Leonine: Adjournment delayed again

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Leonine: Adjournment delayed again

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 12:11pm -- tim

Through a special arrangement with VBM, Leonine Public Affairs provides a summary of legislative activity in Montpelier for the week ending May 12. 2017.

Leonine Public Affairs While the Vermont General Assembly initially planned to adjourn Friday, May 6th, a disagreement between the Democratic-controlled legislature and Republican Governor, Phil Scott regarding education spending and teacher health insurance contracts prevented that from happening. As a result, the plan was to come back on Wednesday of this week for a two day session to wrap things up. However, even after going an extra day through today (Friday), the legislature and administration still had not reached an agreement. As a result, the full Senate plans to return on Wednesday or Thursday next week (5/17 or 5/18). The full House could return as early as Tuesday (5/16) and will be notified by email as to the exact return date.

The point of contention has been Governor Scott's proposal to cut property taxes by utilizing savings from a change in teachers’ health care plans. The Governor’s proposal included changing how teacher health benefits are collectively bargained - negotiating on a statewide basis instead of district by district.

Governor Scott has said the state has a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to lower property taxes by $26 million without hurting school programs and ensuring teachers are held harmless. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have criticized the proposal, saying a statewide teacher's health benefits plan eliminates the union's ability to collectively bargain. House and Senate Democrats offered a counter proposal they said would save $13 million in FY18 but keeps collective bargaining at the district level. The Democratic plan reduces education spending and requires school districts to realize the savings. On Thursday the Governor rejected the Democratic plan, saying it only addresses one year of savings and does not ensure education programs will remain intact. 

In the meantime a handful of conference committees continued work to on their respective bills, and in some cases agreements were reached.


CHEMICALS
S.103, a bill that would create an interagency task force to identify, inventory and recommend changes to chemical management practices in Vermont has been referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee after passing the House. The bill became controversial when the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee added provisions that would amend Act 188, the program that regulates chemicals in children's products. The proposed amendments to Act 188 gave the Commissioner of Health unilateral power to ban children's products in Vermont if they contain certain chemicals. They also changed the scientific standards required for regulating the use of chemicals in Vermont. Since Act 188 passed in 2014 there have been efforts to expand its scope from children's products to all consumer products, which would have a broad impact on manufacturing in Vermont.

An effort on the House floor to strip some of the Act 188 amendments out was narrowly defeated and the bill was messaged back to the Senate. Senate leadership said the House amendments required further consideration and the bill was referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. It is unclear if any further action will be taken on the bill this year. 


MARIJUANA
The House gave final approval to a bill allowing small amounts of marijuana possession for personal use. S.22 would allow adults age 21 and above to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and allow home growers to have two mature and four immature plants. The law would become effective in July of 2018. It was a drastic turn around for a bill that appeared dead for the year. It marks the first time a legislature has legalized marijuana for recreational use. Other states, like Colorado and Washington, legalized marijuana by referendum. 

The bill now goes to Governor Phil Scott for approval. He can sign the bill or let it become law without his signature. He can also veto the measure. After S.22 passed the legislature Governor Scott declined to say what he plans to do. He said he does not believe legalization is a priority in Vermont right now.  He is also concerned there is no reliable roadside test for marijuana. 


LIQUOR-LOTTERY MERGER
H.238, a lengthy bill that updates Vermont's alcohol laws, got caught up in the controversy regarding the Governor's proposal to merge the Department of Liquor and the Lottery Commission. Earlier this year the Governor issued an Executive Order proposing to merge the department and the commission. The House voted for a Resolution that rescinded the Executive Order in April. The Senate then added the merger proposal to H.238 but the House balked. The conference committee report, approved by both the House and Senate this week, creates a "Department of Liquor and Lottery Task Force," to draft a plan and legislation to merge liquor and lottery on or before July 1, 2018. This six-member Task Force consists of a member of the House, a member of the Senate, the Chair of the Liquor Board, the Chair of the Lottery Commission and two members that the Governor appoints. The bill is awaiting the Governor's signature.

LICENSE PLATES AND INSPECTIONS
This week the House and Senate approved a conference committee report regarding S.127, the Department of Motor Vehicle Miscellaneous bill. The final version of the bill makes numerous changes to DMV laws including the following:
  • Preserves the current requirement that vehicles have two license plates and authorizes Vermont Strong license plates to be displayed indefinitely on the front of a vehicle. 
  • Requires the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, in consultation with the Commissioner of Corrections, to estimate the cost savings that would result from eliminating the requirement that most vehicles display front license plates and examine whether the redesign of Vermont’s license plate could lead to cost savings associated with the production of the plates, among other things. A report is due back to lawmakers by January 15, 2018. 
  • Requires the Secretary of Transportation to develop an educational resource for property owners related to the prevention of injuries arising from recreational use of property.
  • Deleted the so-called “Keefe” amendment that authorized by law, and extended until May 1, 2018, DMV’s “conditional pass” policy for vehicles inspected under Automated Vehicle Inspection Program (AVIP) that fail the on-board diagnostic (i.e., emission-related) portion of the inspection but pass the safety-related portion of the test. The result is that DMV's current “conditional pass” policy remains in place.