Editorial: Needless nastiness in Vermont

In a nod to the journalistic admonishment to always read past the headline (which is particularly troublesome in today’s era of reading just headlines, Twitter feeds and shout-outs on social media), there’s the story of Gov. Phil Scott meanly vetoing a bill that “regulates children’s exposure to toxic chemicals.” I mean, how could he! Everyone wants to limit children’s exposure to harmful substances; why not Vermont’s governor? And he seems so rational on so many other issues, like gun control.
What’s wrong is that Vermont Democrats are unfairly portraying Scott’s veto of S.103 as siding with big business over the interests of Vermont children when there is already a law in place to accomplish that very thing. Indeed, the fluff-up is over what is a relatively slight change in the wording of the proposed bill.
Current law allows the Vermont Health Commissioner to issue bans “upon the recommendation of” a committee that includes leaders of several state agencies. The change under S.103 would have given Vermont’s health commissioner the authority to ban children’s products containing certain “chemicals of high concern” “after consultation with” the committee.
Opponents of the bill, such as William Driscoll, vice president of Associated Industries of Vermont, say the change would put too much power in the hands of a single individual and would make such decisions “more arbitrary” and potentially “more political and much less scientific and legitimate.” The governor also said the bill could “jeopardize jobs and make Vermont less competitive for businesses” in that sector.
Furthermore, in his veto of the bill Gov. Scott said the regulatory process was working just fine and should “proceed as originally envisioned. With a robust process in place, children will not be any safer as a result of the proposed changes contained in this bill.”
Scott also reminded lawmakers that last year by executive order he had created an Interagency Committee on Chemical Management in the aftermath of the hazardous chemical (PFOA) found in well water in Bennington, and that a similar panel outlined in the new bill would be redundant.
Supporters of the bill say it was just meant to clean up some loose ends of the previous law, and was not meant to be a significant change.
That’s the gist of the beef, but the rhetoric would have you believe it is of a much greater magnitude.
“It’s unfortunate that the governor is prioritizing corporate interests over public health and the safety of Vermont families,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, told reporter Dave Gram of VtDigger. Similarly, VPIRG executive director (and de facto lobbyist) Paul Burns said of Scott’s veto: “In the choice between protecting kids and pleasing industry lobbyists, he went with the lobbyists.”
And the Twitter feed of VT House Dems posted: “Governor Scott has vetoed S.103, a bill that would have regulated toxic substances and hazardous materials. Message to Bennington (and everywhere else these poisons were poured into the ground): too bad for you.”
These are the types of snarky, misleading comments from those in the political arena — on either side of any issue — that devalue the integrity of the political process and cause voters to disengage. It is needless nastiness.
A better approach in this instance was for Democrats to give Gov. Scott the benefit of wanting to protect children from toxic substances, but then demonstrate how this modest change makes the process superior without being an added burden on Vermont’s chemical industry. Had they done that, it’s very likely the governor and his team would have found a compromise position and Vermonters would have been better served by the bipartisan legislation.
As it is, the governor’s veto will likely stand, until a less political and more corroborative approach is taken by this Democratically controlled Legislature.

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