Last Push to Pass Bills in the Vermont Statehouse

By Steph Machado

Published 04/28 2014 07:34PM

Updated 04/28 2014 08:12PM

MONTPELIER - There are just two weeks left in the legislative session, and a lot of bills need to make it through.

Adjournment is scheduled for Friday, May 9--with a chance of rolling over into Saturday or Sunday if need be.

We took a look at the big-ticket bills that have very little time left to be sent to the Governor's desk.

School District Consolidation

In a state where many students already travel far away for school, that distance might grow. That's if a school district consolidation bill passes by the end of the session. It would shrink 270 public school districts down to 45 to 55, and get rid of supervisory unions.

"To make administration of our schools more efficient, give kids more opportunities, and make sure that staffing can be more flexible than it is now," said House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville.)

Rural legislators have concerns about the distance it would take to drive to school if there are fewer districts.

"Everybody thought it was a great idea, until we talked about who was moving their kids to where," said State. Sen Claire Ayer, talking about her hometown school board's discussion of consolidation. "That's always where the rubber hits the road. Everybody wants their kids to stay at home," she said.

Speaker Smith says even if the bill doesn't make it through, schools might close anyway. He says property taxes might go down long-term, but that's not an immediate benefit of the bill. The bill is expected to pass the House this week, and then have an uphill battle in the Senate.

Minimum Wage

Lawmakers insist they will raise the minimum wage by the deadline, but the House and Senate don't see eye-to-eye on the details.

"I'm not sure that we all agree on the exact amount or the exact schedule, but it is one of the priorities we set," said Sen. Ayer. The Senate Economic Development committee's proposal is more moderate than the House's; it would gradually raise the minimum wage to $10.00 by 2017, and $10.50 by 2018. That version will head to the Senate floor this week.

The House voted to raise the wage to $10.10 by 2015. The Governor wanted to raise it to $10.10 by 2017.

Regardless of disagreements, Speaker Shap Smith said a compromise will be made.

"By the end of the year we will have passed something that will help low-income Vermonters put more money in their pockets. I am confident that's going to happen," he said.

FY 2015 Budget

Also known as the "Big Bill," next fiscal year's budget (which starts this July) is close to the finish line. The Senate backed it 24-3 Monday, sending it to a final vote Tuesday. The Senate's version differs from the version that passed the House; it increases the medicaid reimbursement from a .75% increase to 2%, which is what the Governor proposed.

It also increases spending on housing.

"Part of this is to see if we can continue to make progress on making housing affordable and of good quality," said State Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), the Chair of the Appropriations committee. The committee's version of the bill requires the state to raise $3 million. The House's version had to raise slightly less than that, and proposed to do so with a tax on e-cigarettes and snuff. The Senate Finance committee will need to figure out how to raise those funds in its tax bill.

Other Bills

The toxic chemicals bill is expected to pass the House this week. It already passed the Senate.

The smoking bill, which includes a ban on smoking in cars with children and in a long list of other locations, should pass the Senate this week. It already passed the House.

"It's hard to tell people what to do in their homes and in their cars," said State Sen. Claire Ayer, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare committee which passed the bill. "But the science is there about kids and smoking. They're tied in, you know? They can't get away."

An economic development bill is expected to pass out of the House this week, which will encourage Vermont companies to hire more workers, and bolster Vermont's internship program.

Bills Unlikely to Pass

The bill to mandate paid sick days is dead, with Speaker Shap Smith saying it didn't have enough votes to bring it to the floor. It therefore never made it over to the Senate.

The hands-free device bill that would ban the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving is stalled in the Senate. It passed the House, but has less support on the Senate side. The Governor has also said he does not support it.

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