A short update as we head into what is likely to be a very long final week of the session. Hopefully we will be able to finish the people’s business and adjourn by late Friday or early Saturday.
From a freshman legislator’s perspective, the past two weeks have been fascinating to watch unfold. The Vermont Legislature functions in two year bienniums. This means that bills proposed in January 2015 had all of last year’s session and until the end of this year’s session to pass. Bills that don’t pass need to start the process all over in a new biennium with new legislators. So in these final weeks we are seeing a lot of creative procedural moves as legislators try to get theirs bills voted on by both the House and Senate.
Two bills that my committee, House Commerce and Economic Development, worked on this session appeared to be dead.
A bill brought having to do with the proper classification of employees and a statutory definition of independant contractors passed out of our committee unanimously, but met fierce resistance from organized labor and was recommitted to our committee wall. After having spent months taking testimony on the bill, many of my fellow Commerce members and I worked with others for weeks to find a compromise position, but to no avail. We were told there would be no more work done in committee on the bill this year.
The second Commerce bill that appeared to have come to a stop was this year’s telecom bill. Significant parts of the bill include reforms to the siting process, penalties for not providing mapping data to the Deprtment of Public Service and a .5% increase in the Vermnt universal service fund to fund build out to tens of thousands of Vermonters who had previously been presumed to have been served. This bill passed BUHS House by large margins and was sent to the Senate weeks ago. Despite significant advocacy efforts by Windham County Senator Becca Balint, it seemed unlikely the Senate would take up the bill this year.
Thanks to creative procedural efforts, both of these bills came back to life late last week and will see further action this week.
The same is now true for marijuana legislation. The Senate passed S.241 legalizing possession, sale and supporting commercial growing. That bill died in House Judiciary which replaced it with a study. House Ways and Means added legalization of small amounts of marijuana and the ability to grow two plants to the Judiciary bill and sent it to House Appropriations where it seemed it might never leave to come to the floor for a vote by the entire body.
The Senate has also engaged in creative procedural efforts and so the House will debate and vote on marijuana legalization this week.
One thing is for certain – it will be a long and interesting week debating and voting on these and other bills as well as the final budget and tax bills. Looking forward to it!
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