By BUTCH SHAW
The Vermont Constitution authorizes the Legislature to conduct its business every two years in a biennium, but does not speak to the length of the session. The Legislature in recent years, however, has historically chosen 18 weeks as an appropriate time for the legislative body to complete its work.
With that in mind, when the 2019 version of the biennium ends, we will adjourn to a “Date Certain” in January 2020. With this type of adjournment, a mutual agreement of both the House and Senate, the Legislature is technically in session all year long even though legislators do not meet. This procedure allows the Legislature to reconvene and thus meet the provisions of the Constitution to meet biennially. When the Legislature completes its work in May of 2020 we will adjourn “Sine die”, which indicates the end of the 2019-2020 legislative biennium.
The House is now waiting Senate action on the must-have bills (the budget, transportation, tax and capital bills). These bills must pass both chambers prior to our targeted mid-May adjournment. While awaiting Senate approval of these important pieces of legislation, there are several bills yet to move from House committees to the House floor for debate and possible approval.
Among these bills, which have been widely reported, are:
• S.169, The Gun Bill — which requires a waiting period before purchasing a firearm;
• S.23 — increasing Minimum Wage to $15 by 2024;
• S.96 — The Water Quality Bill, which sets up a funding system for cleaning up Vermont’s lakes, rivers and streams;
• S.40 — testing and remediation of lead in drinking water in schools;
• H.107 — an act relating to paid family leave; and
• H.247 — an act relating to the election of an Adjutant and Inspector General.
These are important issues to be discussed, and at this time their outcome is unclear. I’m not sure if any of these bills will hold up adjournment as they could be acted on later in the 2020 session, however, that decision will be left up to the Speaker.
There have been several bills moved to the House floor for debate and approval. Some of the bills I have been tracking are:
• H.321 — An act relating to aggravated murder for killing a firefighter or an emergency service provider. This legislation will provide for a charge of aggravated murder if a person commits murder against a firefighter or emergency service provider. Previously this charge could only be brought in the case of a law enforcement officer. With this bill the Legislature recognizes the dangers faced by our first responders as they go about their service to our local communities. This bill passed unanimously in the House, with my support, but strangely enough, when it was passed in the Senate eight Senators voted against it.
• S.149 — Miscellaneous Department of Motor Vehicles Bill. This is the annual DMV bill that makes minor changes to Vermont’s laws related to vehicles and their operation. This year’s version has several provisions that are notable. Among them are allowing for testing of automated vehicles in public highways, increasing penalties for junior operators who violate laws concerning the use of portable electronic devices, requiring mandatory seat belt use and making the enforcement a primary offense. A provision in the bill, which incorporates a bill I introduced, will allow ambulances, EMS and fire department vehicles to display red, blue and white lights and will allow law enforcement vehicles to display blue, red and white lights. S.149 passed the House unanimously with my support, however, it’s future is unclear as the House added many controversial sections to the bill. S.149 is likely to be moved to a Committee of Conference as I’m sure the Senate will not agree to the seat belt provision and will question the blue and red light provisions.
• S.86 — Raising the legal age for purchasing and using cigarettes, electronic cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age. This bill, as the title indicates, will require individuals to be 21 years of age when purchasing cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. Also included are electronic cigarettes and tobacco substitutes. After an informative and intense debate where the Human Services and the Ways and Means committees reported the health related and financial reasons for bringing this bill forward, I was convinced to support this proposal. S.86 passed on a roll call vote of 124 yes and14 no. Should the Governor sign the bill into law it will be effective September 1, 2019. If you would like to contact me or visit the State House, I can be reached in the State House @ 802-828-2228, at Home @ 483-2398 or via Email @ firstname.lastname@example.org.