With legislative leaders aiming to end the session by May 12, it remains a bit of a mystery as to how it will all come together.
The only “must-pass” legislation is the annual state budget. With total spending close to the administration’s proposed cap, albeit with some differences in priorities, I don’t believe it will be the budget bill that holds up adjournment this year.
However, even small differences can create significant obstacles in the rush to adjournment.
The Senate budget includes: a waiver program to provide support to more than 3,000 Vermonters with disabilities; a primary care loan repayment program that helps attract doctors and nurses to rural areas; Vermont’s cost sharing reduction program, which provides subsidies to help low-income Vermonters with medical deductible and copay costs; and money to boost compensation for mental health workers at Vermont’s designated agencies.
The Senate version also relies on making cuts to a new tuition assistance program for the Vermont National Guard and ThinkVermont, an economic development plan.
Both the House and Senate versions of the budget keep the administration’s proposal to cut taxes on social security retirement income.
Money from a one-time tobacco settlement payment would be used to help pay off some of the state’s teacher pension liability as well as $5.5 million to pay off a loan for retired teacher’s health care.
It remains unclear how the current stalemate on education funding will get resolved in the final days. The Governor has reaffirmed his opposition to the education funding bill, H. 911, which lowers property taxes and creates a new income tax surcharge to partially fund education costs.
Last week, the Senate unanimously approved a new domestic terrorism bill in response to the Fair Haven situation, where a teenager threatened a shooting at the high school.
By the time this goes to print, the House is expected to have concurred and sent the measure on to the governor. Meanwhile, the House has been drafting a change to the definition of “attempt” so that in the future, when a person has “plans put in place,” like the teen in Fair Haven allegedly did, the state could charge the planner with attempted murder.
The $15 minimum wage bill passed out of a House committee on a 7-4 vote. It then went to the House Appropriations Committee to review the potential costs to the state. Special consideration was given to the impact on many of the not-for-profit agencies that help the state meet its obligations to citizens that would need additional funds to pay employees higher wages. Examples are agencies such as the Lund Center, Howard Mental Health and parent-child centers. It is unclear whether there are the votes in the budget committee to advance the measure at this point.
Meanwhile, the Senate is advancing the paid family leave bill, which includes a small payroll tax increase that was overwhelmingly approved by the House last year.
Another bill to watch is one that deals with clean water. Everyone supports clean water, but not necessarily when it comes to paying for it. S.260 was advanced by the House Ways and Means Committee on a 7-3 vote. This legislation addresses a federal mandate requiring states to ensure clean water with a sustainable funding source. S. 260 proposes to begin paying for this with an increase in the rooms and meals tax and collection of unclaimed bottle deposits.
Finally, thank you to those who have signed my petition to be on this fall’s ballot for the legislative race in Chittenden 5-2 (St. George and sections of Shelburne). If you would like to add your name, I will be at the Arbor Day celebration on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Village.
Rep. Jessica Brumsted, a Democrat, represents Shelburne and St. George in the Vermont House of Representatives.