The burgers hit the grill at about noon Thursday, and practically everyone in the Statehouse took a break to enjoy a sunny lunch on the lawn.
But the Legislature’s annual barbecue fell on what may be the third to last day of the session. And for legislators like Senate President John Campbell, the lunchtime respite would have to be brief.
“It’s a frantic pace, and it’s one of those things where if you are somebody who likes pressure, you would really have a great time here right now,” Campbell said.
The race is on for a Saturday adjournment, and lawmakers are scrambling to secure deals on key pieces of legislation before the session comes to a close.
The fate of a number of bills now hinges on the success or failure of negotiations over the next 24 hours.
The pressure is particularly heavy for the House and Senate negotiators dealing with must-pass legislation like the tax bill, which is still a work in progress.
While legislators have nearly agreed on the amount of revenue they need to raise, they continue to differ over what taxes they should use to generate it. The House favors a tax on e-cigarettes; the Senate prefers the expansion of an assessment on employers who don’t offer health insurance. They’ll need to cut a deal before the end of the night Thursday in order to keep the Legislature on track for a weekend adjournment.
Deals on other bills were coming together, including an agreement on legislation that increases regulatory scrutiny of the chemicals contained in children’s products. Compromise in Montpelier sometimes means accepting deals even when they’re a little sour, as Chittenden Sen. Ginny Lyons demonstrated by reluctantly acquiescing to the toxics bill she says doesn’t go far enough.
“We will be looking at the bill as a way to make as much lemonade as we can, and then be ready to move forward in the future,” Lyons said.
A health care bill that would impose new transparency requirements on pharmaceutical middlemen also hung in the balance Thursday. House and Senate negotiators had found common ground on some key health issues, such as requiring private, for-profit clinics to in some instances accept patients that don’t have insurance. But it’s possible the compromise will have come too late to get the bill through all its procedural requirements before the fall of the gavel.
“The challenge at the moment is the adjournment date and whether we can get it across the before we go home,” said Lincoln Rep. Mike Fisher, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Health Care.
The pace will only intensify when lawmakers return Friday. And barring an unexpected breakdown – which would not be unprecedented – lawmakers will depart Montpelier for good sometime Saturday.
Calais Rep. Janet Ancel, Democratic chairwoman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, says even the most stubborn impasses have a way of resolving themselves in the waning hours of the session.
“You get a day or two or a week or a few days, whatever it is, some period of time, when it feels like nobody wants to give at all, and …. at some point a path becomes clear, and you know what it is,” Ancel said. “So we’re sort of not quite there yet, but I have every confidence we’ll get there.”
The House is expected to debate a number of bills until late Thursday night.