New resource to protect public assets

first_imgThe line of mountains that etches across the sky in northern Vermont forms some of the most iconic images of our state. Mount Mansfield is part of the Vermont crest and Camel’s Hump is featured on our state quarter. These mountains are more than a scenic backdrop. They are key to the character of Vermont and a mainstay for tourism, one of our largest industries. But what happens when buildings go up along scenic roadways that obscure these views for the general public? What can we do to protect these assets? Views to the Mountain: A Scenic Resource Manual, just published for the towns of Essex and Jericho by Smart Growth Vermont, details a scenic assessment process and provides solutions towns can adopt.The towns of Essex and Jericho joined forces to address these issues by performing a comprehensive scenic assessment of their roads. The Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission assisted with mapping and data analysis. Based on the information they gained, and recommendations for bylaw language and scenic overlay districts provided by Smart Growth Vermont, the towns have put the platform in place to protect their scenic views for future generations.‘This is groundbreaking work for the protection of scenic viewsheds in Essex and Jericho,’ said Essex Community Development Director Dana Farley. ‘The views to Mount Mansfield are emphasized in both towns, but the data collection and photo-inventory captured many features typical to roadside scenery across Vermont. The manual can be model for all our communities.’ The assessment, bylaw language and solutions for everything from parking to recommended siding and roof colors have been pulled together into which can be downloaded from the Smart Growth Vermont website.Smart Growth Vermont is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to forging growth and conservation solutions for Vermont communities and working rural lands. We work both on-the-ground in communities and at the state level to help develop and implement land use legislation designed to foster growth that works to strengthen our downtowns and village centers while conserving our working landscape and open areas. For more information, please visit Smart Growth Vermont’s website at is external).###last_img read more

Lawmakers hash out workers’ comp plan

first_imgLawmakers hash out workers’ comp plan June 1, 2003 Regular News If the Florida Legislature managed to reach an agreement on workers’ compensation legislation before the May 27 scheduled adjournment of its special session, it will have taken a lot of work.After failing to reach an agreement despite a flurry of last minute amendments in the regular session, the House and Senate took the matter up again during the special session. The House first added it to its call and then passed a bill.When an agreement appeared likely, Gov. Jeb Bush added the issue to his call for the special session. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on May 20 — as this News went to press — then took up a bill identical to the House version. It was not a sedate meeting.A standing room only crowd, including well-suited lobbyists and casually dressed workers, many sporting canes and back braces, watched as the committee debated a variety of amendments. Dozens signed up to speak.Among the events at the meeting:• In response to a question from Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Winter Haven, a co-sponsor of the bill, said 10 percent of the estimated 12.35 percent rate reductions the bill would produce would come from cuts in benefits to injured workers. Much of that would come from making it harder to qualify for permanent total disability. Committee Chair Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, agreed, saying, “Most of this reduction in premium is because the worker is going to take a hit.”• Posey’s amendment to crack down on fraud in the construction industry, which has been estimated to cost the system more than $1 billion in lost premiums annually, hit an unexpected snag. Posey wanted the state’s insurance office, under Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, to maintain an on-line database of contractors and subcontractors who had workers’ comp coverage, with local building officials and general contractors to be notified if a contractor for some reason dropped its coverage. That would make it ineligible to do business under state law — a law Posey noted is widely flouted. But a spokesman for the department told the committee they didn’t have the resources for that project, a revelation that left Posey flabbergasted. “I’m barely computer literate and I could do that in seven days,” the senator replied, noting he was speaking slowly to contain his anger. “Why didn’t you tell me you had a problem with it and I would have gotten a third-grader in here to explain it to you?”Posey said he had discussed the idea with the department for over a year and not one mentioned any problems and several independent computer experts had assured him assembling the database was a simple task. He wound up temporarily postponing his amendment.• Campbell expressed frustration and objected when Alexander sought to withdraw an amendment to remove a three-month limitation on psychiatric services in the proposed bill. There’s no limit in current law. Noting the Senate had unanimously supported no restrictions in its bill during the regular session, Campbell added, “I would like Sen. Alexander to vote against his own amendment.” Alexander said the three-month rule was necessary to conform to the House version. Campbell, who did allow the amendment to be withdrawn, replied that the Senate was being too eager to cave in to the House position. Sen. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Pembroke Pines, had filed an identical amendment, and that wound up temporarily postponed so senators could see how other states handled that matter.• Wasserman-Schultz proposed an amendment to ease the bill’s definitions of what constituted a catastrophic injury deserving permanent, total disability. One part, she noted, limited such awards to workers who had lost two hands or arms, or two feet or legs, or both eyes. “Someone would have to be bobbing around in the water without limbs to be determined to have a catastrophic injury,” she said. “It would be worse than mean- spirited.” Alexander, though, replied that 20 other states have similar defintions. Wasserman-Schultz riposted, “We shouldn’t add insult to injury by being the 21st.” The amendment failed 7-5.All of the 33 offered amendments either failed or withdrawn.Rafael Gonzalez, immediate past chair of the Bar’s Workers’ Compensation Section, said in an interview before the meeting that the bills are bad news for both injured workers and their attorneys.The bills, he said, cap hourly plaintiff attorneys’ fees at $1,500, and instead of limiting to per petition as did earlier legislation, it limits it to $1,500 for the life of the case.The bills did not change the percentages attorneys get on benefits they win for injured workers, Gonzalez said, but the percentages are limited to the first 10 years of benefits. The Senate bill would allow 5 percent on awards over 10 years. Currently the percentages apply to lifetime benefits.For workers, the bills change the definition of permanent total disability to requiring the worker to show that he or she is not capable of performing uninterrupted sedentary work. It doesn’t matter, Gonzalez noted, if there are no such jobs where the worker lives.“It almost becomes an impossible burden to prove,” he said. “Because of the economy, it becomes a devastatingly high burden. No one will ever be eligible for permanent total disability again.”Temporary benefits have also been cut, Gonzalez said. Supplemental benefits, which are now available to workers of a disability rating of 20 percent or more, would be done away with. Payments to partially disabled workers and the time they have to recover and retrain would also be reduced for most hurt employees, he said. For the most seriously injured, the maximum time they would have to heal and retrain has been cut from three years to two years.The bills do increase payments to doctors and surgeons, where Florida had ranked at the bottom nationally, and cut payments to hospitals, where the state had ranked among the top in reimbursement.One frustrating part of the process is the legislature was striving to meet Bush’s goal of a 15-percent reduction in workers’ comp premiums. Yet the only parts of the bill used to make that calculation were the reduction in benefits to workers and the cuts in attorneys fees, Gonzalez said. Other provisions, including stepping up enforcement to prevent employer fraud and to speed the handling of claims, were not factored in, he said.The bill would increase death benefits from $100,000 to $150,000, and funeral expenses from $5,000 to $7,500, Gonzalez added.Agreement eluded lawmakers during the regular session, partly because of a House rule that prohibited consideration of any amendment bill from the Senate during the last 48 hours of the session. The Senate didn’t get the House’s final bill until it was in the 48-hour period, and the upper chamber did make amendments and sent the measure back to the House, which waived the 48-hour rule and rejected the amendments. The session ended without the Senate taking any other action. The regular session saw the House and Senate consistently split among the issues of attorneys’ fees and permanent total disability. The less worker- and lawyer-friendly House bill called for attorneys to receive 20 percent on the first $5,000, 15 percent for the next $5,000, and 10 percent thereafter. The Senate first called for 20 percent for the first $5,000 and 15 thereafter, and later suggested capping hourly fees at $5,000. This number eventually got down to $1,500, which would create an overall savings of 2 to 3 percent.On the issue of permanent total disability, the House proposed that a worker would need to prove that he or she was unable to engage in uninterrupted sedentary work. The Senate saw this as difficult to prove, as lifting a few pounds could be considered sedentary work.And while the House decided against making any procedural changes to a system that processes claims too slowly for workers to receive benefits, the Senate proposed creating a peer review panel and a claims bureau, ideas which were both killed on the last day of the session.center_img Lawmakers hash out workers’ comp planlast_img read more