The 2016 Legislative Session began on Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 10 a.m. Formalities, such as electing a Speaker of the House and Clerk, performed during the first year of the biennium are not necessary so work began immediately.
Perhaps, the greatest task we have before us is building the FY2017 budget. If one looks at a graph of our projected expenses versus our projected revenue, it is clear that expenses are greater than our revenue. This is what we call the "Alligator's Mouth" and it is our goal to bring spending in line with revenue and close that gap.
Over the last several years, the Legislature has been implementing a process known as Results-Based Accountability (RBA). This year, every committee will be asked to methodically review and study the agencies and departments within their purview and ask three questions regarding the activities performed and programs offered. The questions are what are we doing, how well are we doing it, and who is better off as a result? Going through this process should identify areas where we are spending money that, perhaps, should be eliminated. It may also point to ways we can improve what we are doing and make things more efficient.
At the end of the week, I flew to Denver, Colo., to participate in the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders (SARL) Ag Chairs Summit. It is an honor to be included and very interesting to interact with legislators from all over the country. The concerns of some of the Midwestern and Western states are very different from ours but it is also amazing how much we have in common. It is a great opportunity to network with others to learn how they are solving problems and dealing with crises such as Avian Influenza, which has decimated poultry farms in the Midwest.
We would like to avoid the fate of the State of Iowa, which last summer lost an estimated 70 million domestic birds – a terrible hit to farmers and the state economy.
Vermont is bracing for Avian Influenza. It is a virus spread by migrating birds and, while thought to be carried primarily in water fowl, there is evidence that small birds may be carriers as well. We seem to have dodged a bullet with the fall migration but the sense is that rather than being a matter of "if", it is a matter of "when."
For those of us who raise chickens, either in the backyard or commercially, this is extremely concerning. One can easily go to the internet to learn the symptoms of Avian Influenza, which include sudden death without any signs; lack of coordination; purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; lack of energy and appetite; diarrhea; swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles and hocks; nasal discharge; decreased egg production; and/or coughing and sneezing.
In order to avoid infection, chickens need to be completely isolated from wild birds so that they do not come in contact with feces. This is very difficult to accomplish because it even requires a separate pair of footwear to enter the chicken coop and it is very hard to keep wild birds out of most barns. People who have chickens should be thinking about strategies to deal with this problem and somehow isolate them. Those farmers with free range chickens will potentially have a problem, which is unfortunate given the popularity of free range eggs and fowl. We should be hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
One of the field trip offerings at SARL was a visit to two marijuana production and processing facilities. Recreational marijuana use is now legal in the State of Colorado. The first business we visited was Dixie Elixirs, which primarily produces edible and topical products. The second, Medicine Man, was a grow facility and a retail/medical dispensary outlet. The medicinal and recreational sides of marijuana use are kept strictly separate because recreational marijuana is taxed at a much higher rate. There is an excise tax on each plant sold and a sales tax to consumers.
What struck me and others most was the highly professional way business is conducted, in particular, at Dixie Elixirs. Very high standards are maintained for research and development of products, as well as marketing.
If we do decide to move forward with legalization in Vermont, a great deal can be learned from Colorado's experience. As a result of legalization, Colorado is now realizing a surplus in terms of revenue for their budget. Perhaps, the greatest challenge is the banking end of it and much of the finances are done in cash.
It is always an honor to return to Montpelier and take my seat on the Floor of the House. As a reminder, if you need to contact me or any other legislator, we can reached by phone at the toll-free State House number 1-800-322-5616. Leave a message with the Sergeant at Arms and I will return your call as soon as possible. I can be reached by email at email@example.com, as can any legislator by using the first letter of their first name, their last name with no spaces, and the "leg.state.vt.us" suffix. You can also check out my website – www.carolynpartridge.com – where I archive my legislative columns.
Carolyn Partridge , D-Windham, welcomes emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.