Vermont Legislature

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A committee of the Vermont Senate is expected to complete work this week on a revenue bill that would limit how much a homeowner could deduct for mortgage interest when filing state income taxes.

Finance Committee Chairman Tim Ashe says the committee is looking at a range of possible caps, from $10,000 to $15,000 in how much could be deducted from taxable income.

AP/Toby Talbot

Governor Peter Shumlin is not backing down from his position on gun control, even as momentum in Washington for universal background checks seems to have run out of steam.

Shumlin continues to call for a 50-state solution.

Last week, the U.S. Senate defeated the Obama administration’s gun-control proposals.

VPR/John Dillon

Lawmakers are reacting to the stun gun death of a Thetford man last year with legislation that would restrict police use of the electronic weapons.

Sponsors of the bill say they are also want to improve police training, especially in dealing with people undergoing a mental health crisis

Macadam Mason was 39 when he died last June. His encounter with police came after he had called a hospital threatening to harm himself or others. After a brief standoff, a state police officer shot him in the chest with a stun gun after Mason refused orders to lie on the ground.

Toby Talbot / AP

It’s likely that Vermonters will pay more for gas and diesel fuel in about 10 days.

That’s because the Senate approved legislation increasing those taxes, and legislative leaders are seeking quick compromise with the House.

That’s because they want the tax hikes to be in place at the beginning of May.

The vote in the Senate was 23-5.        

The Senate plan imposes a 4 percent sales tax on gasoline. Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza says it’s critical to move away from the current per-gallon tax because of declining gas sales.

AP/Toby Talbot

Before the Vermont House closes the legislative session sometime next month, lawmakers could still vote on a bill that would change the way food sold in Vermont is labeled.

Time is short, but a key House committee turned quickly this week to genetically engineered organisms – or GMOs – as it considered a bill that would require labeling of such products. If passed, though, the measure could become a legal challenge.

A bill in the House that would guarantee paid sick days for Vermont workers gets a public hearing at the Statehouse in Montpelier from 6-8 p.m.

The bill proposes giving workers one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked up to 56 total hours – or seven days – each year.

Organizers hope tonight’s testimony will encourage House lawmakers to set committee hearings before the end of the legislative session.

Legislative leaders have put a bill raising the gas tax on a fast track for passage because they want the legislation to go into effect on May 1.

There’s little doubt that lawmakers are going to increase the state gas tax this year, the question is by how much.

Because gas sales have fallen by 30 million gallons in the last 7 years, both the House and Senate want to shift away from the current per gallon tax and towards a sales tax on the price of gas.  Each chamber is seeking the equivalent of roughly an 8 cent increase in the tax.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

While the Vermont House backed a proposal Wednesday to change how the state selects its top military leader, it resoundingly rejected a number of amendments aimed to bring the debate over basing the F-35 fighter jet in South Burlington to the House floor.

The House voted to advance a bill that would replace a vote by a joint session of the Legislature with a 10-person panel charged with vetting potential candidates who have certain military credentials.

Committee Takes Testimony On Hemp Bill

Apr 17, 2013

The Agriculture Committee of the Vermont House is taking testimony on legislation that would have the state issue permits for something the federal government regards as illegal — growing hemp.

Hemp comes from the same plant that produces marijuana, though it is raised differently, and supporters of the bill say there's little risk that hemp will be diverted for the drug trade. But it remains illegal under federal law.

Hemp is widely praised for its multiple uses as a heating fuel, provider of fabric for cloth and rope, construction material, paint and other purposes.

On To The Senate For Decriminalization Bill

Apr 17, 2013

The Vermont House has given final approval to a bill that would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.

The bill passed Tuesday on a vote of 92-49 after being given preliminary approval on Friday. Instead of a criminal penalty, people caught with up to an ounce of pot would face a civil fine of up to $300. It also seeks to reduce the chances that anyone caught with up to 2 ounces would have a permanent criminal record, and defines a new crime of driving while smoking marijuana.

House Expected To Pass Decriminalization Bill

Apr 16, 2013

The Vermont House is expected to give final approval to a bill that would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.

The bill was given preliminary approval in the House on Friday, and comes up for final House action today. Instead of a criminal penalty, those caught with up to an ounce of pot would face a civil fine like a traffic ticket of up to $300. It also seeks to reduce the chances that anyone caught with up to 2 ounces will have a permanent criminal record.

A bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana is expected to come up for a final vote in the House next week before moving to the Senate. VPR's Bob Kinzel talks with Peter Biello about the argument the bill's opponents are making.

UPDATE 1:48 p.m.: After three hours of debate, the Vermont House votes 98-44 to make it a civil offense to possess one ounce or less of marijuana.

ORIGINAL POST 11:50 a.m.: Supporters of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana appear poised to clear a major hurdle. The Vermont House is set to vote today on a bill that would make it a civil offense – rather than a criminal one – to possess one ounce or less of the drug.

Vermont is the last state in New England without a law that prohibits excessive car and truck idling.

But legislation recommended by a House committee on Friday could soon mean fines for Vermont motorists who leave their cars running for more than five minutes.

Motor vehicles are the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in Vermont.

The Vermont Senate has advanced a 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.

Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, proposed the ban on corporate money. He said corporations buy access with their political donations.

Toby Talbot / AP

Supporters of decriminalizing - or even legalizing - the possession of small amounts of marijuana have cleared a major hurdle. The Vermont House voted 98-to-44 on Friday to make it a civil offense - instead of a crime - to possess one ounce or less of pot.

Backers of the bill, again and again, made one thing clear: it would not legalize marijuana.

"I think there are a few of us in the Legislature who support taxing and regulating marijuana, but it's clearly not a consensus," said Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington.

The Vermont House is set to debate legislation that would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil violation like a traffic ticket and a $300 fine.

The measure up for debate today also contains provisions designed to eliminate future collateral consequences like ineligibility for certain jobs or government benefits for those convicted of possessing up to two ounces marijuana, or up to four plants.

It also would target driving while smoking marijuana with a fine of up to $500.

Supporters of a bill that would allow terminally ill people to end their lives by requesting lethal doses of medication from physicians are hoping the Vermont House can manage to revive the legislation, which was watered down earlier in the Senate.

This week, the House Judiciary and Human Services committees have been taking testimony on the bill that supporters call “death with dignity” and detractors call “physician-assisted death.”

A group of physicians and health professionals are expressing their opposition to a proposed tax on dietary supplements.

When the House passed its $26 million budget last month, it proposed the tax, which would raise $3.1 million in 2014. Now, a diverse coalition is trying reverse the proposal. The coalition includes the Vermont Nurse Practitioners Association, the Vermont Psychological Association, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Hunger Mountain Co-op.

Bob Kinzel / VPR

Legislation to bring the state's hospitals under Vermont's Open Meeting Law faces an uphill battle at the Statehouse.

Backers of the legislation argue that because Vermont hospitals receive more than a billion dollars in state and federal funds, the Board meetings of these institutions should be subject to Vermont's Open Meeting Law.

Ethan Parke is a member of Vermont Health Care for All. He says hospital Boards make important public policy decisions with government funds and he thinks it's a key democratic principle to have these meetings open to the public.