The bill that is in the committee, S281, would create an oversight panel to address systemic racism across state government. We think it will happen faster if we actually have someone at the cabinet level in charge - working with all state agencies and departments, borrowing practices that have made differences in some agencies, and increasing the training that will begin to change the culture. So we are looking at the creation of a cabinet-level chief of civil rights. That may not be the title but it expresses the idea. We were working on this on Wednesday and then two days the following week. By the end of this week we should have a new draft of the bill for folks to comment on.
During our meetings with people in Windham County on various issues this fall, one issue raised was the state of our emergency responders.
The head of Rural Emergency Medicine at UVM put it this way. ‘I won’t say it is a crisis but whatever butts up against a crisis is where it is.” So we have been looking at the makeup of the EMS Advisory Council and its duties. We would like to make sure that each of the 13 EMS regions in the state is able to elect its own representative to the council - not just to represent a stakeholder group but the region itself and its needs. The way it is now the areas are so big and so diverse it is hard for one person to represent the area. The bill is S241.
In Judiciary we had a bill, S.105, that is titled consumer protection. It is far more than that. I reported the bill on the floor and it was passed by the entire Senate on a roll call vote. Many think this may be one of the more important bills we pass this year. It seems that whenever you buy something, sign up for something, even take a new job, you are given a contract and at the bottom you click on or sign that you agree to the conditions of the contract. Most of us don’t read them carefully and even if we did we might sign anyway.
So here are two examples of unconscionable terms in most of those boiler plate contracts. Even the employer or local retailer might not know they are there.
First: You buy solar panels for your home. If something should go wrong you have agreed with these conditions: gave up your right to a jury trial, gave up right to class action, you will need to go to arbitration in Nevada on the second Tuesday at 2 pm with arbitrators of the company’s choosing.
Second example: You get your dream job. In the contract one of the provisions is that if you have a sexual harassment complaint you must report it within six hours, you will have one minute for a deposition, you must go to Kansas to their headquarters and choose from a list of arbitrators they provide (all just happen to be company VPs) who charge $1,000 an hour, you gave up your right to a jury trial and your right to collective action.
These examples sound made up because they would never pass the straight-faced test. Yet both are real. And the Supreme Court has upheld such provisions thus further eroding our basic rights. S105 says that if there are unconscionable provisions in the contract they are illegal in Vermont and cannot be enforced. Not only is this important for consumers and employees but hopefully begins to put our feet down and say we will protect our rights in any way we can. The conversation has also spurred many employers (who might just download employment contracts) to review their contracts and not use those with unconscionable terms. The same is happening with some local merchants where they have some control. We wanted to make sure that we were careful to write this in a way that would not invite federal preemption and would not interfere with interstate commerce. We wanted something that could be defended and that made a difference. We found the right balance.
We are on a break during Town Meeting week so you will see us around. We do try to attend as many meetings as we can but when we have 15 or 20 it is hard to do. I will attend some and will then attend my own as a citizen.
Contact us: all emails for legislators are the same, first name initial last firstname.lastname@example.org. For me it’s email@example.com.
We do like to hear from you. For me I will say that I read them all, listen to the phone calls, and see the delivered messages. Because we get so many it may be a long time before there is an answer but we do pay attention so contact us. And if you want to come up to the Statehouse, let us know and we will try our hardest to meet with you.