Vermont needs a Goalkeeper

By Mark Shepard | True North Radio | May 8, 2007

In a 1986 job interview with General Electric, Burlington, I recall a weapon system they developed, called the Goalkeeper.  The Goalkeeper served as the last line of defense on military ships.  When all other systems failed to stop an incoming torpedo it was up to the Goalkeeper to destroy the torpedo before the torpedo hit the ship.

With all the ill-conceived legislation getting by the House and Senate this year, Vermont needs a Goalkeeper.  In the past week I learned of three new legislative torpedoes that among other things further challenge the viability of operating a business in Vermont.

House bill H.229, which was to "fix" many of the numerous problems in last year's so-called health care reform bill, includes a provision allowing a job applicant to sue an employer for "compensatory and punitive damages or equitable relief, including restraint of prohibited acts, restitution of wages or other benefits, reinstatement, costs, reasonable attorney's fees, and other appropriate relief," if during an interview the employer asks about the applicant's health insurance status.  Combining the potential financial gain for the applicant and the difficulty of proving who said what in an interview invites false claims, increasing the risks of employing Vermonters.

Tuesday the Senate amended H.520 (the energy bill) with a 35% surcharge (tax) from now until 2012 on all Entergy gross revenues above what Entergy received for gross revenues in 2003 because, according to supporters of the amendment, VT Yankee is too profitable.   As stated in the amendment, this surcharge "is in addition to any other state or local tax or charge" and completely disregards the fact that each year higher gross revenues are needed to pay wage increases and inflation in production costs.

This irresponsible action by the Senate sent chills through the management of companies throughout Vermont, not only because such action is likely to eventually increase electric rates, but also because any profitable Vermont business could easily be the next target when the legislature wants more money.  This 35% money grab also hurts stockholders who are dependent on their investment for retirement.

Wednesday the House passed S.51 defining gender identity to mean ôan individual's actual or perceived gender identity, or gender-related characteristics intrinsically related to an individual's gender or gender-identity, regardless of the individual's assigned sex at birth,ö and based on this definition created a new subclass of Vermonters, with special legal protections.

A number of years ago an article in a local paper expressed how nice it was to live in a state where diversity is embraced.  Given Vermont's lack of racial and ethnic diversity the writer redefined cultural diversity by separating people based on their feelings and choices.  It was actually quite comical to see the contortions the writer went through to convince herself that she indeed lived in a very diverse part of our county and thus embraces diversity.

Now it seems the Vermont legislature has caught the "invent diversity flu."  In passing the gender-identity bill they create a new subclass of people in Vermont identified by features that are neither measurable nor necessarily consistent from one moment to the next.  A person's gender is now based on how that person feels at any particular moment in time. What remains a mystery is why they left out racial-identity, age-identity, etc.  Perhaps these will follow in the years to come.

Clearly two men of different racial backgrounds have less feature differences than that between a man and a woman.  Consider a white male who feels he is a member of a racial minority and yet is denied access to a minority benefit.  Would not this be discrimination in the same way proponents of gender-identity legislation framed the need for S.51?

And age-identity is actually a much bigger issue than gender-identity, both in terms of the number of people affected and the cost of discrimination.  All of us at times feel older or younger than our birth-ages and not all people age at the same rate, yet we are required to abide by birth-age requirements.  One person may die of heart failure at age fifty and never receive a social security check, while another person may live to age one hundred and receive social security checks for thirty-five years or so.  Clearly the first person aged faster than the second, yet his or her felt-age is disregarded.

Bills are sliding through the legislative process this year with little to no consideration of their down sides.  Just like H.229, the gender-identity bill exposes businesses to litigation if a member of this newly defined gender-identity subclass makes a claim that he (or she, depending on what gender she (or he) feels like that day) is being discriminated against.

Vermont is becoming a less secure place for businesses that hope to make a profit or desire to hire more people.  While to a large extent we can blame this degradation of our state business climate on the ultra-liberal Democrat-led legislature, the gender-identity bill extends the source of our problems well into the Republican Party.  In fact twenty-one House Republicans supported the gender-identity bill.  A few more, twenty-six Republicans, along with two Democrats did grasp the downsides of creating this feelings-based subclass of Vermonters and voted no.

With poor policy barreling through Vermont's legislature, we are fortunate that our system of government has one more line of defense from bad policy.  With his veto pen, the governor serves as Vermont's goalkeeper and we better hope he does not miss vetoing any of these bad bills.

While the House and the Senate appear to have the votes needed to override a veto, that should not be the determining factor for a veto decision.  The governor has a duty to Vermonters, as our last line of defense, to do all he can to stop bills that will have a net negative impact on Vermont.  I am thankful to the House and Senate members who conscientiously voted in the best overall interest of Vermonters.  Unfortunately this year there are not enough conscientious legislators and so we have to rely on our goalkeeper.

Indeed the future viability of businesses in Vermont and the relevance of the Republican Party depend heavily on the governor being the state's goalkeeper and vetoing these and other bad bills.

Mark Shepard - Vermont State Senator 2003-2006, Bennington District.

"... many politicians talk the talk about doing something tangible about new jobs and it doesn't go much further. Sen. Shepard walked the walk."
"Sen. Shepard's big accomplishment, and it is a significant one, lies in the major role he played in bringing the Bennington Microtech Center into being."

Bennington Banner State Senator Endorsement Editorial, October 29, 2004

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