By Guy Page
Here’s a Tuesday morning status update on some high profile bills in the Vermont Legislature:
S.54, tax and regulate legalization of marijuana. Government Operations, the committee with jurisdiction, is waiting for Judiciary, Transportation and Human Services committee to complete their advisory work on aspects of the bill. Judiciary generally opposes the impaired driver roadside saliva test, which Gov. Scott says is essential. Human Services will weigh in on how well the medical marijuana is working, because Gov Ops Chair Sarah Copeland-Hanzas wants existing dispensaries to sell ‘tax and regulate’ marijuana while other dispensaries are undergoing licensing.
No committee vote on S.54 is scheduled this week, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, a committee member said this morning. It’s likely to include significantly more taxation than the Senate bill, to fund prevention programs.
The House Commerce Committee will visit a Champlain Valley medical marijuana facility Wednesday.
The conference committee for S.39, school merger deadline, reportedly has been disbanded by the Senate at the behest of Sen. Phil Baruth. An observer of the negotiations said they were making no progress in resolving the differences between the House (some districts can postpone mergers) and Senate version (all may postpone mergers). The Committee on Committees will be asked to form another conference committee.
Prop 5, the constitutional amendment to unrestricted abortion and “reproductive liberty,” will be discussed in House Human Services all week long, Chair Ann Pugh told the House Democratic Caucus. The amendment needs to be approved by both Houses of two consecutive bienniums, and then would go to voters in a statewide referendum November, 2022. She stated her support for Prop 5 and said that “If I am wrong, the voters will tell us. If some of you are sitting here saying I am not sure this is a fundamental right, I am not sure I support this…..the outcome of this is that the people of Vermont will decide. Let the people state their will.”
S.23, the $15 minimum wage, was approved by the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee despite the predicted addition of $28 million in “salary compression” increases to state employees and Medicaid-paid workers, including Medicaid-paid home health agency workers. Today it goes to Appropriations, the committee that must determine if/how those funds will be raised.
Prop 2, prohibition of slavery. The proposed amendment to the Vermont Constitution was approved 28-1 by the Senate last month and will have a public hearing 5 pm Wednesday before Gov Ops in Room 11.
S.163, required registration of contractors. The ‘housing safety and rehabilitation’ bill would require all general contractors to join a state registry and pay fees for a certification process – a process that has yet to be determined, said Rep. Mark Higley (R-Lowell), a contractor who will share his concerns with the General Housing and Military Affairs Committee Wednesday.
Senate Judiciary today and Wednesday will consider a Vermont Human Rights Commission amendment to H.518, the fair and impartial policing bill passed by the House. The amendment would empower the HRC to “enter and inspect the records of any State, county, and municipal law enforcement agency” upon request of a local official.
The idea of the Human Rights Commission poking around police records doesn’t sit well with the law enforcement community. Rick Gauthier of the Vermont Criminal Justice Council wrote a letter in opposition, criticizing the good-faith effort of the immigrant group Migrant Justice to resolve alleged policing problems. Beth Novotny of the Vermont Police Association told the committee last Thursday that empowering a state board to investigate local police is excessive and instead called for a public education campaign.
Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), a strong local government supporter, said she opposes the amendment. Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) said he is concerned that the HRC not meddle with ongoing police investigations.
The FY 2020 state budget bill, H.542, has been passed by the House with an estimated 2.6 percent increase in spending, not including some other possible increases that are “in play” due to votes and decisions not yet made by the Legislature – including a large proposed allocation for the state pension fund. The budget ball is now in the Senate Appropriation’s court. The committee will deliberate all week and has scheduled a vote for Friday.
S.37, the Medical Monitoring bill, will be reviewed by House Judiciary Thursday. This bill would strengthen the legal right of people who claim to have suffered harm from exposure to hazardous substances to sue and recover damages from the alleged source of the substance.
House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife will take more testimony today and Wednesday on S.113, prohibition of plastic carryout bags, polystyrene, and plastic straws.
THe Senate Economic Development Committee will take testimony Wednesday and Thursday on H.107, paid family leave. No vote is scheduled.
Senate Finance Wednesday will discuss H.460, the House-approved bill to seal and expunge criminal records, including marijuana possession convictions.
Senate Health and Welfare will discuss H.57, unrestricted right to abortion, on Tuesday, and S86, increasing the smoking age to 21, on Wednesday. The Senate-approved smoking bill was approved by the House with an amendment which must now be considered by the Senate.
Senate Natural Resources and Energy will discuss its own weatherization bill, S.171, all week long. A House bill, H.439, was voted out of the House amid great contention for its funding mechanism, a doubling of the heating fuel tax. Like H.439, it would double the fuel tax but also would impose a 0.5 percent tax on the retail sale of electricity, as well as a 1.5 percent tax on natural gas and coal. A committee vote is scheduled for Friday.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.