ETHICS IN LEGISLATION
The importance of checking yourself, proposed legislation and the outcomes
After spending a good amount of time at the statehouse this past legislative session, I have come to the conclusion that there needs to be a conversation around ethics and legislation. Further there needs to be a real emphasis and focus on constructive legislation not destructive legislation. We should be working to improve the lives of all Vermonters, our environment and our economy when enacting legislation. We need to ensure that legislation is not destructive to the people, environment or economy of Vermont.
In my opinion, several questions needs to be addressed when legislators are meeting in committee and considering proposed bills that may make it to the floor for a vote. Questions around true impacts of legislation absolutely need to be addressed and fully acknowledged. For example:
-Who is positively or negatively impacted by this specific legislation?
-What harm or damage could this legislation cause if enacted?
-Does the government have the power to make this decision for the people or businesses of Vermont?
-Is this ultimately destructive or constructive legislation and will this serve Vermont and Vermonters
-Will our economy or Vermont taxpayers suffer from this legislation
A prime example of destructive, unethical legislation was the vote to allow towns to issue a mask mandate. This was falsely sold by many as “more local control”. In my opinion this ability for a selectboard to mandate masks should have never passed.
This was unacceptable for two primary reasons. First there is zero scientific evidence that supports the use of cloth masks in preventing viruses and more so there is zero scientific evidence determining the safety of this practice. This was a Center for Disease Control guideline that was not grounded in research or understanding regarding the effects of these masks. It is important to note that this is still the case- in fact more evidence has surfaced regarding the ineffectiveness of a cloth mask in preventing coronaviruses and the negative effects of masks on physical, and social emotional health, especially on our children and many wiwith certain health conditions.
This should never have been determined by the state or passed on to our local selectboards to make this decision for communities, businesses or individuals. These are personal, private healthcare decisions and there are many variables and tremendous nuance in these situations. There is rarely a one size fits all solution. Specifically in this instance, without adequate scientific evidence to verify efficacy and safety of masks, these decisions need to land in the hands of the individual and the parents of children working in concert with their healthcare providers.
Ultimately the Governor passed the buck to the legislators who passed the buck to the selectboards. The selectboards should have passed the buck to the people as fortunately many Vermont towns did. The selectboard of Danville however voted to enact this mandate. This was based on zero existing research and evidence for efficacy or safety and there was no scientific inquiry done. This is not a decision that the selectboard was in the position to make for any businesses or individuals in the town. Cloth masks do not work and to mandate anyone to wear a N95 or KN95 is highly dangerous and there are strict guidelines and training around the use of these masks in hospitals and healthcare settings
It is also important to note that masks never received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding efficacy or safety. Masks remained under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) because there was and is not scientific evidence to justify or warrant an approval. There are many unknowns and risks with masks, this is also why it must be personal choice. Scientifically, ethically, and legally an individual should hold the ability to look at the benefits versus the risks and determine what is best for them and their families based on their specific circumstances.
If a person feels that a mask is their best option to protect themselves or their loved ones, then by all means this is their right but for a selectboard or any other elected official to decide that is in their power to enact a mandate without any scientific inquiry or substantial research to help guide decisions is unethical and dangerous. Wearing a mask for 30 minutes while you go grocery shopping is very different than an employee being mandated to wear a mask for 8 hours or more a day. Or a child wearing a mask for 8 or more hours a day. There is absolutely risk and this decision is private and personal and should be made by that individual working with their doctor. Doing something for the “sake of doing something” is unacceptable and unfortunately in this case, the legislators in my opinion acted in haste and for the sake of acting versus considering the facts, the risks and the many varied health status situations of Vermont residents.
Moving forward, it is critical that legislators assess what their role is in creating legislation and if they believe they are in a position to make certain decisions for the people or not. There are often times when people believe something must be done but if there is not a clear answer or solid information to work with, decisions must be left up to the individual to determine what is best for themselves and their families based on their specific circumstances, especially where there is risk and so much unknown. This may be difficult at times when someone wants to so desperately help a situation, but Legislators must be very conscious and aware that they are not overstepping a boundary or infringing upon fundamental or constitutional rights of an individual
Another example of destructive legislation in which damage and hardship would have come to Vermonters and our local economy was the Clean Heat Standard H715. Fortunately, this legislation did not pass this last session. I have written and published extensively on H715. Below are some of my letters to legislators and articles written on the problems related to this legislation. There are many reasons why this legislation was destructive, here are some key points
-This is ultimately a carbon tax on the businesses and residents of Vermonters
-Focus on emissions alone is not offering true measurable beneficial impacts
-Emissions legislation distracts from dealing with the real issues of actual contaminants, toxins, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, biotechnology risks, clean water solutions and at source resolutions
-This legislation would have fueled the massively emerging carbon markets and would have led to regulation- by an unelected body- of people and businesses based on carbon – This would have opened flood gates of problems for our state. We can look to California, Spain and Germany and Netherlands as examples of this type of emission legislation gone bad, really bad.
-Vermonters and local businesses should not be targets of legislative attacks. Many small energy and fuel dealer businesses specifically stated that they would have had to close if this legislation passed. This then leads to larger, national and global corporations who can withstand these “taxes” and punishments to take hold in our state.
-Vermont residents would have had to pay more for heating fuel. People should not have to rely on subsidies to heat their homes if they are working and do not need assistance. Hard working Vermonters should not be taxed more in order to support and provide subsidies for those who cannot afford heating. Existing tax money, not additional tax money should be set aside to help provide aid to Vermonters in need of help with their heating bills. A high majority of people are struggling to get by right now with inflation
-In order to create constructive legislation- working with individual Vermont residents and families and businesses to determine priority needs to help reduce energy consumption and heating costs and use will both support Vermonters and help our environment without the collateral damage and failed precedent associated with legislation like the clean heat standard.