State House

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Independent contractor bill gets new lease on life

Rep. Bill Botzow

MONTPELIER — A bill seeking to clarify who can be classified as an independent contractor by employers was recalled to the House floor Thursday by Democrats after they got wind of a Republican effort to do the same. The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development passed the bill out of committee unanimously in March, but was it recommitted to the committee after House Speaker Shap Smith said the bill would face opposition on the House floor and had a slim chance of passing in the Senate. The issue has been brewing for several years, but legislation clarifying the difference between an employee and an independent contractor has never made it to the finish line. Representatives of labor and business groups have been unable to find common ground. On Thursday, Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, was preparing to make a motion to relieve the committee of the bill and return it to the House. Continue Reading →

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House Ways and Means amends pot bill, backs legalization

MONTPELIER — The House Ways and Means Committee has voted to approve an amendment to a marijuana bill that would allow for the legal possession of up to 1 ounce and cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. The amendment, which materialized in the committee Thursday, passed on a 7-4 vote Friday after a few minor changes. It would fundamentally alter the bill advanced by the House Judiciary Committee last week. The Judiciary Committee’s work stripped out the Senate’s language that legalized marijuana and created a regulatory structure for its retail sale. But support for that never materialized among Judiciary Committee members, so it was amended to create a commission to study the issue. Continue Reading →

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Proposed Ways and Means amendment would legalize possession, home-grown pot

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MONTPELIER — The House Ways and Means Committee is considering an amendment to a marijuana bill that would allow for the legal possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. The amendment, which materialized in the committee on Thursday, could come up for a vote as early as Friday, according to members of the committee. It would fundamentally alter the bill advanced by the House Judiciary Committee last week. The Ways and Means Committee is reviewing a bill from House Judiciary that stripped away all legalization language and replaced it with a commission to study the issue. But about $500,000 in costs contained in the bill were not funded. Continue Reading →

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Advocates call for equal pay for women

Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
A supporter of workplace gender equity wears an Equal Pay button Tuesday at the State House.

MONTPELIER — Politicians and advocates decried what they referred to as “occupational segregation” during Equal Pay Day. Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day in Vermont and across the country, as advocates highlighted the pay disparity between wages earned by men and women. At the State House, speakers addressed the disparity and released a report showing many jobs that pay a living wage are dominated by men, while women are more likely to be employed in fields that do not pay enough to survive, based on figures from the state’s Joint Fiscal Office. Gov. Peter Shumlin highlighted efforts to improve the lives of working women in the state, from paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage to universal pre-K education and protections for workers who compare their salaries. “We know that we must continue to close the pay gap. Continue Reading →

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Speaker set to decide his political future by early May

House Speaker Shap Smith

MONTPELIER — With the clock winding down on the legislative biennium, one major political question remains unanswered — the future of Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith. Smith, 50, was briefly a candidate for governor late last summer, hoping to succeed Gov. Peter Shumlin, a fellow Democrat who is not seeking a fourth term. He launched his gubernatorial bid in his hometown of Morrisville, flanked by dozens of the House members he has led for the previous seven years. But Smith suspended his campaign soon after when his wife, Dr. Melissa Volansky, began a battle with breast cancer. His focus shifted from a political race to ensuring the well-being of his wife, a physician, and their two children. Continue Reading →

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House Judiciary passes stripped down pot bill

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MONTPELIER — The House Judiciary Committee scaled back a marijuana bill even further Friday in order to squeak it through the committee and keep the bill alive, setting the stage for a possible showdown with the Senate over legalization. By a 6 to 5 vote, the House passed a revamped S.241, which came from the Senate approving legalization for possessing up to one ounce of marijuana. But support for the Senate version never materialized in the House committee. A first attempt to pass the bill Friday that sought to decriminalize the possession of up to two marijuana plants failed on a 5 to 6 vote. After stripping out the expanded decriminalization of the drug, the committee turned Rep. Bill Frank, D-Underhill, who helped it advance on the second vote. Continue Reading →

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House votes to fund review of exchange

VTHealthConnect

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House overwhelmingly voted to fund an independent review of Vermont Health Connect Wednesday, appeasing minority Republicans who have been clamoring for an in depth study to help determine the future of the online insurance marketplace. By a vote of 136 to 5, the House approved an amendment to an unrelated housing bill that appropriates $400,000 for the review. The House Appropriations Committee included language in the 2017 fiscal year state budget it has already passed calling for the study, but did not include funding — angering some Republicans. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and House Health Care Committee Chairman Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, promised to find the funding. Johnson told her colleagues Wednesday that the promise was kept. Continue Reading →

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House Appropriations passes budget with a 2.6 percent increase

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, right, confers with Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, center. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee voted to advance a 2017 fiscal year state budget Monday on a 10 to 1 vote that will hit the House floor later this week. According to the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office, general fund spending under the committee-passed budget is set to rise by nearly $58.88 million, or 4 percent, from $1.48 billion to $1.54. The total budget is set to rise by about $144 million, or 2.6 percent, from $5.63 billion to $5.77 billion. That includes an increase in federal funds of about 2.2 percent, rising to $2.04 billion. Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said the committee has made gains with structural problems in the state budget that critics have complained about for years. Continue Reading →

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Ways and Means approves $14.1 million of new revenue in tax bill

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MONTPELIER — The House tax writing committee has advanced a revenue bill that raises $14.1 in new money for the general fund and other special funds, but some lawmakers say it is just a fraction of the $48 million in new revenue the committee is expected to raise in total. The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday night 7 to 4 to approve a miscellaneous tax bill — before the House Appropriations Committee has completed work on its budget. That has some members of Ways and Means complaining that budget writers have little incentive to make cuts to state spending. Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, the committee’s chairwoman, said she took the unusual step of voting on a revenue package before the budget is finalized because some members of the committee will be out for an extended period. “I have two members of the committee who aren’t going to be here,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Proposal To Raise Vermont Smoking Age To 21 Defeated After Surprise Tie Vote

Vermont Speaker of the House Rep. Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, announces Tuesday at an impromptu press conference on the State House steps that he is no longer seeking the governor's seat to spend more time with his family following a diagnosis of breast cancer for his wife, Melissa. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

MONTPELIER — A stunning turn of events in Montpelier saw the Vermont House this afternoon very nearly passed a measure to raise the state’s smoking age froom 18 to 21. But after 71-71 vote put the fate of the proposal in the hands of House Speaker Shap Smith, the Morrisville Democrat killed the measure without actually casting a tie-breaking vote. The proposal was part of amendment to a bill regulating electronic cigarettes, and it would have raised the age at which people can possess or purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 over a three-year period. House leaders didn’t expect the proposal to garner as much support as it did. But eleventh-hour soul-searching by at least one Democrat, as well as some surprise ‘yes’ votes from several conservative Republicans, resulted in a tie vote. Continue Reading →

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