Budget Deal Is In Reach As Legislature Prepares To Adjourn

May 14, 2013

The Vermont Legislature is tying up loose ends today as it prepares to adjourn for the year.

Lawmakers are expected to work well into the evening to reach an agreement on the proposed $1.4 billion general fund budget.

The end of the session came into sight after legislative leaders opted not to challenge Gov. Peter Shumlin over their plan to lower income tax rates. The key to the deal was to get reassurance from the governor that he will consider a similar tax plan next January.

Many other issues are also advancing:

"Death With Dignity" or "Physician Assisted Suicide:" On Monday night, the House gave final approval to a bill that allows terminally ill patients to request prescription drugs from their physician to end their lives. The bill now heads to Gov. Shumlin, who says he will sign it.

“I am grateful that the Legislature had such a thoughtful, respectful debate on this deeply personal issue,” Shumlin said in a statement.  “I am also proud that we will now offer Vermonters who face terminal illness at the end of life a choice to control their destiny and avoid unnecessary suffering. I believe this is the right thing to do."

Vermont is set to become the first state to pass such a measure through the legislative process.

Voters in Oregon and Washington have approved similar laws. Last year, a court in Montana ruled that doctors can prescribe lethal doses of drugs to patients without fear of criminal prosecution. A ballot initiative in Massachusetts failed.

Marijuana decriminalization: Also on Monday, the Legislature voted to approve a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill would make it a civil offense rather than a crime to possess 1 ounce or less of pot in Vermont.

Health care exchange: The House is taking up a slew of bills, including a plan to cover the costs of setting up Vermont’s new health care exchange beginning in January 2015. The Senate has proposed extending the existing assessment on employers that don’t offer coverage to their employers. The plan includes a 1 percent tax on all health care claims. The total price tag for the operations of the exchange is roughly $18 million. 

Campaign finance: It looks increasingly unlikely that campaign finance reform will pass this session. A House-Senate conference committee has so far been unable to reconcile differences. A key sticking point is a provision included in the House bill that puts a $5,000 cap on individual contributions to political action committees. If the committee is unable to reach agreement, lawmakers may choose to wait until next year to take up the issue again.

View a list of all bills in conference committees here.

You can listen to any action on the House and Senate floor on VPR’s legislative streams.

Follow our Vermont Legislature reporting team of Bob Kinzel, John Dillon, and Kirk Carapezza on Twitter and here at VPR.net.