House sends seven special session bills to Senate
With all eyes on a festering fiscal dispute between the Republican governor and Democrats controlling the Legislature, seven unrelated bills sailed through the House on Wednesday — beneficiaries of a special session now in its second week.
Most of the bills had only minor changes after moving through conference committees formed in the final days of the regular session, and are expected to be passed by the Senate when it reconvenes.
The only legislation that made it to the floor on Wednesday but wasn’t passed was a bill that would criminalize sexual exploitation of someone in the custody of law enforcement.
Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, moved to take up the bill next week, a motion that received scattered objection from Republicans but was easily approved on a voice vote.
Asked why she sought to delay the bill, H.1, Colburn said House and Senate leadership needed to have further conversations about what bills were moving forward this session.
“It’s a really important provision to close a serious loophole, and states around the country are moving very quickly to do so,” she said in an interview. “We should be joining them and not waiting until January, in my opinion. But I think there are conversations that need to happen to see if other peoples’ priorities align with that belief.”
There was also a substantial addition to a bill that reforms some state boards and commissions. Following a fracas over Gov. Phil Scott’s appointment of Karen O’Neill to the state Labor Relations Board earlier this year, an amendment was added to enhance the scrutiny of candidates moving forward.
Labor unions and their allies in the Statehouse successfully blocked O’Neill’s appointment, arguing that her background as a utilities executive and attorney at a union-busting law firm did not qualify her for a “neutral” seat on the labor board. They also criticized the selection process as largely excluding unions and requiring minimal vetting of applicants.
The bill passed by the House, H.8, would add new requirements for the labor review panel to solicit three candidates from labor groups, three candidates from employers, and then interview them and check a reference before sending recommendations to the governor for a final selection.
The latest version of a bill merging the state’s liquor and lottery commissions also made it through the House again after a divisive provision was removed that limited gambling in private establishments like clubs.
The liquor and lottery bill still includes a review by the commissioner of the combined body into the findings of VTDigger investigation that showed remarkably high rates of lottery winnings among owners and employees of convenience stores, or their relatives.
The seven bills passed by the House on Wednesday, which have been renumbered for the special session, are:
H.7: Creates the Department of Liquor and Lottery and the Board of Liquor and Lottery, merging two government bodies and placing some new restrictions on gambling and alcohol advertising.
H.8: Eliminates redundancies in government boards and commissions and sets up a sunset task force to conduct regular reviews of government bodies and eliminate those deemed trivial or outdated. (Also contains a new procedure for selecting labor board appointees.)
H.9: Creates a working group composed of legislators and executive appointees to review who is able to repair consumer electronics and how manufacturers are stifling home repair for even seemingly simple fixes.
H.10: Regulates ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft by imposing new insurance requirements on the driver and company, and restricting who can work as a driver (requiring five years after a DUI conviction, for example).
S.1: Regulates how much patients can be charged as a health insurance co-pay for chiropractic services, in an effort to bring alternative treatment in line with other medical services.
S.2: Requires companies that sell and lease credit card terminals to small business owners to be more transparent and straightforward about the terms of those agreements.
S.3: Makes it harder for teachers with a history of sexual misconduct to get jobs at other schools, and prevents schools from agreeing to hide those histories in order to get employees out the door.
A number of bills were introduced in the House for the special session but did not make it to the floor, including legislation requiring ethnic studies in schools and another reforming the relief-from-abuse process so authorities can more easily remove firearms from situation where a victim is concerned about their safety.
Another bill that includes two measures drafted in response to the threat of school shootings — a new crime for threats of mass attacks and encouraging restorative justice principles in schools — has stalled in the House.
Senate leader Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, has said that he is not open to taking up bills beyond the six that were initially negotiated by leadership in both bodies. The only bill headed to the Senate that was on that original list is the “right to repair” bill.
Ashe said in an email Wednesday that he did not intend to call senators back to work until the House passed a budget bill, which is the crux of the special session.
“I am not inclined to call back the full senate back until we have a budget bill to vote on that guarantees the government will stay open on July 1st,” he said. “Some House members may be fine burning through $50k of taxpayer money each day they delay a vote, but we’re not.”