek help.
“It’s really important that, in Vermont, we codify abortion rights in an affirmative way,” Leriche said. “That we put into our state constitution as a matter of civil right, that women have the right to make decisions about their health care. You’re taking decision making power away from someone about their own life, their health.”
A bill has been introduced in the House to ban internet sales of e-cigarettes or the nicotine-containing liquid associated with what are commonly called Juuls.
The bill was introduced Tuesday and referred to the House Committee on Human Services.
The introduction of the bill explains its purpose is to prevent “anyone from selling electronic cigarettes, liquids containing nicotine or otherwise intended for use with an electronic cigarette or tobacco paraphernalia in Vermont unless that person is a licensed wholesale dealer or purchased the items from a licensed wholesale dealer. It would also prohibit shipping these items to anyone in Vermont other than a licensed wholesale dealer or retailer.”
Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, said the bill was one of several he was introducing to keep e-cigarettes away from Vermonters younger than 21.
Another bill that Till introduced during the current session would increase the age for purchasing and possessing tobacco, tobacco substitutes and tobacco paraphernalia from 18 to 21.
Prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes over the internet is one way to help keep them out of the hands of those who would be too young to buy them at a brick-and-mortar store, Till said.
“We’ve had such an explosion of the utilization of these e-cigarettes that it has completely endangered 50 years of progress on reducing tobacco utilization because your brain does not care whether you became addicted to nicotine from electronic cigarettes or traditional tobacco, you need that nicotine,” Till said.
According to Till, there are 10,000 kids in Vermont using tobacco who could die prematurely because of their nicotine use.
Sarah Cosgrove, respiratory therapist for the Community Health Improvement department at Rutland Regional Medical Center, said she was very concerned that young people were lured into using e-cigarettes because they are flavored to taste like candy or other appealing flavors.
While Cosgrove said she hadn’t read the proposed legislation, she praised the Vermont Legislature for trying to take action.
“I love the great state of Vermont because we trudge forward no matter what. I have to say that I think these are fantastic efforts that need to be put in place. This is the protection of our youth,” she said.
Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington, who introduced the bill along with Till, said his position on the South Burlington School Board gave him perspective of the prevalence of e-cigarette use among teenagers.
“I was speaking with the principal of our high school and he was saying from his knowledge that really where kids are getting the Juul products is not going to a local convenience store or getting somebody older to buy it, although that probably happens, too. At the convenience stores, they’re actually very good about checking ID so a lot of kids are going on the internet,” he said.
Till has been working on the issue for some time.
A bill to raise the age for buying tobacco in Vermont was passed in the House in 2016 but wasn’t approved in the Senate.
“I think there’s a pretty good awareness in the building of how much of a problem this is becoming. It’s got a fair amount of publicity. I think this has a very good chance,” he said.
Till said he believes the Senate will be more supportive during the current session.
LaLonde said he hoped the Human Services Committee will have hearings and invite testimony from interested parties including the companies that make e-cigarettes.
By the end of the week, Till intends to introduce legislation that would tax e-cigarettes in the same way as traditional paper and tobacco cigarettes.
“We don’t really tax these e-cigarettes. The only tax on these things are sales tax, but I have another bill, which will be out later this week, to raise the tax the same as other tobacco products,” Till said.
PITTSFORD — Some tweaks to the town’s zoning maps might help spur business and solar development along the town’s main travel corridors, planners say.
At 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Town Office, the Planning Commission will hold a follow-up meeting to one it held Dec. 13 during which residents talked about the proposed changes, said the commission’s chairman, David Mills.
Mills said Friday the Planning Commission has proposed eliminating the residential commercial district on Route 3, reverting it to commercial zoning. It’s also proposed expanding the industrial district on Route 7 a bit to the north and to the south to encompass small, unused slate quarries.
Mills said the Planning Commission believes this will give business owners more flexibility to expand along Route 3, and will give potential solar developers some room in the industrial district.
These are the two major changes being considered, he said. Any changes to the zoning maps or bylaws has to be approved by the Select Board after it holds two hearings. The Planning Commission only has to hold one, but opted to hold another to give more people a chance to weigh in.
Mills said residents and business owners have been talking with the Planning Commission for some time about potential changes to the zoning districts. He said there was confusion about the residential commercial district; many didn’t know what it allowed and what it didn’t, and a few people weren’t aware their business was even in that zone.
He said there’s potential within the industrial zone for solar development. The Energy Committee, a sub-committee of the Planning Commission, is working on a town Energy Plan and wants to identify good spots for solar arrays.
Zoning Administrator Jeff Biasuzzi said Friday another significant change being contemplated is allowing some manufacturing to occur in commercial zones.
With regard to solar in the industrial zone, he said the expanded area should allow solar arrays to be built out of view. Biasuzzi said the main complaint people seem to have with solar projects is their impact on viewsheds and aesthetics.
Biasuzzi serves as zoning administrator in a number of other towns.
He said the current zoning maps and bylaws, along with the proposed changes, can be viewed on the town of Pittsford’s website, pittsfordvermont.com.
“The thing about Theresa May is that nothing seems to faze her. She just keeps on going.”
Political analyst Anand Menon, from the research group U.K. in a Changing Europe, after British Prime Minister Theresa May emerged victorious from a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Wednesday. — B8
The Rutland Recreation Department has a number of drop-in pottery classes throughout the winter where you can keep the kids indoors while they learn the joy of building with clay. A7
Kia and Hyundai move ahead to recall 168,000 vehicles to fix a problem that can cause engine fires. A10
Simple Israeli & European dances taught. Partners and experience not necessary. Wear comfortable clothes and bring dry, non-slip shoes for dancing. After 6:45 p.m. ring the bell. 6:30-8 p.m. Rutland Jewish Center, 96 Grove Street, Rutland, firstname.lastname@example.org.