2017 Washington County Legislative Delegation
Congressional Delegation 2017 – 2018 115th Congress
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Legislative Update April 28, 2017
The Power of One
Former Gov. Howard Dean used to describe the respective legislative and executive powers this way: “The House gets a vote, the Senate gets a vote, and I get a vote.” As Dean knew, though, some votes are more equal than others, and he was not reluctant to exercise his.
With the legislative session entering its final week, lawmakers seem to have forgotten that Gov. Scott will have a final say in every decision that emerges from the Statehouse. The Senate passed its budget this week, and the most noteworthy departure from the House-passed bill was the transfer of $8 million in teacher retirement spending from the general fund to the education fund — a decision that freed up significant new spending for pre-k and higher education. The new demand on the education fund, however, necessitated an increase in the statewide property tax, which the Senate passed yesterday. Both decisions, if approved by the House, are almost certain to result in a veto.
Scott has maintained an unusual clarity of message since he took office in January: affordability, economic opportunity and compassion for the less fortunate. Within the legislature, the message has been simpler: no new taxes.
Until this week, lawmakers had grudgingly accepted Scott’s line in the sand. For the first time in years, and perhaps decades, the legislature has approved no additional fees or taxes. For the Senate Appropriations Committee, the fiscal restraint finally became too much. In fairness, former Gov. Peter Shumlin held a similar, albeit less rigid line on new taxes, as did Gov. Jim Douglas before him. The limited growth in existing revenues has created considerable pent-up desire among legislators for new spending.
Surprisingly, the Senate unanimously approved the budget bill (which included the education fund transfer), and then passed the property tax increase bill by voice vote.
The Senate’s action is a political softball pitch to Scott. While some voters no doubt disagree with the governor’s firm line on taxes generally, it would be hard to find a Vermonter who believes that property taxes are not high enough. The governor’s political advisors are likely to be salivating at the prospect of his veto of what is almost certainly a wildly unpopular proposal.
While the governor gets a “vote” on bills, he can’t, of course, force the legislature to act – he can only ask. This week he asked the legislature to adopt a statewide contract for teachers’ health care benefits, which he argued would save the state $26 million annually. The legislature declined, and that decision may also pay political dividends for the governor.
Lawmakers rejected the statewide health care contract on the grounds, in part, that individual school districts should be allowed to negotiate teacher benefits. There is an inherent inconsistency in the legislature’s approval of higher education fund spending while rejecting a statewide teachers contract. The state has largely taken over the field of education finance in Vermont, so the notion of local control over spending decisions rings a bit hollow.
Legislators also argued that they don’t have time to consider the governor’s proposal to save $26 million in education spending this late in the session. Voters may also look askance at that argument as well given the Senate’s willingness to approve $8 million in new education fund spending during the same week it rejected the governor’s proposal for its tardiness.
Senate Committee Rejects Anti-Uber Amendment
The Senate Finance Committee on Friday afternoon unanimously rejected a proposal from the Senate Judiciary Committee to impose high automobile liability insurance limits on ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber. Read more
Legislature Sends Emergency Responder Bill to Governor
The Senate on Thursday approved a House-passed bill, H.197, that will expand mental health benefits for workers’ compensation claimants. Read more
Senate Approves Access to Cannabidiol Medication
The Senate unanimously approved an amendment that ensures patients immediate access to any Food and Drug Administration cannabidiol prescription medication being developed for the treatment of intractable childhood epilepsies. Read more
Senate Advances Appropriations Bill
The Senate unanimously approved a $5.8 billion budget on Thursday that closes a $72 million projected gap between revenues and expenditures in the 2018 fiscal year. Read more
Committee Approves Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program
The House Human Services Committee gave its approval this week to a Senate-passed bill that will expand the state’s medical marijuana program. Read more
Independent Contractor Bill Meets a Fiery End
House Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, pulled the plug this week on the ongoing efforts by several committee members to salvage a bill to clarify the definition of independent contractor. Read more
Ways and Means Takes Extreme Position on TIFs
The chair of the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday unveiled a rewrite of the tax increment financing section of S.135 that would move the proposed expansion of TIF districts in a dramatically different direction from proposals vetted in other committees of the House and Senate. Read more
Paid Leave Advances to House Floor
On a 6-5 vote, the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted to send to the full House a bill, H.196, that would create a state-run insurance program to provide paid family and parental leave. Read more
Rural Economic Development Bill Advances in House
On Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee gave its approval to S.34, a bill that originated in the Senate Appropriations Committee and was aimed at improving economic development opportunities in rural communities. Read more
House Advances Duty to Warn Bill
The House advanced a bill on Friday that clarifies when mental health professionals must disclose information concerning a client or patient. Read more
House Advances ACO Open Board Meeting Bill
The House this week approved S.4, a bill requiring that governing board meetings of an accountable care organization be open to the public. Read more
House Approves Mental Health Coordination
The House approved on Friday S.133, a bill that seeks to reduce emergency waiting times at hospitals through a comprehensive review of Vermont’s mental health system and the creation of an action plan and long term vision. Read more
House Supports the Evaluation of Suicide Profiles
The House this week agreed to Senate changes to H.184, a bill that requires the Agency of Human Services to annually evaluate the profile of and factors related to each suicide in the state. Read more
House Accepts Changes to Mental Health Treatment for Minors Bill
The House this week agreed to Senate changes to H.230, a bill that would allow any minor to consent to psychotherapy and other supportive counseling from a mental health professional without the consent of a parent or legal guardian. Read more
Changes to Mental Health Crisis Response Commission Approved
The House this week agreed to Senate changes to H.145, a bill that establishes a Mental Health Crisis Response Commission within the Office of Attorney General. Read more
House Advances ACO Pilot Bill
The House this week accepted Senate changes to H.507, a bill that requires the Department of Vermont Health Access to provide periodic reports on the implementation of the Next Generation Medicaid Accountable Care Organization pilot contract with OneCare Vermont, the state’s largest ACO. Read more
Conference Committee Requested for Telemedicine Bill
The House on Tuesday approved S.50, a bill that allows telemedicine services performed by providers who are outside of a health care facility to be reimbursed just as they would for an in-person appointment. Read more
Bill Would Change the Name of Vermont Public Service Board
To address confusion caused by a Department of Public Service that appears as a party before the Public Service Board, a bill that has now passed both Houses that would change the name of the quasi-judicial body that oversees electric and telecommunications utilities to the Vermont Public Utilities Commission. Read more
New Agency of Digital Services Seeks to Improve State IT Management
John Quinn appeared before the House Committee on Energy and Technology this week as the freshly appointed Chief Information Officer of the new Agency of Digital Services. Read more
End of Session Anticipated
The House and Senate will conduct “token” sessions on Saturday in a maneuver to speed up the adjournment process.Read more
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