Speaker: Budget Deal Is Imminent As Lawmakers Tie Up Loose Ends

May 13, 2013

House Speaker Shap Smith is optimistic that legislative leaders will wrap up a budget bill by the end of the day. If that happens, the Legislature is on track to adjourn the 2013 session Tuesday evening.

But the two-day timetable depends on whether Democrats in the House and Senate and Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin can agree on a revenue package.

The tax-writing committees have been busy on an income tax proposal they say is revenue neutral. The plan would lower taxes for 250,000 filers but raise taxes on about 15,000 upper-income earners.

Shumlin has all but issued a veto ultimatum against the plan. So Speaker Smith and Senate President John Campbell have to decide soon whether to stand firm with their committees, or put off the plan until next year.

The tax bill and the “big” bill, as the state budget is known, will probably be among the last items to move through the Statehouse. Smith told his colleagues this morning that he hoped to have a budget deal ready by late afternoon.

“We’re making progress, and I expect we will have a deal on the budget in the next six to eight hours, maybe sooner,” he said at 10 a.m.

End-of-life legislation: The Senate passed a hybrid version of a bill allowing terminally ill patients to get a doctor’s prescription to end their lives. Several amendments are pending in the House today, including one that defines a patient’s “capacity” to make the end of life decision.

The House will take up the bill late in the day because Rep. Anne Pugh, D-South Burlington, the chair of the Human Services Committee, is attending commencement ceremonies and will not be in Montpelier until the afternoon.

Open records: The House and Senate were unable to agree on a bill that put Vermont’s open records law more in line with the federal Freedom of Information Act when it comes to releasing criminal records. At issue is an amendment added on the House floor that would allow officials to disclose decisions of grand juries when they decide not to bring charges against a law enforcement officer. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said he has concerns about the grand jury proposal.

License plate readers, S. 18: The bill, as passed by the Senate, says law enforcement agencies can retain data collected by the electronic readers for 18 months. The House is expected to consider the bill today.

UPDATE 11:52 a.m.: The state legislature has approved legislation that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts marijuana. Under the bill, it would be a civil offense rather than a crime to possess one ounce or less of pot. On Monday, the House signed on to the Senate’s proposed changes, including a provision that added a gram quantity of hashish. The bill now goes to Governor Shumlin’s desk for his signature.

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.