By Guy Page
The Senate and House chambers at the Vermont Statehouse are empty. Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe and his assistant wander through the cafeteria in clothing better suited for the beach or a day of yard work. House clerks and cleaning staff chat about their kids’ weekend soccer games.
There’s scarcely a lawmaker in sight. A handful are here on “conference committee” duty. These committees put three senators and three representatives in the same room to resolve differences in major bills approved by both the House and Senate. Most of these differences revolve around whether and/or how to spend millions, even tens of millions, of state dollars.
The committees hope to be done by Wednesday morning, when the full Legislature is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m.
Of 21 active conference committees, only five have scheduled meetings this week:
H.132, protections against housing discrimination for victims of domestic and sexual violence, 9 a.m. Tuesday May 21, Sens. Balint, Sirotkin, and Clarkson, and Reps. Stevens, Szott and Gamache. Both House and Senate include protecting rental rights of victims of domestic abuse, but the House version removes five sections of Dept. of Health oversight over rental unit safety and health. The House has already included similar DOH oversight in the more controversial “contractor registration and regulation” bill, S.163, up for House review Wednesday. A proposed amendment of S.163 would require all residential construction contractors to be state-licensed and covered by liability insurance.
H.533, workforce development, will be discussed 1 p.m. May 21 by Sens. Sirotkin, Brock, and Clarkson, and Reps. Marcotte, Kimbell and O’Sullivan. The senate version would increase workforce training funds by 10 percent in each of the next two years, with a focus on workers in healthcare, construction, childcare and manufacturing.
H.542, state budget, was scheduled for an 11 am conference committee today. As of 11:02 a handful of conferees instead were chatting about vacation plans over the coffee in the State House cafeteria and telling reporters that it’s too early to approve a budget. The state budget can’t be finalized until decisions are made on big spending bills like proposed paid family leave and the $15 minimum wage. Another bill in that category is……
S.108, employee misclassification, would prohibit employers from misclassifying employees as independent contractors. It also would expand attorney general authority to pursue violators.
S.110, data privacy and consumer protection. The House version would add government reporting requirements to a Senate bill intended to protect consumer privacy on the internet. An 11 a.m., May 21 conference committee meeting is scheduled.
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.