House and Senate Consider Marijuana Decriminalization Bills; Senate Debates Drivers’ IDs

Apr 1, 2013

After a long week debating budgets, taxes and renewable energy siting policies, Senate and House lawmakers can take a breath as they return to their committees this week to discuss a wide range of topics.The House Judiciary Committee will continue to take testimony on a measure that would decriminalize the possession of two ounces or less of marijuana. On Wednesday, the committee will hear from Attorney General Bill Sorrell and Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen among other witnesses. Last week, it appeared the panel was set to approve the bill, although it may want to reduce the amount of pot that the state would decriminalize.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is taking up a separate bill that would make it a civil offense to possess one ounce or less of pot. Health Commissioner Harry Chen is set to testify.The Senate Health and Welfare Committee will also consider the House proposal to cap welfare benefits at five years. Since national welfare reform in the 1990s, Vermont hasn’t limited how long someone can collect benefits. But the budget passed by the House last week would set time limits for the program known as Reach Up.On Wednesday, the House Health Care Committee will take testimony on a bill that would allow physicians to prescribe long-term antibiotic treatment for patients suffering from Lyme disease.The Senate is set to debate Tuesday whether the state should issue driver privilege cards to immigrants who are in this country illegally. Last week, senators voted out of committee a bill that would expand eligibility for driving and identification privileges in Vermont.

On Town Meeting Day in March, local voters adopted a number of measures that require approval of the Legislature, including charter changes. So this week the House Government Operations Committee will begin tackling them, including a charter change that would merge the town and village of Northfield.

And on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee is looking at the state’s special municipal tax district law. Governor Peter Shumlin wants the state to forgive $6 million that the auditor’s office says several towns owe to the state education fund. The Finance Committee is taking testimony from Winooski Mayor Michael O’Brien and State Auditor Doug Hoffer.