By BUTCH SHAW
The end of the 2019 Legislative session is in sight, but the number of unresolved issues continues to grow, and an actual adjournment date is elusive. In the all-out sprint to the finish, the Speaker called the members into an unusual Monday afternoon session, which is sure to extend into the evening, as the House awaits Senate action on several important pieces of legislation.
Three of the four “must-have for adjournment” bills have been sent back to the House for concurrence.
The Senate version of the budget bill has major differences from the House, therefore a “Committee of Conference” has been convened, which includes three members from the House and three members from the Senate. This committee is now meeting to work out the differences between the two versions and will bring their agreed version back to their respective colleagues for approval. The outcome of the entire state budget now rests in the hands these six legislators.
Once an agreement is reached among the conferees, the only vote members have is to agree or to disagree with the Committee of Conference report, which is not debatable or amendable. This Legislative maneuver is the same for all Committee of Conference reports.
The transportation bill and the miscellaneous tax bill have also been committed to a Committee of Conference. Both bills, as with the budget bill, have several areas of major disagreement and it will be a challenge to come to an agreement quickly. The remaining must-have bill, Capital Construction and State Bonding, has passed the Senate and will be sent to the House for the committee of jurisdiction’s review where they will decide whether to concur, return the bill to the Senate with further amendment or ask for a Committee of Conference.
The maneuvering and legislative posturing that takes place during this crucial time is sometimes interesting to watch. The tension between the House and Senate grows as we all await the various committees of conference decisions, for they hold the key to adjournment.
There are many other pieces of Legislation that have been widely reported and are moving through the law-making process. These bills will affect all Vermonters should they become law. As of this writing, H.107 – Paid Family Leave, is assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee; S.169 – Firearm Procedures, is assigned to House Judiciary; S.54 – Taxing and Regulating Cannabis, is under the control of House Ways and Means; S.23 – Increasing the Minimum Wage, is now awaiting action in the House Appropriations Committee. It is unknown, at this time, if these bills will be moved to the House or Senate floors for a vote in the remaining week of the session. If no action is taken, these bills will not “die,” but rather could become law in the second half of the biennium (in the following year.)
Several important pieces of legislation that I have been tracking include:
S.40 – An Act Relating to Testing and Remediation of Lead in the Drinking Water of Schools and Child Care Facilities. This bill, as the title states, would test for lead in school drinking water. It passed both the Senate and House nearly unanimously. The levels of acceptable lead contamination in the water differs between the House and the Senate versions by a wide margin and the bill was referred to a Committee of Conference. The committee is now meeting, and the future of this important children’s health legislation is uncertain.
S.113 – An Act Relating to the Prohibition of Plastic Carry Out Bags. This bill is intended to mitigate the harmful effects of single use products on Vermont’s municipalities and natural resources and relieve pressure on landfill management and disposal of single use plastic products. It is important to note that this bill, if it is signed into law, will not take effect until July 1, 2020 to allow merchants and others to phase out their use of the banned single use items.
The bill will require a store or food service establishment to not provide a single use plastic carry out plastic bag to a consumer. The retailer may provide single use paper bags at no charge or they may charge ten cents or more per bag. It will be the retailer’s choice.
Single use plastic straws will not be provided in a food service establishment unless requested by the customer; single use plastic stir sticks will no longer be provided to the consumer.
Expanded polystyrene food service products (Styrofoam) will no longer be allowed for food service products. The bill also provides that this act will pre-empt any and all Vermont Municipal Ordinances to create a uniformly applied law across the state. There are many exceptions to the prohibitions allowed in S.113, in fact, so many that I will not include them in this column. The bill passed the House on a vote of 120 Yes and 24 No.
I supported the prohibition of single use plastic products and introduced a bill, H.506, to do so. I worked very carefully with The Vermont Retail Grocers to craft language that was acceptable to the trades as well at the consumer. H.506 did not make it to the finish line, but some of the language in S.113 was taken from H.506. I fully support this bill.
If you have any questions or would like an explanation of the entire bill, including the exceptions allowed, please contact me for a conversation.
If you would like to contact me or visit the Statehouse, I can be reached at 802-828-2228, at home 483-2398, or via Email at bshaw.@leg.state.vt.us.