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Vermont Legislature Working Towards Mid-May Adjournment

Vermont Statehouse

As the Vermont Legislature enters what are expected to be its final two weeks of the session, the House and Senate have yet to resolve several issues including taxes, water quality, education and vaccine exemptions.

Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith wants the Legislature to complete its 2015 business by May 15th or 16th - giving them less than two weeks to complete committee work and pass bills.
Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis says the main thing that must be done is to reconcile the versions of tax and budget bills that have been passed by the House and Senate.   "Those conference committees meet this week and will try and finish their work by early next week so that both houses can vote on the final product and get out of Montpelier by the end of next week.  I think the liklihood of adjournment, not this coming weekend, but the following weekend is a very realistic scenario." 
Davis adds that only tax and budget bills must be passed before adjournment.  "The only thing that needs to be passed that's not a budget bill is the bill to remove the sunset provision in the so-called Death with Dignity bill, the End of Life bill. When that was passed by the legislature a couple years ago there were some provisions to sunset it this summer. So that needs to be addressed. The other things dealing with energy policy, environmental issues, Lake Champlain cleanup, my sense is all of those will get carried over to the 2016 session."
Vermont Digger is an online investigative newspaper. Editor Anne Galloway, who was at the statehouse, noted legislators are still working on a number of money bills.  "They’re working on an education reform bill that includes the tax rate. We don't know how the water quality bill, which is designed to help clean up Lake Champlain, is going to be paid for.  EPA is going to drop the hammer on the state if we don't come up with a way to fund the cleanup.  The only must-have bill in any legislative session is the budget. But there are always key pieces of legislation that they feel they must pass." 
Middlebury College Political Science Department Chair Bert Johnson notes that the differences between most House and Senate bills are not substantial and should not impede passage. Last week Governor Peter Shumlin called for nearly $8 million in new cuts as legislators try to wrap up deliberations on budget bills. Johnson notes that the two chambers pushed back.  "It’s not unusual that a governor would come in at the end of the budget process and try to push his agenda. I think what is somewhat unusual is that the legislature is paying so little attention to him as he does that. That, I think, is a result of his weakened political standing." 
Anne Galloway adds that the Democratic Governor managed to upset the democratically controlled Legislature.  "He was adamant that they had to find this additional $8 million and House members were vociferous in their criticism of the governor. Even members of the Senate were really kind-of appalled that the governor was coming in so late in the game.  At this point they're kind-of like 'Why are you coming to us the day before the Senate is set to vote on the budget tax bills?'  So they were pretty miffed." 
This is the first half of the legislative biennium and any incomplete business can be revisited when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

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