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Vermont Legislature Adjourns Biennium Session

WAMC/Pat Bradley

The Vermont Legislature adjourned over the weekend after passing budget and tax bills and legalizing some first in the nation measures.

The final gavel came down in the Vermont Senate at 6:01 Saturday evening. The House concluded its session just over an hour later. Governor Peter Shumlin addressed legislators shortly thereafter, calling the session “...one of the most productive and successful (bienniums) in recent memory.”  Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis says there were few disagreements over money issues.  “The governor wanted modest increases in funding for education, environmental and human services programs. He wanted more dollars and more attention to the problem of drug addiction in Vermont. He wanted to keep the broad-based taxes, which he defines as the sales and the income tax, at their current levels. And the legislature agreed with all that. On the tax bill the major disagreement was between the House and the Senate over the statewide property tax rate for next year. The final bill that was passed was closer to the House’s position, which was a low an increase as possible in the statewide property tax.”

Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith says he is very satisfied with the just-completed session.  “We dealt with issues around public safety. We dealt with issues around opiate addiction. We made it possible to have flexibility in recruiting and retaining employers. We put more money into treatment for opiates and opiate addiction and also strengthened our laws to make sure that if you’re dealing for profit you’re going to jail. And we were the first state in the country to put in place a GMO  labeling bill without a trigger. So I’m very proud of the session.”

House Minority Leader Republican Don Turner says while some good things were accomplished, he’s not entirely pleased with the session.  “One of the biggest things that didn’t get dealt with was the education property tax reform. We have a real problem in Vermont with what it costs to live here. And we didn’t do anything this session to really get at that root problem. The other thing that we did was put more and more burden on our businesses. We’re going to have an even harder problem in the future.”

Eric Davis notes that substantive measures passed include a bill requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods, a law prohibiting the use of handheld devices while driving, expanded pre-kindergarten, and an increased the minimum wage. He adds there were three key issues that the legislature did not do much work on . “The first is health care reform and the responsibility for not doing much there largely rests on the governor’s shoulders. There is a statute that required the governor to present a financing plan for a single-payer system last year. He missed that deadline. He didn’t meet it again this year. The legislature can’t really do much on health care reform until the governor comes forward with his plans. The second issue on which the legislature ended up not doing very much is the question of school funding and school governance. And the third issue, although there was a budget passed this year which did not require any major increases in taxes, there’s still going to be a budget gap next year. So I would say education, health care and the budget are already being teed up as major issues for the 2015 legislative session.”

State lawmakers left Montpelier without setting a date to consider any gubernatorial vetoes. Speaker Smith says it did not appear they would need to set up a veto session.  “We tried to work everything out with the governor before we left. We chatted with him about whether he would call us back if we asked him to do so. He agreed to do that.  So we didn’t think that it was necessary to put a veto session into the adjournment resolution.”

The legislature will reconvene in January. All the seats will be voted on in the November election.

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