One size doesn’t fit all

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copyright the Chronicle February 14, 2018

For a long time the Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover had a regular circus act performed by The Rotten Idea Theater, which drew the audience’s attention to, well, rotten ideas.

We’re not performance artists, sadly not nearly as funny as they are. But we can identify bad ideas.

Here’s our picks for this week.

According to Glover Ambulance Chief Adam Heuslein, the Vermont Senate is considering a bill requiring that volunteers for ambulance services who stay near the phone in case a call comes in be paid. At the moment, those good people are paid a tiny stipend. The bill would require they be paid minimum wage, currently $10.50 an hour, for the time they spend doing housework, or reading a book, listening for a call to come in.

Since community ambulance services all over are struggling, why on earth would you require that people who have willingly volunteered be paid for staying home and listening for the phone, and thus effectively bankrupt the very service they volunteered for?

Who came up with that brilliant idea?

It turns out it was senators Allison Clarkson of Woodstock and Alice Nitka of Ludlow. And it appears to be one of those bills that stems from the best of intentions but hasn’t been thought out terribly well. The preface to the legislation says: “This bill proposes to provide that all hours during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer or engaged to wait while on or near an employer’s premises shall be considered employment for purposes of the minimum wage.”

The definition of employer includes publicly supported nonprofits.

It’s not likely that senators Clarkson and Nitka sat down and said: Let’s draft a bill to bankrupt rural ambulance services. It’s far more likely they didn’t give a moment’s thought to how the measure would affect Glover’s little ambulance. It’s far more likely they were thinking about employees and trying to protect them from exploitation.

But. Vermont has, for quite a while, been passing legislation that’s well intended but does not reflect much understanding of rural areas. What might work well in densely populated Chittenden County — which likely has paid, rather than volunteer, emergency services — does not translate to rural Vermont.

Another example. Apparently someone in Montpelier has finally noticed that the years-old recycling bill has a few flaws, and the Legislature is thinking about tinkering with it.

The very obvious problem they just woke up to is one we pointed out long ago. Trash haulers are required to pick up recycling, separately from trash, but they can’t charge for that recycling run because it could discourage people from recycling.

That might work out okay if you’re a big trash hauler in Chittenden County, and you have a couple hundred customers within a couple of miles. However, if you’re a rural trash hauler, who might have five customers in five miles, well, it might be ruinous. How many miles per gallon does a big trash truck get? Not to mention the time.

The disconnect between how legislation affects Chittenden County and how it affects rural Vermont, which is most of Vermont, needs to change. We implore well intentioned urban legislators to think their proposals through a bit further and consider effects throughout the state, effects down the road. Again and again we see bills that start out from what are apparently good intentions, but have unintended consequences that leaves rural Vermont, which is often governed, and served, by volunteers (or working for such a pittance they might as well be), struggling. — T.S.

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