Legislature has big work to do by May 10
Dozens of key pieces of legislation are still pending as the Legislature approaches May 10, the deadline set by House Speaker Shap Smith.
The Vermont House and Senate have yet to concur on a number of important bills, and others haven’t yet passed in one body or the other. A few of the biggies at the end include school district consolidation, the miscellaneous tax bill, the budget, several union bills and teachers’ retiree health care.
The two bodies have agreed to several key pieces of legislation -- including the the omnibus transportation budget, the lift of a cap on local solar generation, a new primary election date set for the second Tuesday in August 2016 and a bill that requires food manufacturers to label genetically modified ingredients.
Still, much remains to be resolved in the next five to six days. A number of bills haven’t yet made it to the joint House and Senate conference committees, including the must-pass miscellaneous tax bill, which includes a property tax rate increase and a tax hike on large employers that don’t offer health insurance, the opiate treatment bill (also known as the pretrial services initiative which would divert addicts into treatment), and a proposal that sets new standards for apprehending "drugged" drivers.
The sleeper issues that have come to life in the waning days of the session include changes to the current use program, a workers comp overhaul, legislation that would allow home childcare workers to unionize (the Senate passed the bill earlier this session), a ban on cellphone use while driving, and a miscellaneous education bill that includes incentives for school district consolidation that will be taken up by the Senate Finance Committee on Monday.
The last stop for many bills will be the Senate, and that means there will be several late nights this week in the Green Room. Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell announced on Friday that if senators couldn’t finish the daily calendar by late afternoon, the body would meet between 6:30 and 8 p.m. every evening this week.
Here are a few of the outstanding areas of disagreement between the House and Senate that will be resolved in conference committee:
The House reduced the governor’s recommended 2 percent increase in Medicaid reimbursement payments to 0.75 percent. The Senate reinstated the 2 percent level.
The House agreed with the governor’s 1 percent increase for higher education for the second half of the fiscal year. Senate diverted the $400,000 into a VSAC program for high school students.
The Shumlin administration has agreed to increase pay for home health care workers. The new cost, $2.2 million, is not included in the budget, according to a report from Vermont Public Radio.
Where the money will come from has not yet been determined.
The Shumlin administration pitched a $14 million claims assessment and $30 million in one-time money to help fund an overall budget increase of 5 percent. The governor’s office recommended a property tax rate increase of 7 cents; $1.01 for homestead and $1.51 for non-residential taxpayers.
The House brought spending down and needed about $1.2 million to balance the budget. Lawmakers raised $500,000 through a new tax on e-cigarettes and an increase in the tax on snuff for about $900,000.
Property tax rates for homestead rate payers would go up 4 cents under the House proposal; non-residential rates increase 7.5 cents. The House used $16 million in one-time reserve monies to bring the residential rate down. The House also included a phaseout of the $7.7 million small schools grant and an excess spending threshold mechanism that is tied to inflation.
The Senate uses a tiered hike in the assessment on companies that do not offer health insurance for workers, or that offer a benefit but pay so little that workers opt to go on Medicaid. The so-called employer assessment raises $3.6 million. The Senate dropped the e-cigarette tax and kept the increase on snuff.
Property tax rates under the Senate proposal look more like the governor’s recommendation. Instead of using one-time funds, the Senate raises the rate for residential property tax payers by 6 cents and the rate for non-residential (rental, commercial and second home property owners) by 7 cents.
In Vermont the wage threshold is currently $8.73 per hour.
The Shumlin administration proposed a phased-in minimum wage increase over a three-year period, eventually bringing the rate to $10.10.
The House proposal raises the minimum wage by $10.10 Jan. 1, 2015.
The Senate has a four-year, tiered phased in increase: $9.15 by Jan. 1, 2015; $9.60 in 2016; $10 in 2017 and $10.50 by 2018.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.