2017 Washington County Legislative Delegation
Congressional Delegation 2017 – 2018 115th Congress
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Downs Rachlin Martin Government Affairs Group.
Legislative Update April 21, 2017
Skirmishes, but not Warfare, as Adjournment Nears
The final weeks of the session are always filled with minor drama and conflicts that are both large and small. But even with adjournment likely a mere two weeks away, the level of discord inside the Statehouse has been relatively mild. That’s particularly surprising given the heavily Democratic makeup of the legislature and a Republican serving on the fifth floor.
The big issues that have dominated the adjournment process in recent years have been set aside. The Democratic legislature has endorsed, albeit reluctantly, the governor’s call for modest spending growth and no new taxes. Instead, lawmakers are positioning themselves on a handful of other issues, most of which are either certain to pass or certain to die.
The administration’s proposal for a new $35 million housing bond falls in the “certain to pass” category. But the plan relies on an appropriation of $1 million, and lawmakers early on rejected Scott’s plan to raise the money. Given the budget squeeze, Democrats have been loathe to cut other programs to pay for it while also giving the Scott Administration a major victory.
In a positive turnabout from recent weeks, the administration and legislative leaders have been negotiating to end the impasse. An administration plan to close a state prison was a nonstarter for legislators, and another proposal floated on Friday – to cut $1 million from the state’s energy efficiency programs – is also likely to be dismissed. Housing, however, is widely recognized as a major statewide problem, and Democrats almost certainly won’t turn their backs on the housing advocates who make up some of their strongest supporters.
Internecine struggles between House and Senate Democrats may become as contentious as those involving the governor. In a surprise move, Senate Democrats moved late this week to pass a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill. The Senate’s approach differs dramatically from a plan floated, but then deflated, by House leaders several weeks ago. The Senate bill would create a comprehensive regulatory system that has little support in the House. But there is a strong legalization contingent in both bodies, so the issue is not likely to die quietly.
Within the Senate, a simmering dispute over a bill to increase the age of tobacco purchases to age 21 threatens to erupt. Still smarting over her Democratic colleagues’ refusal to support the bill, and annoyed at their priority of passing a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Health and Welfare Chair Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, put S.88 on the Senate’s Calendar for debate next week.
S.88 was set aside several weeks ago when it became apparent that a majority did not support it. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, is reportedly unhappy about Ayer’s move, and many Democrats would prefer not to be forced to vote.
Many of the same Senate Democrats who support legalization oppose S.88 on the grounds that 18 should be the age of majority. But the legalization bill sets 21 as the minimum age for marijuana purchases, and tobacco-control advocates are appalled at the inconsistency.
More scuffles no doubt lie ahead as time and tempers grow short. But they are likely to be minor sideshows in an adjournment process that seems more scripted and orderly than in recent years.
Senate Money Panel Passes Budget Bill
On a vote of 7-0, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a $5.8 billion budget on Friday that closes a $72 million projected gap between revenues and expenditures in the 2018 fiscal year. Read more
House Panel Approves Slimmed-Down Consumer Protection Bill
After working through the evening on Thursday, the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on Friday voted 10-0-1 to approve S.136, an omnibus consumer protection bill. Read more
House Advances Paid Family Leave
It has little chance of becoming law this session, but the House Ways and Means Committee has advanced H.196, a bill that would create a program to pay partial wages to persons taking time off from work for the birth of a child or illness of a close relative. Read more
House Commerce Committee Supports Lifting TIF Cap
The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee is expected to authorize up to 14 new tax increment financing districts when it approves its version of the Senate Economic Development bill, S.135. Read more
Independent Contractor Bill May Resurface
House Commerce Committee Chair Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, threw in the towel several weeks ago on a weeks-long effort to craft a bill that would clarify the workers’ compensation rules for independent contractors. Read more
Finance Considers Emergency Responder Bill
A House-passed bill to expand workers’ compensation benefits for emergency responders, H.197, was taken up this week by the Senate Finance Committee. Despite early skepticism by Committee Chair Ann Cummings, D-Washington, and two other committee members, the bill is likely to be approved. Read more
House Health Care Approves Mental Health System Bill
House Health Care Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, praised his committee for its work in addressing mental health issues this session as it passed S.133 on Friday afternoon. Read more
Panel Approves Open Meeting Requirement for ACOs
After adopting only a few minor amendments, the House Health Care Committee this week unanimously passed S.4, a bill that would require that the governing board meetings of an accountable care organization be open to the public. Read more
House DMV Bill Retains Two Plate Requirement
The House has amended a Senate-passed bill that would have eliminated the requirement that passenger vehicles display front and rear license plates in favor of the current two plate law. Read more
Natural Resources Committee Advances Chemical Bills
The House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee acted on a pair of bills this week that are aimed at preventing or mitigating the effect of exposure to hazardous chemicals. Read more
Senate Passes ACO Reporting with Drug Provision
The Senate this week advanced H.507, a bill that would require 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
Senate Approves Mental Health Treatment for Minors
On a vote of 24-6, the Senate on Friday approved H.230, a bill that would allow minors to consent to psychotherapy and other supportive counseling from a mental health professional without the consent of a parent or legal guardian. Read more
House Bill Would Require Unisex Bathrooms
The Vermont House has approved a bill that would require all single-stall public restrooms to be open to either gender. The bill, H.333, was approved on a roll call vote, 123-19. Read more
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