Local News, State News

Legislative review: Home stretch?

Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison

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

It’s generally about this time of the session with a scheduled two or three weeks remaining, that we wonder how it will get all done. As of last Friday, 136 bills were passed by the House and 99 by the Senate this year. With only 43 of these approved by both bodies, it leaves a significant number that need to be approved by one body or the other and differences reconciled in just a few weeks. Yet, history tells us that a great deal of legislation will reach the finish line in short order, including the “must pass” bills like the state budget and education funding. It may take some late evenings, as well as weekend sessions, but it will get done.

S.103 was vetoed by Governor Scott last week. It would have allowed the health commissioner to add new chemicals to the state’s list of banned items in products without the approval of the advisory committee that was put in place during the Shumlin Administration a few years ago. Global Foundries, one of the state’s largest employers, expressed serious concern over that change in the bill. While the Senate voted to override the governor’s veto, the House will likely sustain the veto this Wednesday, April 25.
A couple of key bills to keep an eye on:

H.911 – The education financing changes contained in the House version are unacceptable to the governor and income tax changes are opposed by a coalition of Vermont nonprofits. Unless the Senate comes up with a winning formula, this could be the bill that brings the Legislature back in June for a veto session.

H.858 – Although the Vermont NEA is now endorsing a plan to institute uniform statewide health care benefits for teachers and school staff, it doesn’t mean everyone is on the same page. But the move holds promise that the Legislature, governor and all parties currently involved in the negotiations can come up with an acceptable plan beginning in 2019.

S.40 – The House leadership seems to be leaning toward bringing the $15 minimum wage bill to the House floor soon. It has already passed the Senate, but it’s unclear whether there are the votes in the House yet. In its present form, the governor is sure to veto it, which might indicate to some observers the issue is being advanced for political purposes.

H.922 – This legislation contains a number of miscellaneous changes to our tax statutes, such as technical changes that are brought forth by the tax department each year. However, it also contains a new tax on e-cigarettes (vaping devices that are non-tobacco). Such a tax would violate the administration’s no new tax or fee pledge this year.

S.70 – The bill requires all establishments that offer children’s meals to have it come with a healthy beverage (i.e. milk, water, juice) as opposed to soda or other sugar sweetened beverages. While the objective of healthy beverages is supported by most, if not all, concerns were raised by some committee members that it was going down the road of a “nanny state” with a new mandate. S.70 limped out of House Human Services by a 6-5 vote. Rather than coming up for a scheduled floor vote in the full House last Friday, it was referred to the House Commerce Committee, which may or may not mean the end of the legislation this year.

H.924 – The so called “Big Bill” contains the budget for virtually all of state government. As it passed the House, it kept overall spending close to what the administration proposed and does not rely on new taxes. However, there are inevitably differences in how available funds are spent between the House and Senate as well as the executive branch. In addition, the House included a $120,000 allocation to study “decarbonization” in the budget. The Governor has been adamant against any new carbon tax or spending more money to study it.

And finally, with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Fair Haven Sawyer case, they essentially invited lawmakers to change the definition of “attempt” in Vermont law, a definition that has been in place by the courts for 112 years. Members of both the House and Senate judiciary committees are now working on the issue in hopes of finding a solution within the confines of the constitution.

Let’s hope the appropriate/necessary compromises are made and we have a smooth and timely conclusion to the 2018 session.

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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