By Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon
With six weeks left on the schedule for the 2018 legislative session, we got a glimpse this past week of the potential stumbling blocks prior to conclusion. With new gun legislation largely behind us (S.55 was sent to the governor and two other measures relating to gun violence, S.221 and H.422 nearing completion with near unanimous support), several key issues of conflict are emerging between the House and Senate and governor.
The House approved significant changes in education funding with reduced statewide property taxes, but with a new personal income tax surcharge. Word from the Senate is that they are not supportive of the changes and the governor has indicated he is flat out opposed. So, it may be hard to find a scenario where the House version survives.
The House version of the budget, which came out of committee on an 11-0 vote, increases General Fund spending by 2.7 percent and total spending by 1.1 percent. It sailed through the Chamber and is now in the Senate. At nearly the 11th hour, the administration publicly raised its objections to several provisions, including money for studying carbon alternatives, which the Governor says is a study on the carbon tax he opposes. We may have to see what direction the Senate goes on this “must pass” bill before we know whether it will hold up the session’s completion.
A House Committee has been reviewing the Senate-passed $15 minimum wage. And the Senate seems reluctant to advance paid family leave with a new payroll tax. Scott has expressed opposition to both measures.
Even legislation passed unanimously by the House, as in the case of H.897, which reforms the way we fund and administer special education in the future, has already faced a very skeptical Senate Education Committee.
And finally, Governor Scott released a letter to the Legislature with a list of 15 bills (including those above) working their way through the State House that he has issues with, primarily because many include new taxes or fees on Vermonters or hurt the state’s fragile business climate.
Given the gravity as well as philosophical differences between the administration and the majority Democrats in the Legislature, it’s easy to visualize another veto session in June.
Legislation concerning firearms are nearing completion. One of the more controversial measures, S.55, received final approval by the Senate this past Friday. Two other gun bills, S.221 and H.422, are nearing completion at the State House and both have widespread support from lawmakers, gun rights and anti-gun groups. S.221 allows, with court approval, to remove weapons from individuals considered a risk to themselves or others. H.422 allows for the confiscation of weapons when a law enforcement officer is called to a domestic violence incident.
The past week, the House added $4 million to the state’s capital bill, to fund school security measures. Another $1 million will be earmarked from the U.S. Dept of Homeland Security. Under the grant-based plan, schools will be able to apply for funding for security upgrades such as video monitoring, surveillance equipment, intercom systems, doors and locks. Schools could receive grants of up to $25,000, and would have to match the funding with district dollars.
Minimum wage hearing
The House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs will hold a committee hearing on S.40, a bill relating to increasing the minimum wage, on Thursday, April 5, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The legislation, as passed by the Senate, raises Vermont’s minimum wage to $15 over 6 years.
The hearing will take place in Room 11, located on the first floor of the State House, near the main entrance. Witnesses can start signing up to speak at 5 p.m. Witness testimony will be limited to only two or three minutes.
For information about this event, or to submit written testimony, please contact the Committee at 802-828-3559 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In closing I would like to congratulate Otto Nisimblat of Killington on his successful term as a Page at the State House. Otto is an eigth grader at Woodstock Union Middle School. I have had the pleasure getting to better know him through a number of trips back and forth to Montpelier these past six weeks.