Wednesday January 16, 2013

DAVE GRAM

Associated Press

MONTPELIER -- Vermont's mayors laid out their legislative agenda on Tuesday, saying they want a state law that matches federal rules barring convicted felons from getting firearms and changes to a program that allows cities to fund redevelopment projects by setting up special tax districts.

The mayors of all eight of Vermont's cities signed the statement of legislative priorities, making it the first time the municipal executives have gathered to outline a joint Statehouse agenda.

Public safety, "tax increment financing" districts and housing were at the center of their agenda, the mayors said.

"Faced with so many of the same opportunities and challenges in our respective communities, it makes good sense for Vermont's mayors to collaborate," said St. Albans Mayor Liz Gamache.

On public safety, the mayors said they have three priorities:

-- A bill that would give police easier access to the state Health Department's database of prescriptions written by doctors, to guard against doctor-shopping by drug addicts. Civil libertarians have opposed the change.

-- Better information from the state criminal justice system about offenders released into their communities and about people who are released while awaiting trial.

-- A parallel statute to one that already exists at the federal level, barring convicted felons from possessing firearms.

The firearm statute is necessary because federal authorities sometimes do not have the resources to charge or prosecute all such cases, the mayors' statement said.

On housing, the mayors said they want to retool the Vermont Neighborhoods program which "has never achieved its goal to stimulate new housing."

The mayors said they also want the state law for special tax districts to be clarified to guard against future disputes. Last year, a state auditor's office review found Burlington had kept $1 million that should have been handed over to the state education fund.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said the mayors agree with the auditor's report "that the current TIF legislation is easily misunderstood and creates opportunities for dispute between the state and municipalities."

Aside from Gamache and Weinberger, the mayors attending Tuesday's event included Mike Daniels of Vergennes, John Hollar of Montpelier, Thom Lauzon of Barre, Chris Louras of Rutland and Mike O'Brien of Winooski. Mayor Paul Monette of Newport had a scheduling conflict.