Lawmakers list six non-money bills they plan to pass in special session

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Tim Ashe, Phil Scott
Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe talks about legislative procedures for the special session starting this week. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott has been clear about what he wants for an upcoming special session, but legislative leaders don’t seem to care.

Last week they scoffed at his suggestion that the session last for only three days, and presented a tentative calendar that spans a week at the least. Now they say at least half a dozen bills that aren’t the budget will be taken up, defying Scott’s request to keep things focused on money bills.

Sen. President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, told administration officials during a meeting on Monday morning that lawmakers plan to revive a handful of proposals that died because of some GOP maneuvering on the last day of the session.

Among the bills that could be passed as soon as Wednesday, when the special session convenes, is H.571, which would merge the liquor and lottery departments, and H.27, a bill that makes it harder for teachers who commit sexual misconduct to find jobs in other school districts.

Ashe met with members of the Scott administration and fellow legislative leaders to hammer out the logistical details of the session, which was officially called by the governor on Friday.

The main purpose of the session is for the administration and legislators to hammer out a compromise on a $33 million chasm between the governor’s education financing proposal and a tax bill with links to the budget; both were widely approved in the House and Senate.

Those negotiations will mainly be done by joint “money committees” in each chamber, those dealing with appropriations and revenue, and a joint education committee. Ashe and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, have promised to avoid closed-door talks often held to hammer out these final differences.

And Johnson has said that Vermonters should get their money’s worth if the Legislature has to reconvene, opening the way for consideration of up to a dozen bills that were nearly out of the Legislature before it adjourned two weeks ago.

The general plan is to have most legislators clock in for the session on Wednesday, check out until next week, and come back on May 30, after the joint committees have had some time to hash out the budget and a major tax bill with the administration.

How much progress can be made during that week, and how much time legislators will spend passing other bills, remains to be seen.

Scott is pressing lawmakers to adopt budget and tax proposals that avoid a property tax hike by putting $58 million in one-time money into the education fund and paying it back over time with slew of education finance policy changes. He says these changes could generate $300 million in savings, which critics have called a “prayer,” as opposed to an actual plan.

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott fields questions about his finance proposal on Thursday. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Ashe said Monday morning that in addition to the tax and budget bills, there are five or six items lawmakers will likely bring forward during the special session.

These bills were mostly uncontroversial and would have likely passed before adjournment if the House Republican caucus had cooperated with Democratic leadership and suspended rules and bring them to the floor ahead of schedule, Ashe said.

But the GOP agreed to move on about 10 bills only, using its numbers in the lower house to stop about a dozen other proposals in their tracks.

Ashe highlighted the importance of taking up H.27, the bill that would prevent teachers with sexual misconduct records from working in schools.

“I don’t think anyone wanted that bill to die, it was agreed upon by conferees on both sides, so there’s some bills like that I think we have to figure out,” he said.

But Ashe stressed that although legislative leaders plan on bringing some of these bills forward, the special session won’t be used as opportunity to explore new proposals.

“We’re going to try to keep things as corralled as possible” he said.

Other bills that will likely be revived during the session are:

• H.913, a bill that would create an advisory board to determine whether any of the state’s 250 boards and commissions could be streamlined or eliminated

• S.224, a bill that would improve access to chiropractic care in Vermont

• S.206, a bill that provides consumer protections for businesses who lease credit card terminals

• H.143, a bill that would impose insurance and employee background check requirements on rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft

Some key proposals that died when the session adjourned this month have yet to make it onto the list, and neither Ashe nor Johnson would count out the possibility of expanding it.

H.922, which contains new taxes on e-cigarette and opioid manufacturers, and H.675, school safety legislation drafted largely in response to the high-profile arrest of a Fair Haven teen in February, remain in legislative purgatory.

Bills taken up during the special session will have to be reintroduced and face votes in both legislative bodies to pass.

And while the governor does not have the authority to limit what is taken up during the special session, he retains his veto power — and the support of the House GOP caucus — if he doesn’t like the bills that make it to his desk.

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