By Rep. Jessica Brumsted
With an estimated two weeks remaining in the 2017 legislative session, House and Senate committees are busy finishing work on the most pressing legislation. In House Government Operations, where I am a member, work continues on S. 8, the ethics bill that I wrote about in my last column. Committee Chair Maida Townsend is planning to have us vote this bill out of committee early this week and debate it on the House floor by the end of the week.
Conference Committees are being appointed and are starting their work on those bills that have made it through both the House and Senate but have differences to reconcile. One of these bills is H. 42, a bill that would allow town voters to authorize their Selectboards to appoint town clerks or treasurers. This authorization makes sense to most everyone.
The point of contention between the two bodies on H.42 is the proposed penalty provisions that make a “town official personally liable for a civil penalty in the amount of $100 per day for willfully refusing or neglecting to submit his or her accounting information.” These penalty provisions were included in the House bill to help town administrators address illegal use of funds as has occurred recently in a few small communities; the Senate decided to strip the bill of all penalties, hence a conference committee is necessary to come to some compromise.
Recently, the House passed H. 494, the transportation bill. This legislation uses savings from the Department of Motor Vehicles’ decision to issue only one (rear) license plate instead of two to address needed improvements for town highway class 2 roadways. It is clear that legislators are looking seriously at the disparities between state and local transportation funding. The increased focus on local transportation funding from the state highway budget and federal appropriations is a very good sign for Shelburne and other towns throughout Vermont.
An amendment to S. 127, an act relating to miscellaneous changes to laws related to vehicles and vessels, addressing the Department of Motor Vehicles Inspection Program, created quite a stir on the House floor this past Friday. The “check engine” light shows your engine isn’t running quite right. It can indicate an emissions problem which might be a small problem – or a costly one – and often comes with no discernible symptoms. But that light also means your vehicle won’t pass Vermont’s required annual inspection.
Some believe this is unfair, because a “check engine” light rarely has anything to do with vehicle safety, which is the purpose of the state inspection program. However, environmentalists are concerned that an engine light unchecked puts air quality at risk although Vermont is already well below federal regulations.
The issue at play here is whether the incremental change in air quality is worth the costs to some of our most vulnerable neighbors who are concerned about transportation costs. It was an interesting debate and in the end, the amendment passed with a large majority extending the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles rules, allowing motorists to pass inspection with the light on till the end of 2018.
The House Ways and Means Committee passed a revised version of H. 196, an act relating to paid family leave. The House Appropriations Committee is taking testimony on it, and it has a good chance of making it to the House floor before the end of the session. As passed, the new version allows for six weeks of paid leave for both parental and family care situations, but specifically excludes disability leave from the program.
Originally proposed at 100%, the wage replacement has been reduced to 80% in its current version. This new benefit will mean a new payroll tax of 0.141% for the first $150,000 of wages for all employees but would not include self-employed individuals. Employees must be employed in Vermont for 12 of the last 13 months to be eligible to take leave.
Representative Kate Webb and I will also be in the Shelburne Pierson Library from 6 to 7pm on Tuesday, May 9 for constituent conversation. Please know I am always available to meet with anyone by appointment in Montpelier from Tuesday to Friday and in Shelburne and St. George on Saturdays and Mondays, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.