Editorial, Legislative Report

Budget Bill Goes to Senate

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WOLCOTT – Senate Appropriations was wrapping up the budget when I left the statehouse around 5 p.m. last Friday, as indicated by the large group of people outside their committee room. 

The Senate will vote on the budget later this week and it will come back to the House the week after.  More than likely there will need to be some negotiations between the House and Senate before it is sent to the Governor.  This is done through a committee of conference, where three House members and three Senate members work out the differences and bring back their agreement for both bodies to approve.  This puts us on track to adjourn the legislative session  May 10; within the 18 weeks we budget for.

In the Human Service Committee that I serve on, we have been working on a couple of Senate  bills.  We took extensive testimony on S.192 that creates a forensic facility for individuals who are in the custody of the State under Act 248.  This is a complicated part of law that authorizes a state Criminal Court to civilly commit a person with an intellectual disability into the custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL). The individual needs to present a danger of harm to others and have committed a sexual assault, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child or inflicting or attempting to inflict serious bodily injury upon another person.   

In the past, individuals were committed to the Brandon Training School, however that turned out to be less than ideal. It was excessively costly and did not provide the support those individuals  needed.  Since the school closed, the state has provided support and supervision to these individuals in a community setting.  I think it’s important to understand that a person who comes under Act 248 is deemed incompetent to stand trial and under the constitution you can not incarcerate someone without being convicted by a court.  However, these individuals can be held in prison until a suitable housing setting is developed. 

Thirty people are in the custody of the state under Act 248; one is being held in a correctional facility.  The bill proposes that the state develop plans to build a prison for individuals with developmental disabilities who have committed a crime but are not competent to stand trial. The committee removed the concept of this forensic facility but went on to make changes to provide better safeguards to the community by streamlining the process and removing potential loopholes.  There were other parts in the bill that involved individuals who are diagnosed with mental health issues that are under the jurisdiction of the House Health Care Committee, so the bill was sent to that committee before it will come back to the whole House. 

We are also taking up S.186 a bill that addresses landlord tenant rights for individuals who choose to live in recovery housing.  Also referred to as sober housing, this can be an important step for those in recovery to have a place to live, participate in recovery services, look for employment and long term housing.  To make this work the legislature has to develop a system where these residences can have oversight that protects both the tenant and the people running the housing.  Under current law an individual who begins to use substances while living in this setting can be asked to leave but only a court can technically remove them from this housing situation.  We need to have a system that allows for individuals to be removed in order to protect the others who choose to live in a substance free setting. Without this process it can take months to happen.  We will be taking testimony on this bill the rest of the week and should vote it out next week.

About 20 years ago I served on the Wolcott Planning Commission where we got a grant to look at the feasibility of a community waste water system in Wolcott village.  That initial municipal planning grant delineated where the system could be and what areas of the village would be served by the municipal waste water system.  Wolcott was then able to get its Village Center Designation that was aligned with the wastewater system and opened the door for the grants needed to get us where we are today. 

I ask you to join me in supporting the Wolcott bond vote now, mainly because we need the infrastructure to be considered for senior housing development in our community. State and federal housing grants become feasible when communities have access to wastewater systems. The vote will be in early June. 

Rep. Dan Noyes represents Lamoille-2 (Wolcott, Hyde Park, Johnson and Belvidere.)

Rep. Dan Noyes

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