By Rep. Joan Lenes
The word crossover has been buzzing in every committee room and hallway in the state house this past week. Crossover is when we are about half way through the legislative session. One wants to make sure any bills they want to see progress through the legislative process have been heard in the committee of jurisdiction by now and be ready to be voted on by the entire House or Senate. The bills then crossover to the other body where they will be looked at again, testimony will be taken and voted on. This is true for all legislation except for the money bills such as the capital bill, transportation bill, and the budget, known as the “big bill.” The crossover date for money bills will be in about a week. It is especially important to watch and shepherd important legislation if it is the second year of a biennium because proposed legislation cannot be carried over into a new biennium. Committees were working long days, hearing testimony, and deliberating over language while analyzing any possible outcomes and unintended consequences from the proposed legislation. It looks like 32 House bills were passed out of committees and will be reported on the floor this coming week – we know it will mean long days in the chamber while we listen, learn and decide on the legislation before us.
One of the bills that came out of my Committee of Corrections and Institutions was H.529, an act relating to state aid for school construction repayment obligations. It most likely would not apply to our school district, CSSU, but it could play an important role for other districts that might be considering a different use or consolidation for their buildings under Act 46. These changes might involve the sale or repurposing of existing structures. It was reported that repayment of school construction aid could prohibit these plans and could result in buildings in the center of our towns being left empty instead of being sold due to inability to repay the state aid. This bill repeals (for a four-year period — until 7/1/2020) the section of law that requires repayment of school construction debt if a school building is sold. In discussion with the state treasurer, she stated there were no issues with the bond authorities with the “forgiveness” of these debts; in fact, many schools viewed these as grants and not debt. It should be pointed out, however, that this does not relieve the school districts from repayment of any debt they may have directly with the Bond Bank.
An interesting bill coming out of House Health Care Committee is looking at prescription drug development costs and transparency. Prescription drug costs have increased significantly in recent years. A decade ago prescription drug inflation rates were around 5%-6% annually; in recent years that inflation rate has increased to 11%-12% annually. Prescription drugs can be classified into three categories: (1) generic drugs without patent protection account for 85% of prescriptions and 27% of cost, (2) brand drugs with patent protection account for 14% of prescriptions and 32% of cost, and (3) specialty drugs which treat rare conditions and account for 1% of prescriptions and 41% of prescription drug costs. The explosion in the cost of specialty drugs necessitates a better understanding of what is driving this inflation. The committee bill directs the Green Mountain Care Board to develop a list of prescription drugs on which the state spends significant funds and requires the manufacturers of the prescription drugs on this list to report specific price history, R&D cost, patent longevity and any other information that will aid in the board’s understanding of the relationship between the cost of developing the drug and the drug’s price. I believe this will be a tremendous benefit to consumers.
I will be at Bruegger’s Bagel every Tuesday morning 7:30-8:30. Please stop by. You can reach me at email@example.com or at 802-999-9363. You can also leave a message with the Sergeant at Arms 1-800-322-5616.