Report from Montpelier

Kate Webb

Representative Kate Webb

At the time of this writing, the fate of many bills is unknown but will be clear by the time this article is in print. Did the House move a bill on to the Senate that opens the door for legal recreational use of marijuana? And what happened to amendments to create a taxable, regulated commercial market for marijuana or perhaps a commission to look into creating such a market? Did a bill to pave the way toward the creation of a statewide paid family leave insurance program survive?  These questions, along with the status of a toxics bill, an ethics commission, an economic development bill, and a forest fragmentation bill, among others, will likely be known by Thursday.

What I assume is still unknown is the final version of the appropriations bill and funding mechanism. While it is not unusual to find significant differences between the House and Senate budget versions, it is unusual to find the strength of votes in the two bodies so complete. The Senate bill passed 30-0. The House bill vote was 143-1, noting that the lone negative voter offered no suggestions during the process other than a Cheshire Cat smile as he voted. A Committee of Conference, consisting of three senators and three representatives, will hash out these differences and bring forth their plan for a balanced budget on the last day of the session.

The issues causing the greatest degree of heartburn between the House and Senate this year will likely revolve around use of the Education Fund. The Governor and Senate have both proposed moving state funding of teachers’ retirement from the General Fund to the Education Fund. In doing so, nearly eight million dollars in the General Fund is freed up to fund higher education and childcare, both laudable endeavors.

But there is a problem here. We House members, fresh from the campaign trail, have made promises to protect our communities from state-imposed property tax increases and this move does precisely that. The budget bill, known as “the big bill,” along with the “yield bill,” which sets the property tax rates, and the miscellaneous tax bill are all headed to committees of conference where three members of the House and three members of the Senate must find a way to reconcile those differences.

A second bone of contention involves the future of the Windsor Prison. Both bodies agree that the Windsor correctional facility is expensive to run and needs extensive improvement. Disagreement arises around decisions that do not take into account the correctional system as a whole and a Senate proposal will require the placement of more people in correctional facilities out of state. A path forward is expected to emerge by Saturday.

It appears that the session is on-course to wrap up by Saturday evening. Representative Brumsted and I will report on the various actions that made it through the session over the next two weeks. I am happy to respond to your questions or concerns while in session and can get back to you most easily if you contact me by email: kwebb@leg.state.vt.us, which I check frequently. I will be available over the summer to discuss issues of concern or interest and look forward to hearing from you.

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