By REP. LORI HOUGHTON
Patience, compromise and disappointment – three words I heard often the last few weeks. 180 House/Senate members and a Governor serving over 600,000 individuals having opinions as different as night and day ensures our process is messy. Sometimes we have that rare consensus on a bill right out of the gate, but often the process is long and disappointing before reaching compromised legislation. Raising the tobacco age to 21 has been discussed for 10 years. We waited 9 years to move from civil unions to marriage equality. This year paid family and medical leave and minimum wage are two examples of compromise and potential disappointment.
I’m not offering these words to make excuses – we should be held accountable to the decisions we do or don’t make in Montpelier. I do offer these words as a reminder that we are 180 members balancing different constituent interests as we try to do what’s best for all Vermonters. Everyday I’m mindful that the decisions made impact my neighbors in very real ways.
June 1st is our next community conversation from 8:30am to 10:00am at The Nest located on Main St, Essex Junction where your representatives will answer your questions.
The time we spend in Montpelier is productive and important, but so is spending time in the community. I look forward to adjourning and seeing everyone around the Village. Please don’t hesitate to stop me in the street, at the grocery store or anywhere else – I’m always happy to chat.
55 bills have been passed by both chambers while 26 have been enacted into law. Following is a synopsis of some of the legislative activity.
Bills enacted into law include: H26 restricts retail/internet sales of tobacco products, S86 increases the legal age for buying and using tobacco products from age 18 to 21, S49 regulates polyfluoroalkyl substances in drinking and surface waters, S68 changes Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Bills awaiting the Governor’s action include: S169 establishes a 24 hour waiting period for the purchase of handguns and provides clarity on several restrictions on the transfer and use of high capacity ammunition feeding devices, H47 relating to the taxation of electronic cigarettes, H513 Broadband deployment.
Bills yet to be resolved between House and Senate include: H542 Budget, H541 Revenue bill, S23 Raising Minimum Wage, H107 Paid Family/Medical Leave, H531 Child Care and Early Learning System, S96 Clean Water Funding, S113 Single-use Products, H511 Statute of Limitation Reform, H533 Work Force Development.
Fortunately this is year one of the biennium so unresolved bills will carry forth to next year. I’m happy to talk further and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via my website at www.lorihoughton.com. Thank you for the continued opportunity to serve!
By REP. BOB BANCROFT
So much for wishful thinking. It was obvious on Thursday that the legislature would not be wrapping up its work Saturday. We are scheduled to return on Wednesday with a hopeful adjournment on Thursday. All four of the must pass bills (budget, tax revenue, transportation & capital) are still pending. The House dealt with the minimum wage and gun bills last week and they are now in the hands of the Senate. The cannabis bill appears to be dead for this session, it will be on the table next year.
Conference committees were meeting last week in an effort to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions on a wide variety of bills. Many of these committees will be meeting Monday and/or Tuesday so that they can be acted upon by both bodies on Wednesday.
The House was busy dealing with a host of bills. Each was a bill that had been originally passed by one of the chambers, but now had amendments added, which needed to be agreed to by the non-amending body. The only bill to make it through both chambers last week was H.16, a bill which made changes to several of the various state boards and commissions.
The House initially passed it in February on a unanimous voice vote. The Senate, in its infinite wisdom, decided to add at the last minute a totally unrelated section which mandated municipalities enter into binding arbitration if a contract cannot reach with bargaining agent for public safety employees. While this may or may not be a good idea, this proposal should have been assigned to a House committee and fully vetted. Adding these non-germane sections to bills at the last moment is simply bad governance. I voted no because of this new section.
Two other controversial bills dealt with last week were S.23 and S.169. S.23 is the minimum wage bill. The bill mandates that the minimum wage be increased annually until it reaches $15.00 om January 1, 2024.
I opposed this bill for a number of reasons. In the greater Chittenden County area, employers are having to increase wages substantially to attract workers. Unemployment in the state, is at an all-time low of 2.2%. Raising the minimum wage will have a negative impact on our poorer rural areas. Jobs will be lost in those areas (per the Legislative Joint Fiscal Office). Higher prices for goods and services will be disproportionately borne by the poor, especially the elderly and disabled living on fixed incomes. The minimum wage in New Hampshire is $7.25.
The second controversial bill was S.169 which dealt with firearms. The controversial part of this bill concerned the waiting period to purchase a handgun.
The bill was advertised as a suicide prevention bill. Through an extensive interrogation of the bill’s presenter from the Judiciary Committee, the Representative from Northfield masterfully extracted answers (or lack of), which underscored the duplicity of calling it a suicide prevention bill.
She pointed out that the failure of House leadership to send this bill the Health Care Committee, which has jurisdiction over this issue, was incontrovertible evidence that it was purely a gun control bill. The Representative from Northfield is the vice chair of this committee, with a long career dealing with mental health, who shared on the floor the serious nature of her own past mental health issues.