Vermont Legislature

Despite the threat of a federal lawsuit, the House passed legislation on Wednesday that would cap donations to political action groups known as “Super PACs.” In a lengthy floor debate, House members said many Vermont voters are disillusioned with how much money pours into politics – at the state and federal level.

House Speaker Shap Smith said his constituents’ concerns have largely revolved around Super PACs, which aim to control the message in political campaigns.

Before the legislative session ends, lawmakers are expected to consider two important tax bills that deal with education spending and the financing of the state’s health care Exchange.

Big increases in school spending are expected over the next two years and lawmakers are looking at ways to encourage towns to limit their budget growth.

Currently, if a town spends 25 percent above the statewide average, a sizeable penalty is imposed. Under a bill passed by the House, this threshold would be reduced to 21 percent over several years.     

VPR/John Dillon

A last minute compromise means a bill allowing terminally ill patients to get a doctor’s help to end their lives will likely become law this year.

The compromise was structured to win over just one vote.

The end of life issue has evenly divided the Vermont Senate, with 15 opposing legislation allowing terminally ill patients to get a lethal prescription, and 15 who support it.

The Senate passed over more controversial items on its agenda Wednesday morning, including a bill that would allow child care workers to unionize and the end-of-life bill that has resulted in several stalemates. Those bills were likely to be taken up later in the afternoon.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

Congress continues to search for a compromise on immigration reform. Meanwhile, Vermont is the latest state to approve legislation that allows those in this country illegally to apply for the right to drive. The bill passed in the House on Tuesday, 105-39, extends eligibility for driving and identification purposes.

It’s estimated that there are about 1,500 immigrant workers in Vermont, without whom this state’s vibrant dairy industry would likely collapse.

The Vermont Legislature is one step closer to decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

On Tuesday, the Vermont Senate gave preliminary approval to legislation that would make it a civil offense rather than a crime to possess one ounce or less of pot. The vote was 24-6.

The Senate version slightly amends the bill that overwhelmingly passed in the House last month, adding a new system for penalties for people under 21.

In the House and the Senate, supporters have made it clear that this bill would not legalize possession of marijuana in Vermont.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

After a lengthy debate that got personal at times, the Vermont Senate on Tuesday postponed final action on a bill that allows terminally ill patients to get a doctor’s prescription to end their lives.

The bill has divided the Senate evenly for months. And Tuesday night, the deep divisions continued. Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, an opponent of the legislation, cast the deciding vote to defeat an amendment that supporters said was needed to restore some protections in the bill.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

Governor Peter Shumlin and Legislative leaders have agreed on a plan to balance next year’s budget without raising new taxes but some changes to the income tax could still happen.

For weeks the Administration and legislative leaders have been negotiating over the size of next year’s budget and the tax package that would be needed to support the budget plan.

Then, at the end of last week, they got the unexpected good news that revenues for April were $16 million higher than expected.

As members of the Senate Health Care Committee struggled to find a political path forward to salvage an end-of-life bill, they ejected reporters and lobbyists from the room.

The unusual move to meet behind closed doors came as Committee Chairwoman Claire Ayre, D-Addison, sought advice on how to proceed when the bill hits the floor in a deeply divided Senate.

“What’s the best strategy to have a death with dignity bill in this state?” she asked. “Are we all in agreement on that?”

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.

With some still saying they may wrap up their business for the year by Saturday, Vermont lawmakers have a heavy agenda set for Tuesday.

On the Senate's calendar is a bill that would allow Vermont doctors to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients who request it. Two sharply different bills have passed the House and the Senate previously. Up for debate in the Senate is whether to concur with the House version.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

The House has advanced a bill that would allow people who are in the United States illegally to apply for the right to drive in Vermont.

The legislation is designed to improve mobility for migrant workers who are often isolated on Vermont farms.

The bill would create what are described as drivers’ privilege cards. It would allow the state to issue IDs that look different from a regular state license.

VPR Director of News, Ross Sneyd talks with Vermont Edition about top issues in the Vermont Legislature this week.

The Vermont House is preparing to debate a bill that would allow immigrant farmworkers who are in the country illegally to drive in Vermont, with a new type of driver's privilege card.

A bill already passed by the Senate is designed to improve mobility for immigrant workers who say they often find themselves isolated without transportation on the Vermont farms where many of them work.

The bill may have a somewhat bumpier ride in the House than in the Senate, which passed it 27-2 last month.

The Vermont House is expected to advance today a bill that allows those who may be in this country illegally to apply for the right to drive.

The bill would create what are described as drivers’ authorization cards, allowing the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue IDs that would look different from a regular state license.

AP/Toby Talbot

The clock is running out on the 2013 legislative session, and it appears time has run out for a bill requiring labels on genetically modified food sold in Vermont. While lawmakers remain concerned that a state law on genetic labeling could provoke a lawsuit from the biotech industry, supporters are holding out hope.

In 1998, the American company Monsanto ran ads in France and in the UK. Monsanto supported labels on food that was made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The ads appeared in newspapers shortly after the European Union passed labeling laws.

It looks like efforts to protect the edges of Vermont's lakes and rivers from the ill effects of development will have to wait another year.

Vermont lawmakers took extensive testimony this year on a bill designed to set up new buffer zones along the shores of lakes and rivers and protect them from development.

Some lakefront property owners protested what they saw as an attack on their property rights.

Debate over legislation that would allow physicians to provide lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it is expected to come to a head this week at the Vermont Statehouse.

The House has passed a version of the bill with a series of safeguards similar to a law that's been in place in Oregon for 15 years. The Senate has passed a shorter version that would simply relieve health workers and family members of civil or criminal liability when a patient ends her or his own life.

Speculation is well under way at the Vermont Statehouse over when lawmakers might finish up their business for the year and go home.

House Speaker Shap Smith says it's still possible to wrap up legislative business by the originally scheduled date of May 11.

Smith says that will depend on progress in the next couple of days on the House, Senate and Shumlin administration agreeing on tax and spending plans for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

After just raising the gas tax, lawmakers are also looking at whether consumers are getting gouged at the pump.

The focus now is on a bill to give the attorney general’s office the ability to track price data to see if companies are manipulating the market.

Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, sponsored the bill. He wants to know if gas distributors in Chittenden County and Northwestern Vermont have used their market clout to keep prices high.