ANYWHERE BUT HERE
This week started on a somber note as many in the Vermont legislature attended the funeral of Representative Robert Forguites, who died unexpectedly last week. When lawmakers returned legislative business resumed as policy committees pushed to finalize their priority bills for the year.
This is the point in the session when questions start to percolate about which high profile bills will reach the finish line this year. Two priority bills for Democrats - paid family leave and minimum wage - have passed one chamber, but are lingering in policy committees as May approaches. Additionally, there are two other bills that seem to have run into roadblocks after easily passing their chamber of origin. A proposal to increase the heating fuel tax by two percent to pay for weatherization passed the House, but the Senate has balked, citing concerns that the tax adversely affects those it is trying to help. In the House, a proposal to put a 24-hour waiting period on the purchase of handguns has stalled, despite passing the Senate with overwhelming support.
Another bill that is generating some rare (for 2019) public pushback from Governor Phil Scott is S.54, a bill that would authorize a legal retail market for cannabis. Scott has indicated he will only sign the bill if it includes a saliva testing provision, a goal advocates say is unattainable with current technology. The bill is pending in the House Government Operations Committee.
Supporters and opponents filled the statehouse on Wednesday evening for a public hearing on a proposal to amend the Vermont Constitution. The proposal being considered by the House Human Services Committee would protect an individual’s “personal reproductive liberty,” a measure meant to enshrine legal access to abortion services. About 50 people showed up to testify, with hundreds more filling the chamber to observe. The House Human Services Committee will continue taking testimony on the proposal next week.
The Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees are refining their budget and tax proposals respectively, a sign the conference committee process is around the corner and adjournment is on the horizon (maybe).