Vermont Legislature

The Vermont Senate is set to give final approval on Friday to a bill that's intended to bolster Vermont’s response to prescription drug addiction by providing wider access to the state’s drug monitoring system.

Lawmakers and Gov. Peter Shumlin have very different views about how taxes affect the economy.

The governor remains adamantly opposed to the tax bills passed by both the House and Senate. He underscored his resistance again at his weekly news conference Thursday.

“It’s always tougher for this Legislature to take existing money and spend it more wisely, than it is to turn to taxpayers and say, ‘Hey, we’re just going to dig into your pockets for more loot,’” he said.

The Vermont House has passed a bill to allow workers who provide personal care to disabled Vermonters in their home to unionize.

On a 95-to-41 vote, the House on Thursday approved Legislation backed by two national public employee unions.

Rep. John Moran, a Democrat from Wardsboro, says the bill will allow the homecare workers to negotiate with the state, which funds services to the disabled, for better pay and benefits.

He says the legislation is similar to a separate bill that would allow child care workers to unionize.

House and Senate negotiators will soon begin working on a compromise version of the 2014 budget. One of many differences between them is how the state workforce that administers the welfare-to-work program would be affected.

The Vermont State Employees’ Association said on Thursday that the Senate budget would save the jobs of case managers that administer the program known as “Reach Up.”

The House Transportation Committee voted 7-4 on Wednesday in favor of a Senate bill that would allow the state to grant driver identification cards to Vermont residents who are in this country illegally.

Last week, testimony before the committee turned sour when some farm owners questioned some of the migrant farming community’s behavior. Migrant farmers and their advocates characterized that approach as a last-ditch effort to block the legislation from moving forward.

The Senate has rejected a plan to raise income tax rates on wealthy Vermonters to help pay for next year’s budget.

Part of the Senate’s $10 million tax plan includes a provision to impose a tax on bottled water and satellite TV services. Washington senator Anthony Pollina argued that these taxes are regressive so he proposed higher tax rates on wealthy people.

“So when we talk about how we should not ask people with great wealth to pay more because they’re already paying too much, when you look at it as a share of their income they are paying less than others are.”

The Vermont House has approved a bill that allows terminally ill patients to end their lives with doctor-prescribed drugs.

The final vote Wednesday was 81-64.

The end of life bill approved by the House is vastly different from the one passed by the Senate.  The focus now shifts to a reaching a deal that would avoid deadlock at the end of the legislative session.

The House debate stretched on for hours, but the end of life bill cleared numerous attempts to weaken it or delay it.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

On Wednesday morning, at the Sunoco station off Route 2 in Montpelier, Bob Grant of Plainfield was filling up his black Chevy truck and two red canisters.

“This is for my garden tractor,” Grant said, pointing to the canisters. “I’m retired but I have a lot of gardens, a lot of lawn.”

The retired grocery store owner stared at the pump as his total climbed higher – above $60. And as his tank topped off, Grant said he would gladly pay the new 5.9 cent per gallon gas tax increase that went into effect on Wednesday in Vermont.

Supporters of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in Vermont are one step closer to their goal.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted, 4-1,  to advance the House bill that would make it a civil offense – instead of a crime – to possess one ounce or less of marijuana.

Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears was opposed until his Committee amended the bill for the state to treat people under 21 the same for possession of marijuana as for alcohol.

The Vermont Senate is expected to pass legislation to reduce unemployment insurance costs for two groups of businesses — those forced to lay people off and close after natural disasters, and newspaper publishers.

The Senate voted 18-10 on Tuesday to support a bill designed to alleviate the financial hit taken by businesses that were forced to close by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene. Many laid off workers as a result, and later saw their unemployment insurance premiums rise sharply.

AP/Toby Talbot

The Vermont House is expected to give final approval to a bill that would allow Vermont doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it.

The likely final passage of the bill sets up a clash with the state Senate, which passed a different proposal.

Rep. Sandy Haas, P-Rochester, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the bill, which is modeled after a law in Oregon, gives patients a choice to end their pain and suffering.

The Senate has passed a tax bill that raises $10 million in new revenue but it faces the strong opposition of Governor Peter Shumlin.

With very little debate or opposition, the Senate gave its strong support to its 2013 tax bill. The legislation uses four primary sources to raise the additional revenue.

It caps the amount of mortgage interest that can be deducted on the income tax, it imposes a minimum 3 percent tax for all people who earn more than $125,000, it applies the sales tax to bottled water and it places a tax on satellite TV services.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

As public funding for pre-kindergarten plummets nationwide, Vermont lawmakers are debating whether to boost state spending on early childhood education.

On Tuesday, the Vermont House advanced a bill that would extend access to pre-kindergarten. Supporters say the goal is to make it universal across the state, but opponents wonder how – and who – will pay for it.

AP/Toby Talbot

At the Statehouse today, lawmakers are spending much of their time on the House and Senate floor debating a slew of bills. The only thing that’s certain, though, is death and taxes.

Vermont lawmakers are trying to wrap up their 2013 legislative session, with the hope of adjourning in early May.

Here’s a look at what’s been accomplished and what’s coming up in the next few weeks.

-Gas tax.  Both the House and Senate approved a gas tax, and so it will increase on May 1. Lawmakers favored a change to a sales tax on gas, rather than a per gallon increase. Many supported the bill because they wanted to take advantage of $56 million in federal matching funds.

The Vermont House is set to debate legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it.

A stripped-down version of the bill already passed the Vermont Senate. The House is expected to pass a version closer to the bill as it was originally filed in the Senate.

The proposal is up for preliminary debate in the House on Tuesday. If it gains approval, it will be up for final action on Wednesday. Differences between the House and Senate versions then would be put to a legislative conference committee to work out.

Budget writers in the Vermont Senate have completed work on their version of a fiscal 2014 state budget that includes new limits on a key welfare-to-work program.

The Senate's budget of $1.362 billion is about $2 million less than the budget the House passed about a month ago. It does not put as much money into reserve funds as the House did.

On the state's Reach Up program, which is designed to get recipients of public assistance into the workforce, both the House and Senate would limit participation to five years, with certain exceptions.

AP/Toby Talbot

It promises to be another busy week at the Statehouse. As the House and Senate burn down the clock on the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers will spend a lot of time on the floor debating spending and policy priorities.

The end-of-life choices bill is back on the calendar this week as the House Judiciary Committee considers a number of amendments.

VPR/Charlotte Albright

It’s been five years since hemp was declared a legal crop in Vermont. But there’s a catch. The law takes effect only if the feds declassify the plant—which is related to marijuana—as a controlled substance. 

Federal law still forbids growing hemp. But a new bill with wide support would legalize hemp in Vermont, despite the federal ban.   

East Thetford farm manager Will Allen has his fingers crossed.

Under a bill approved 85-to-53 by the Vermont House on Friday, teachers and municipal employees who are not members of a union would still have to pay agency fees.

Supporters argue that Vermont’s municipal and educational institutions have been unionized for years, and they say new hires have known they’re accepting a position in a union shop.

Speaking on the House floor after the vote Friday, Rep. Jean O’Sullivan, D-Burlington, said those workers have always accepted their benefits while expecting their workplace rights to be upheld.

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