Senate President Peter Shumlin (pictured) wants to set up pot dispensaries where patients on Vermont's medical marijuana registry could obtain their cannabis. Another state senator wants to study legalizing small amounts of pot outright — and taxing it.
The 2010 legislative session officially got under way in Montpelier today, and already the list of proposed bills is longer than a 19th century Vermont governor's beard (sans mustache, natch).
Marijuana laws are just the beginning. Lowering the drinking age, legalizing the importation of elephants, giving senior citizens special moose-hunting privileges — all will vie for attention as the legislature confronts the big issues, namely items like the budget deficit and whether to relicense the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
The Shumlin medical marijuana bill is cosponsored by Sens. Hinda Miller (D-Chittenden) and Jeanette White (D-Windham).Taking it further, Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland) wants to study legalizing "limited amounts of marijuana" for sale and taxing it — something lawmakers could use as they attempt to close a $150 million state budget deficit.
I asked House Speaker Shap Smith whether he might support taxing medical marijuana as a way to close the budget deficit; he said he's not inclined to back such an idea.
At least three senators are targeting the dangerous trend of DWT — driving while texting. Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) and Sens. Richard Sears (D-Bennington) and Randy Brock (R-Franklin) all want to ban text-messaging while operating a motor vehicle. Illuzzi's bill would require hands-free cellphone devices for talking while driving and fine violators $100. Sears and Brock's bill would fine drivers $500 to $750 for texting behind the wheel.
Sens. Miller (D-Chittenden), Carris (D-Rutland) and Jeanette White (D-Windham) want to appoint a task force to study the implications of lowering the drinking age, which would report back with recommendations by January 15, 2011. The trio wants a panel of health, education, liquor control and law enforcement professionals to review drinking ages in Europe and Canada and decide if Vermont should follow suit — including whether Vermont should employ "provisional licensing" for 18-to-20-year-olds to drink.
Sen. Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) is sponsoring what could likely be one of the hottest bills of the session: S. 175, which would treat fetuses as victims under the state homicide law "for purposes of DUI with death resulting and grossly negligent operation of a motor vehicle with death resulting." The penalty would be up to 15 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Several criminal justice bills could make waves, if they get traction: Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor) wants to eliminate the statute of limitations for all felonies — not just murder, sex assault, child sex assault, arson causing death and kidnapping. The Committee on Judiciary proposes to close the loophole in the state's sex offender registry law by mandating that offenders from other states who move to Vermont register here. And Sen. Sears (D-Bennington) wants to amend the definition of sexual abuse to exclude consensual sex between a person who is less than 19 years old and a child who is at least 15 years old.
This is just a sampling of the dozens of bills proposed. Later this week, we'll delve into some of the House members' bills.