Legislative Report 5/2/2016 - Persistence Pays

If you’re old enough to remember the 80’s TV show “The A-Team”, you might remember what their leader, Hannibal Smith (George Peppard), used to say after a successful mission: “I love it when a plan comes together!” That’s how I felt last week when a bill that I’ve been working on for the last five years passed overwhelmingly.
Between my first and second years as State Rep, I was talking with Lambert Lussier, proprietor of Spear Street Mowers. He was telling me about a bill that Rep. Martha Heath had introduced a couple of years before that would have helped small equipment dealers like himself to obtain fair reimbursement for warranty work they had to perform under contract with their product distributors. Often he had to work on equipment that was purchased somewhere else, including big box stores. It was common for the manufacturer to set the reimbursement, usually below his normal labor rate, as well as dictate the amount of time expected to do the diagnosis and repair. I told him I’d try to help and introduced the bill the following session. Nothing happened to the bill, and I had to reintroduce it the following year in the new biennium. Working with the Northeast Equipment Dealers Association (NEDA), we pushed hard to get it through the House Commerce Committee. However, in the process the scope of the bill grew to include snowmobile and ATV dealers, and the manufacturers pushed back hard. Again, it failed to get out of committee.
I introduced the bill again in 2015 with a Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Harvey Smith of New Haven. Again there didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in taking it up until three things happened. Last autumn, I invited the Chair of the Commerce Committee, Rep. Bill Botzow, to visit Charlotte, and I in turn visited his town of Pownal. One of the stops we made was to Spear Street Mowers. Lambert told his story and Bill promised that the warranty bill would be considered. Then, as the session approached, NEDA hired a good lobbyist to shepherd the bill through. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Rogers of Orleans County, and was taken up by the Senate Commerce and Economic Development Committee. Although the manufacturers pushed back and even tried to delay work on the bill, the Senate passed it as S.224. Since the House Commerce Committee was already familiar with it, they made some tweaks and passed it out unanimously, 11-0. It subsequently passed the House on a voice vote with no opposition. I expect the Senate to concur with the changes made by the House and send it to the Governor. This bill recognizes the value of Vermont's small equipment dealers to our local economies and agricultural communities and provides much needed protections for them as they negotiate contracts with large manufacturers who have the resources to dictate terms that can be detrimental to small dealers. I love it when a plan comes together - even if it does take five years!
On another note, the Charter language creating a two-step approval process for the town budget, which passed by an 1148 to 403 vote at Town Meeting in March, became House bill H.881. After testimony from myself, Selectboard Chair Lane Morrison, Town Meeting Solutions Committee member Lynne Jaunich, and Town Clerk Mary Mead via email, the House Government Operations Committee voted 9 to 1 for it, and it was subsequently passed by the House on a voice vote. It should get through the Senate before adjournment and then signed into law shortly afterward.
I would like to take this opportunity to announce that I will be running for re-election in the Democratic Primary on August 27th and hope that you will support me. I always welcome your thoughts and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).