Vt. lawmakers won’t challenge gov on well testing

Posted June 06, 2011, at 9:39 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt.  — Before they left Montpelier last month, Vermont lawmakers set a date when they would return to address any vetoes issued by Gov. Peter Shumlin after the Legislature finished its main business for the year.

That day is Tuesday, but lawmakers won’t be trying to override the one bill Shumlin vetoed, a measure that would have required new testing of private wells for arsenic and other toxic substances.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and House Speaker Shap Smith, both Democrats, said Monday that instead of trying to override the veto now, in January lawmakers likely will craft new legislation to deal with the well testing issue.

“We’re not going to bring people back for it. There’s always January,” Smith said Monday.

Instead, a handful of lawmakers will show up Tuesday to hold a token session — merely to satisfy the requirement lawmakers imposed on themselves by setting the date as they adjourned May 6. Smith said he wasn’t sure he would attend Tuesday, but added, “Someone will be there to gavel us in and gavel us out” of session.

In their May 6 adjournment motion, lawmakers set a second date for a possible return in October. Smith said that was so the Legislature could respond to any big cuts in federal aid that may be coming from Washington.

The speaker described the October session as tentative as well, saying he would prefer to wait until the normal date for lawmakers to reconvene in early January.

The bill Shumlin vetoed would have required new sources being used for private drinking water supplies to be tested for arsenic, lead and other toxic substances; it also would have required notification of people buying homes served by a private well that they had the right to have the well water tested.

“Poison in well water has caused a number of children around Vermont to get really sick and has had damaging consequences for those kids,” Smith said. He said he was surprised Shumlin vetoed the measure.

When he did so, on May 26, the Democratic governor said he was worried about imposing additional costs on Vermont residents, particularly those living in rural areas.

“I don’t believe the government should mandate the testing of every single new well, with the cost and burden on individual private property owners that this bill would impose,” he said in his veto message.

Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, chairman of the House committee that worked on the bill, said the testing was expected to add about $150 to the cost of installing a new well, which he noted was a small fraction of the overall cost — often between $5,000 and $10,000.

Smith and other lawmakers said they were surprised at the veto, especially given that during committee testimony, administration officials indicated support for it.

“We had worked closely with his (Shumlin’s) Department of Health to fashion a bill that we believed would become law,” the speaker said.

Campbell said drafting new legislation with the same purpose in mind “will give us another opportunity to convince him (Shumlin) it’s a good bill.”

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