By DAVE GRAM
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A 2013 legislative session marked by fiscal caution and an adventurous approach to social issues closed Tuesday night as lawmakers passed a nearly $1.4 billion general fund budget and put off a bid to put new limits on political campaign contributions.
“We stood together for Vermont, and we did so without raising general fund taxes, which will help keep our economic recovery squarely on track,” Gov. Peter Shumlin told lawmakers as he thanked them for good work this year.
The session was marked by moderate spending initiatives and bolder social ones. Lawmakers decriminalized possessing small amounts of marijuana and hashish, agreed to allow physicians to supply lethal medications to terminal ill patients who request it, and set up a new type of driver’s license for the immigrants in the country illegally who staff many of the state’s dairy farms.
They did not get new limits on campaign contributions and requirements for transparency of money in politics into law, however.
“We’d rather wait until we get a really good bill than start making compromises,” Sen. Jeanette White, who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, said of the campaign finance bill.
By DAVE GRAM | Associated Press
MONTPELIER — The Vermont House voted Monday evening to make the state the first in the country to legislate allowing physicians to provide lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it.
By a 75-65 roll call vote, the House concurred with a Senate version of the bill that largely copies a law passed by Oregon voters in 1997 for three years and then shifts to a system with less government monitoring.
The vote was a reversal of the defeat of similar legislation in the House in 2007 and marked the first time any legislature in the country had seen such a measure all the way to passage. It now goes to the desk of Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has said he is a strong supporter.
“It’s an important step for terminally ill Vermont patients,” Dick Walters, president of Patient Choices-Vermont, said after the vote. “It’s a big step forward for the region and for the country as a whole.”
The bill’s passage likely will be seen as the most historic event of the 2013 legislation session, which is expected to wrap up Tuesday. Continue reading
MONTPELIER — Vermont lawmakers are returning to the Statehouse after hopes of adjourning for the year on Saturday faded.
With key agreements, especially on tax policy, still elusive, legislators will continue their session on Monday and Tuesday.
A House-Senate conference committee on taxes has been trying to craft changes to state income taxes that would make them more progressive.
But Gov. Peter Shumlin says he’s adamantly opposed to any such changes. The governor says they violate an agreement he made with lawmakers earlier this week that taxes to support the state general fund would not go up.
MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate has defeated an effort by Senator Peter Galbraith to amend a campaign finance bill to cap the amount of campaign contributions business owners can make when they give both in their own names and those of the businesses they own.
The vote came after two hours of debate in which several senators appeared angry with Galbraith for mounting a protracted interrogation of his fellow Windham County Democrat, Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Jeannette White.
The majority leader of Galbraith’s own party, Sen. Philip Baruth of Chittenden County, raised a point of order, arguing that Galbraith was violating the rule against speaking tediously.
MONTPELIER — Vermont consumers need to be better informed about which foods are organic and which aren’t.
That was the upshot of a Senate Agriculture Hearing on Friday that looked at the problem of confusion over labeling in stores and farmers’ markets.
Sen. David Zuckerman, an organic farmer, said confusion comes up especially because some organic vegetable and fruit farms have expanded into raising animals for meat. The animals often are fed conventional grain, but because they come from farms that are otherwise organic, consumers assume the meat is organic, too.
Zuckerman says he has no specific legislation in mind now.
Nicole Dehne of the organic certifying group Vermont Organic Farmers says her group is stepping up efforts to educate farmers about good labeling practices.
MONTPELIER — A committee of the Vermont Senate this week is expected to complete work on a revenue bill that, among several other changes, would limit how much a homeowner could deduct for mortgage interest when filing state income taxes.
Finance Committee Chairman Tim Ashe says the committee is looking at a range of possible caps, from $10,000 to $15,000 in how much could be deducted from taxable income.
The Vermont real estate industry is complaining that the change could hurt middle-class homeowners and chill sales of homes. But Ashe says the typical Vermont homeowner pays $7,300 in mortgage interest and so would be under the cap.
Another notable change would remove the sales tax exemption from bottled water.
MONTPELIER — The state of Vermont is dissolving the state office responsible for expanding broadband computer access in the state by moving those responsibilities into the Agency of Commerce and Community Affairs.
The role of the office called Connect Vermont had been to create and expand high-speed broadband access statewide by the end of this year.
The office of Gov. Peter Shumlin says the commerce agency will continue the efforts to expand broadband services and monitor the progress while assisting service providers.
Shumlin says expanding broadband services remains one of his top priorities.
The changes follow the resignation of former Connect Vermont chief Karen Marshall, who left her post in state government earlier this month to become the president of the VTel Data Network.
MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin and Vermont lawmakers have agreed to push the governor’s annual budget address back a week, to give the fiscal situation in Washington a chance to become more clear.
Officials said Wednesday they had planned to have the governor outline his spending plan on Jan. 17, during the second week of this year’s legislative session.
Instead, they’ll wait until the following Thursday. Congress reached a compromise on New Year’s Day to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff and its round of automatic spending cuts and tax increases.
But they left decisions about spending cuts for deliberations to come, creating uncertainty about federal aid to the states.
More than a third of the money Vermont spends comes from the federal government.
MORRISVILLE — Vermont’s newest psychiatric facility is ready to take patients.
Green Mountain Psychiatric Care Center is set to open and be ready to receive patients on Wednesday.
The facility represents part of the state’s efforts to reorganize its mental health system following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, which flooded and forced the closing of the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury.
The state also is going ahead with plans to build a 25-bed psychiatric hospital in Berlin and expand or create smaller facilities around Vermont.
MONTPELIER — Vermont lawmakers are going to be getting an update on efforts to eliminate a backlog of investigations of cases of abuse of elderly and disabled Vermonters.
The state’s Adult Protective Services is being sued by Vermont Legal Aid over big backlogs in investigating abuse and exploitation cases. The lawsuit claims the delays put lives at risk.
State officials claim they’re making progress in eliminating the backlog.
The Legislature’s Health Access and Oversight committee will be learning about issues, including an update on efforts to implement information technology systems that will be needed as the state moves toward a single-payer health care system.