Lawmakers push for Liquor-Lottery merger

MONTPELIER — Two lawmakers are proposing an amendment to merge the Department of Liquor Control and the state’s Lottery Commission in January as the House prepares to debate legislation Tuesday that creates a working group to study the issue.

The legislation up for debate Tuesday comes on the heels of a resolution passed by the House last week that nullified an executive order from Republican Gov. Phil Scott that would have merged the two entities beginning this week. Scott signed the executive order in January, but state law allows either the House or Senate to nix such a restructuring of the executive branch with a resolution.

While the Scott administration has questioned whether that de facto veto power of the executive branch is constitutional, it has not yet moved to challenge it.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, who was appointed to the House by Scott last week to fill a vacancy, is sponsoring an amendment along with Rep. Jim Condon, D-Colchester, to merge the Department of Liquor Control and Lottery Commission beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

Rep. Jim Harrison

“It looks long and complicated but it’s actually very simple. It maintains the study committee that’s in the underlying bill, however, it limits the scope to just a couple meetings and it reports back to the General Assembly if there are further changes that are recommended,” Harrison said. “It allows the merger to proceed and take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.”

The proposed amendment includes necessary changes to statute to allow for the merger, Harrison said.

The underlying bill, H.525, creates the working group to study the issue and make recommendations to lawmakers, with an eye toward a merger in July 2018. But lawmakers would have to pass subsequent legislation for the merger to occur.

The Senate is considering legislative language that would allow for a merger in July 2017. Harrison said his amendment would allow for a compromise.

“My interest in offering it is really to try to find some kind of middle ground. The administration wanted to make the merger effective now, this week, actually, which I supported by voting no on the resolution last week,” he said. “I’m saying we all seem to agree that the merger makes sense. Maybe the middle ground is next January. I don’t know if the administration will agree, or if the Senate or the House will buy in.”

Harrison and Condon will present their amendment to the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee Tuesday morning. Harrison, who serves on the committee, said he is unsure if his fellow committee members will approve of it.

“I am the brand new member of that committee, so I’m hoping they will,” he said, noting that he did not take part in earlier committee deliberations. “I guess we’ll find out in the morning as to what their reaction is. … Whether that’s the appropriate compromise or not is for other people to decide.”

Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, the chairwoman of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, could not be reached for comment.

Harrison said he hopes the House will adopt his amendment and allow the administration to begin seeking efficiencies.

“We should merge the agencies, let the administration do their job and have some efficiencies in government without changing the services they offer,” he said.

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