On March 14, 2018

Second half of legislative session begins

By Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon

Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison

It was great to see so many people at the town meetings in each of the district towns last week. Bridgewater’s meeting was unique in the sense that it was held at the Long Trail Brewery, which had closed its popular restaurant on Tuesday to allow the town to have its meeting there.

I received several great questions on various hot topics in Montpelier from gun control to property taxes and a $15 minimum wage.

And congratulations to all newly elected and re-elected Select Board members, School Board members and other town office holders. These are the folks committed to making a difference in our communities, often serving in volunteer capacities.

As I reported at each of the meetings, last week marked the halfway point of the legislative session. A number of proposals still on committee walls are likely dormant for the balance of the year, while many other initiatives are passing from the House to the Senate or vice versa.

In the wake of marijuana legalization signed into law in January (effective July 1), the Vermont House approved legislation that would allow law enforcement to use a saliva test when driver impairment is in question. The tests could be used to screen drivers for marijuana and six other drugs. While the measure passed the House on a wide margin, passage in the Senate this session is far from guaranteed.

In an effort to keep discussions on a carbon tax alive, the House Natural Resources Committee passed out a bill to spend $100,000 to study the issue some more. H.763 advanced along party lines. The governor has indicated he does not support a carbon tax nor any bill to spend state money to study carbon taxation.

The House gave approval to legislation, H.614, which would require a fireworks retailer to let customers know that they need a permit to use fireworks and must comply with any local ordinances regulating them.

House to consider education funding changes
The House Ways & Means Committee has been working nonstop since the beginning of January on changing the funding to include higher income taxes, but with lower residential property taxes. When the committee’s initial proposal failed to win broad support, the legislation, H.911, was scaled back significantly.

The new bill lowers residential property taxes, retains income sensitivity, raises taxes faster for high spending towns and includes a new education income tax surcharge. The committee approved the measure on an 8-2-1 vote.

It also makes adjustments to Vermont’s income taxes to help alleviate an estimated $30 million in Vermont income tax increases that would have resulted from federal changes this year. In addition it lowers the income tax on social security benefits for low and moderate income residents that the governor had proposed.

Critics of the new education funding proposal say it’s merely rearranging funding sources with few cost containment measures.

The bill now goes to the House for further action. More details can be found at: tinyurl.com/y7q3pwk6.

Campaign note
While November seems like a long way off, we already have choices for the Rutland-Windsor 1 legislative district. I plan to run for re-election and will have at least one opponent (Gina Ottoboni, D-Chittenden), who is currently collecting petition signatures to get on the ballot. Like in business, competition is almost always healthy.

You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or my cell. 802-236-3001. Messages may also be left at the State House during the legislative session at 802-828-2228. I am also happy to meet district members coming to the State House.

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