House Committee Approves GMO Bill; Senate Seeks End-of-Life Compromise

May 7, 2013

A key panel is sending to the House floor legislation that would require labels on genetically modified food sold in Vermont.

The House Judiciary Committee voted, 7-4, on Tuesday to advance a bill that would prohibit the use of the term “natural” on the labels of foods, while exempting meat and dairy that has been fed genetically engineered grains.

The measure could provoke a lawsuit from biotech companies, but supporters have identified a gap between the industry’s support of GMO labeling in countries where it’s required and its opposition to the practice in America where it’s not.

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A deeply divided Senate is scheduled to take up the House version of the end-of-life bill Tuesday afternoon with an amendment offered by Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington.

Hartwell wants to replace the detailed House bill with one that provides immunity for doctors if they prescribe lethal medication to a patient who has three months left to live.

Supporters of the House bill say it offers guidance and needed protections for patients. But many senators wanted to see legislation that did not get state government involved in end-of-life decisions. The vote is expected to be close.

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A lengthy debate is expected Tuesday morning as House lawmakers prepare to give final approval to a bill that would authorize the state to issue drivers’ privilege cards to people who are in this country illegally.

The measure would allow people who are in the United States illegally – including many of Vermont’s estimated 1,500 migrant dairy farm workers – to apply for the right to drive.

Vermont’s Republican caucus, which has raised security concerns, is gearing up to propose six amendments on the House floor, including one that would require recipients of the driver privilege card to provide fingerprints.

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The House and Senate conference committee on taxes must decide how much money they need to raise for next year's budget. A new report showing higher than expected revenues for the 2013 fiscal year is complicating this decision.

The panel is putting together a package with the knowledge that Gov. Peter Shumlin will likely veto a bill that includes an increase to any broad-based tax.

A second tax bill will consider how to pay for the operations of the new health care exchange beginning in January 2015. The choices before lawmakers include an assessment on employers that don't offer insurance or a 1 percent claims tax.

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The Senate will take up a measure that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee amended the House bill to impose the same penalties for possession of marijuana as for alcohol for people under 21.

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The House lawmakers is debating a Senate bill designed to rein in campaign spending by Super PACs. The measure, which does not impose limits on individual contributions to campaigns, aims to undercut the political influence of wealthy corporations and special interest groups.

Last month, the Senate supported the bill that bans corporate and union contributions to state political candidates. The campaign finance legislation also strengthens reporting requirements and doubles public funding for those running for governor and lieutenant governor.

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.