Legislative Report - 5/1/11

The 2011 legislative session is within a few days of ending.  We are anticipating a May 7th adjournment.  Bills passed by the Senate have been presented in the House, and have been either amended or adopted.  Those that were adopted without changes are sent on to Governor Shumlin for his signature, and those that were amended are assigned to a conference committee to work out the differences before being re-presented to both bodies with no further possibility of amendment for either approval or rejection.  This process has been mirrored in the Senate for bills that originated in the House.

A bill that directly affects Charlotte is H.298, which standardizes ballots used for statewide elections.  One of the provisions of H.298 requires towns with more than 1000 registered voters (Charlotte has around 2900) to use vote tabulating machines for statewide races in general elections.  These would be the November elections in even-numbered years that have races for Congress, Governor, etc.  Federal money from the “Help America Vote Act” would pay for the machines, for their annual maintenance, and for half the cost of programming them for an election.  Considering Charlotte’s record of rejecting vote tabulating machines in favor of hand-counting ballots, and upon the recommendation of the Selectboard and our Town Clerk, I introduced an amendment to allow a town to opt out of using the machines if the town’s Board of Civil Authority votes to do so.   The amendment was defeated 128 to 10 and the bill was passed and sent on to the Senate.  If it is enacted into law, the machines will be used in the 2014 election.

Another bill which is of interest to many Charlotte residents is the Propane Fees bill (H.185). This bill prohibits: 1) the imposition of a minimum usage fee for propane that is not actually delivered to a consumer, 2) requiring a consumer to purchase a minimum number of gallons of propane per year except as part of a guaranteed price plan that meets certain requirements, and 3) any charge for removing a propane tank that a consumer has had for over a year.  Furthermore, if a consumer has received propane service from the seller for less than 12 months, any fee related to termination of service may not exceed the disclosed price of labor and materials.  This bill passed the House and is currently in the Senate Finance Committee.

Other bills that are a high priority include the Tax bill, the Transportation bill, the Health Care bill, the Energy bill, and S.78, the Telecommunications bill.  The version of the tax bill passed by the Senate last week contains seven amendments to the House version, including an increase in the cigarette tax of 53 cents compared to the House’s 27 cent increase.   The Senate version of the Energy bill combines with few changes three bills which passed the House: the Energy bill, the PACE bill, and the CEDF bill, all of which I wrote about in earlier reports.  The Telecommunications bill will take Vermont forward in establishing a statewide broadband network for internet access as well as make improvements in cell phone service.

This session cannot end until the Appropriations bill, which sets the 2012 budget, is passed by both the House and Senate.  This bill, known as “The Big Bill”, passed the Senate with only one dissenting vote and resolves a $176 million budget gap with the largest cuts to human services.  If tax revenues between now and the end of the year come in higher than expected, some of the cuts may be restored by the budget adjustment bill next January. 

I welcome your input by phone (425-3960) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).