Three lawmakers from the House and three from the Senate will sit across the table from each other and attempt to resolve a mental health debate that has thus far split the two chambers.
Leaders in the House and Senate today named their conferees. Representing the House: Alice Emmons (Democratic chairwoman of the institutions), Anne Pugh (Democratic chairwoman of human services), and Sandy Haas (Prog/Dem vice-chairwoman of human services).On the Senate side: Claire Ayer (Democratic chairwoman health and welfare) Robert Hartwell (Democratic chairman institutions) and Kevin Mullin (the lone Republican on health and welfare).
It’s a complex debate, but the disagreement between the House and Senate centers largely on two numbers: 16 and 25.
The Senate sides with the governor, who, for reasons both fiscal and clinical, says Vermont should replace the 54-bed Vermont State Hospital with a 16-bed facility in Berlin.
The House, meanwhile, says a larger, 25-bed facility is needed to deliver the kind of specialized services required to treat the most acute mental health patients.
With the week long town meeting recess set to begin tomorrow, the conference committee won’t convene any formal meetings until Tuesday, March 13. Hard to believe though there won’t be any offline discussions between now and then.
Even once lawmakers reach a deal, it won’t mark the end of the debate. Whatever language both sides end up agreeing on likely won’t lock the state into any irreversible decisions on bed capacity. Officials say construction won’t begin on the new building until 2013, meaning lawmakers realistically have until next year to settle their differences.