By Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon
Some of the sessions big issues will be up for votes on the House floor this coming week, including the “must pass” state budget. This is the time of year when committees have passed out bills they have been working on this year to get them advanced to the other chamber. In the House alone, we passed 33 bills last week, ranging from lakes in crises to protecting pollinators (think bees). The Senate passed 14 measures.
With some of the session’s big bills up for action, the Vermont House will likely see some extended floor time and possible evening sessions.
With the budget bill expected to receive unanimous approval from the House Appropriations Committee, it is likely to take longer to report the bill’s various components than to debate it. The committee appears to be following advice from Governor Scott, and not relying on new taxes or fees to fund it, with the possible exception of a new tax on electronic cigarettes that was advanced by the House Ways & Means Committee on Friday, March 16. There are bound to be differences between the legislature and Governor on where the total budget funds are spent, but hopefully those will be worked out in the coming weeks.
One item of state spending that might invite some lively debate, if included in the budget, will be money for a new carbon tax study, something the Governor is strongly against. The House Natural Resources Committee has recommended spending $100,000 for such a study.
The annual transportation funding bill, H.917, is expected to pass easily as it was unanimously advanced by both the Transportation and Appropriations Committees.
Changes to education funding will be up on Tuesday. The legislation, H.911, also includes changes to Vermont’s income taxes to deflect most of the likely increases with Vermont income taxes due to changes in deductions on the federal level; and a tax exemption on social security for retired individuals earning less than $45,000 or families earning less than $65,000. Absent from the bill, however, is an exemption on military pensions that had been proposed by Scott.
Although the House approved several firearm related issues contained in H.675, two weeks ago, the House Judiciary Committee plans to pass out S.55, a measure sent over from the Senate, by this Wednesday or Thursday. Various amendments are currently under consideration in the committee.
In the wake of the horrific shooting in Florida and the threat that was fortunately averted in Fair Haven, the Governor and many lawmakers have called for new gun legislation in Vermont.
The House amended, H.675, with two firearm measures, before the town meeting recess. The first was a slightly different version of the Senate bill, S.221, which would allow seizure of weapons (with a Judge’s approval) from individuals considered a risk to themselves or others. The second issue amended was giving law enforcement the ability to seize firearms when called to a domestic abuse incident. I voted for both measures. The bill passed the House on a 104-29 vote.
Other issues relating to gun legislation are likely to be considered in S.55 and/or other bills in the coming week. Included in the mix will likely be raising the age to 21, expanding background checks to private sales, 10 day waiting periods and more. I will wait until the House Judiciary Committee shares their recommendations and listen to the pros and cons before I support or oppose various provisions. If I believe something will help the school safety issue without unduly infringing constitutional rights, I may be supportive. On the other hand, I will be very hesitant to support measures that are just offered for political purposes, without really addressing the issues relating to school safety.
Additionally, the Governor called for putting $5 million for school safety measures (including evaluations of each school), which I support. There will also likely be further conversations about how to best address some of the other issues related to keeping our students safe.