Category Archives: State Senate

Lawmakers look to retirement bonuses to save the state money

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has proposed a retirement incentive package for state employees that could save the state $2.5 million, providing most of the retirees are not replaced.

Monday morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed a proposal that would offer financial bonus to as many as 300 employees who are already eligible to retire, with the goal of leaving 75 percent of those positions vacant after the employees retire.

The offer would be open to employees who are at least 62 years old and have put in at least 5 years of service; employees with at least 30 years of service; and employees whose age and years of service totals 87 or more.

The proposal would pay employees who have worked at least 5 years and less than 15 years a bonus of $750 for every year worked. Employees who have 15 or more years would receive $1,000 for every year worked.

Bonuses would be capped at $15,000 per employee and would be paid out either in one lump sum or in two payments, with no additional money for employees who choose to take two payments.

Currently, there are 915 state employees who are eligible for the incentives. The proposal would cap the maximum number of people who could take advantage of the incentives at 300. If more than 300 workers want to take the retirement bonus, the state will hold a lottery.

Committee Chairwoman Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, asked why the offer isn’t being made to employees who have been with the state the longest. Sec. of Administration Justin Johnson said the state needs to be very careful not to give the appearance of engaging in any behavior that could be construed as age discrimination.

Sen. Richard McCormack, D-Windsor, questioned the message some people might take from a proposal that ultimately looks to reduce the state’s work force by as many as 225 employees.

“Are we assuming their work was not being done efficiently?” McCormack asked. ““Either we’re saying these people weren’t pulling their weight in the first place, or their work was not essential.”

The retirement proposal is part of a plan by administration to save $10.8 million in state employee costs, one possible step to close the state’s $113 million budget gap. Shumlin has proposed reopening the state employee contract for renegotiation, a move opposed by the employees’ union.

The administration has warned that failing to reopen the contract could result in hundreds of layoffs, but on Monday, Johnson said that is not what the administration wants.

“It’s important that we don’t do across-the-board cookie-cutter cuts,” Johnson said.

Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees Association, said the proposal — which could reduce the number of employee layoffs to fewer than 50 — has the support of his organization..

“We brought the issue of voluntary retirement incentives to the table for negotiation with the Shumlin administration,” Howard said. “While were not thrilled that we might see 300 fewer positions, we like the idea that this might result in fewer (layoffs).”

State Treasurer Beth Pearce warned that savings from offering retirement bonuses will only be found with a commitment to leave unfilled the positions vacated by the retiring employees.

In 2009, the state offered retirement bonuses to employees under a system that Johnson said “mirrors” the current proposal. A total of 243 people took advantage of the incentives.

However, that proposal was coupled with the plan to leave one-third — or 81 — of the positions unfilled. Instead, during the next four years, the state added 543 positions, according to Pearce.

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, referred to the 2009 round of retirements as “disruptive.”

“Will we ever get to the point when we have the right number of employees in the right places?” Snelling asked.

Senate approves “revenge porn” bill

MONTPELIER — A bill that would outlaw the disclosure of explicit images without the subject’s consent is one step closer to becoming a law.

Senate lawmakers Thursday passed a House bill that would create criminal penalties for individuals who share explicit images of a person without his or her consent, and stiff penalties for those who do so for profit or who host such images on a website.

Under H.105, a person who shares an explicit image — defined as genitals, buttocks, pubic hair and breasts below the areola — without a person’s consent can face a penalty of up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

The penalty for disclosing such images with the intent of causing damage to the subject of the image carries a stiffer maximum penalty: two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.

The toughest penalties are for those individuals who share such images with the intent to profit from them, or who operates a website where such images are hosted: up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The images include those taken with or without a person’s consent; under the terms of the bill, posing for a photo does not mean the subject is consenting for the image to be shared.

If signed into law, Vermont would join 13 other states that have enacted laws against what is referred to as “revenge porn” or “cyber exploitation.”

California — one of the states where such behavior is against the law — had its first criminal conviction in December when a man received a 1-year prison sentence after he posted a topless photo of his ex-girlfriend on her employer’s Facebook page.

This week, lawmakers in Maine and North Carolina are taking testimony as they mull the creation of similar laws.

Karen Tronsgard-Scott, executive director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, welcomed the bill’s passage by the Senate.

“We know that both the Senate and the House took a really good look at it, and they crafted a good balance between free expression and the rights of victims to privacy,” said Tronsgard-Scott, who noted a rise in the frequency with which explicit images are being posted to the Internet without the subject’s consent.

“Ten years ago, this wasn’t much of an issue, but it’s really exploded,” Tronsgard-Scott said. “When you think about when you’re applying for a job, people Google you, so the impact is devastating. In Vermont, we’re drawing a line in the sand and saying this is wrong.”

Allen Gilbert, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont, said his organization continues to oppose the bill.

“We think issues of this kind really should be handled through civil lawsuits rather than through criminal action,” said Gilbert, saying the bill limits free expression as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“If someone had written in words that they are now posting in images, would you have made a crime around that?” Gilbert said. “Because it’s image, it takes on more power.”

Senate Ed approves school district merger bill

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a bill intended to merge some of the state’s nearly 300 school districts.

Late Tuesday night, the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved their version of a bill that would provide financial incentives to school districts that merge voluntarily, and would force the merger of districts that do not meet criteria regarding quality and staffing ratios.

In some ways, the Senate version of the bill takes a somewhat softer approach to school district mergers than the proposal approved by House lawmakers earlier this month. While the House version calls for the creation of Pre-K-12 districts with a minimum of 1,100 students, the Senate bill offers more flexibility.

While the Senate bill calls for districts with at least 900 students — an ideal, not a mandate — it also acknowledges the variability across the state in terms of geography and student populations, and proposes a number of acceptable governance structures, including supervisory unions.

Much like Act 153 of 2010 — which has resulted in two school district mergers in five years — the Senate bill offers financial incentives for districts to merge voluntarily. The bill also calls for the Agency of Education to create merger plans for districts that do not meet certain criteria, both in terms of academics and student-to-staff ratios.

While academic performance will be measured by the state’s Education Quality Standards, the student-to-staff ratio threshold will be set later.

At 4.7 to 1, Vermont’s student to staff ratio is the lowest in the country. According to the Joint Fiscal Office, having a student-to-staff ratio of 5 to 1 would result in the elimination of 1,239 full-time positions and would save the state $75.7 million.

The Senate bill also eliminates a proposal from House lawmakers to cap education spending.

While there are differences between the Senate and House proposals, there are also similarities. Both bills look to eliminates small-school grants and the hold-harmless “phantom student” provisions, unless the school is involved in a merger.

Just prior to approving the bill, the Senate Education Committee held a two-hour hearing to take testimony from the public, some of whom traveled from distant corners of the state for a chance to be heard.

“We fear this bill could eliminate our school, harm our children and destroy our community,” said Susan Edgerton, who serves on the Readsboro School Board, overseeing a small K-8 school.

David Giddings, of Readsboro, noted that while the intent of the bill is not to close small schools, the elimination of small-school grants and the hold-harmless “phantom student” provision would cause sufficient financial pressure to force the school to close.

Jon Guiffre, chairman of the Roxbury School Board, also spoke in opposition to the bill.

“Our broken education system cannot be fixed with incremental changes and half measures,” Guiffre said. “Please, let this bill die.”

The merger proposal also drew many supporters, including Brett Blanchard, principal at Fair Haven Union High School.

“We have way too many administrators, like myself. We need to make sure every district has a single governing board,” Blanchard said. “Should there be a need to close some schools, a single board would be more apt to do that.”

Lee Sease, a retired educator from Randolph, argued that the current debate is focused on the wrong people.

“The discussion today is more about adults than it is about students,” Sease said. “It’s about power, who has the power and who keeps the power.”

The bill still needs to pass through Senate committees on Finance and Ways and Means before coming up for a vote before the full Senate.

Lawmakers discuss vaccine exemptions for children

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers are considering the elimination of the philosophical exemption for parents who wish to send their children to public school without being vaccinated.

Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, introduced an amendment to a bill that modifies how the Department of Health handles information in its vaccine registries. 

Mullin said the amendment addresses concerns both immediate and long term.

“We’re one plane ride away from measles hitting Vermont,” said Mullin, noting a measles outbreak in December in California that spread to 16 other states, including New York.

Mullin’s other concern is the decline in the number of children who are being vaccinated in Vermont.

By one measure, Vermont has one of the lowest rates of child vaccination of any state in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the 2012-13 school year, 6.1 percent of children entering kindergarten in Vermont did not receive one or more of 34 vaccinations recommended by age 6 by the CDC.

And not only is Vermont’s rate near the top for the country, it is growing. During the 2011-12 school year, 5.7 percent of incoming kindergartners did not receive one or more vaccinations.

The philosophical exemption is the most common one invoked by Vermont parents who do not want to vaccinate their children. During the 2012-13 school year, 371 children who entered kindergarten without one or more vaccinations claimed a philosophical exemption, compared with 30 children claiming a medical exemption and only 14 claiming religious exemption.

Mullin’s amendment — which includes support from co-sponsors Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington; and Senate Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor — met with opposition from lawmakers who might otherwise support eliminating the philosophical exemption.

Sen. Richard McCormack, D-Windsor, who had a family member with polio and who was a “polio pioneer” by being among the first children to receive the vaccine, said that while he supports vaccination, he opposed the amendment because it was introduced without first being discussed by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, concurred with McCormack, noting that while the issue came up for debate three years ago, there has not been any debate this session.

“I voted for this in the past but I won’t vote for it today,” Cummings said. “The people have a right to be heard, not two years ago or three years ago, but today.”
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, spoke in support of eliminating the philosophical exemption, while suggesting it doesn’t go far enough.

“I’m not even sure there should be a religious exemption,” White said. “If it were up to me, I’d eliminate the religious exemption, too.”

Mullin said that, based on past testimony taken from parents who use the religious exemption, that eliminating it “raises the specter of a court battle.”

In the end, lawmakers decided to take testimony on the issue, which will be limited to new scientific studies issued since the last time they took testimony, and will revisit the issue Wednesday.

McCormack noted that, regardless what decision he and his fellow lawmakers make, parents will be unhappy.

“No matter what we do, large numbers of Vermonters will feel we erred and did an injustice to the people,” McCormack said.

Senate supports climate-change resolution

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a resolution that acknowledges both climate change and impact caused by fossil fuel use.

By a vote of 23 to 5, Senate lawmakers Tuesday approved a resolution that “recognizes that climate change is a real and present danger to health and well-being of all Vermonters,” and “that human activities make a substantive contribution to climate change.”

The resolution was introduced by Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, who serves on the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The Committee approved the resolution by a vote of 4-0-1.

“It recognizes that the warming in the climate system is unequivocal and the human influence on the climate system is clear and substantive,” Campion said. “It acknowledges the state of Vermont recognizes climate change is a real and present danger to the health and well-being of all Vermonters.”

Vermont has a goal of reducing its carbon foot print by 50 percent — compared with 1990 levels — by the year 2028, and reduce carbon output by 75 percent by 2050. The state has already blown one deadline, by not reducing carbon emissions by 25 percent by the year 2012.

Pointing to the founding fathers of the United States as men who valued the importance of science, Campion argued that lawmakers should take science into account when crafting legislation that could impact the environment.

Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, spoke in support of the resolution, while noting the state’s financial goals and environmental goals might be at odds.

“I support it, in part, because in the resolution, we take responsibility for our actions.” Pollina noted “It’s somewhat ironic that while we as a state are concerned about climate change and want to do what we can to fight it, that we continue to invest in hope to profit from fossil fuel companies that cause climate change.”

Senators who voted against the resolution included Sens. Peg Flory, R-Rutland; Brian Collamore, R-Rutland; and Norm McAllister, R-Franklin.

The lone Democrat to vote against the resolution — Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans — was also the only member of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee to not vote in favor of it in the first place.

An opponent of large-scale wind projects, Rodgers said the resolution could result in the state approving more such projects without local input.

“I do believe that our climate is changing. I do believe that we are contributing to that change,” Rodgers said. “Absent a serious change in the way the Public Service Board sites renewable energy, I’m not willing to give them another reason — which I believe this is — to rubber-stamp bad renewable energy projects along with the good.”

Sen. Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, explained why he also voted against the resolution.

“I do believe the climate is changing and I do believe that humans have exacerbated that situation,” Benning said. “But, I do not believe this body should grandstand with meaningless resolutions, which ultimately only serve as fodder for political and advocacy organizations to extract dollars from their followers. By forcing us into categories, these proclamation resolutions position us into making decisions based on passion and emotion, rather than careful and deliberative thought.”

Lt. gov casts vote, helps kill changes to law regulating chemicals

MONTPELIER — Lt. Gov. Phil Scott cast a rare vote in the Senate Thursday to break a tie and kill off proposed changes to legislation passed last year that allows the state to regulate “chemicals of concern to children.”

Scott, a Republican, said he has cast fewer than six votes in the Senate since taking office in 2010. The state’s constitution requires the lieutenant governor, the presiding officer of the Senate, to vote when there is a tie.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee was proposing to make changes to Act 188, which passed last year. The law created a reporting mechanism for manufacturers that use certain chemicals in children’s products.

Beginning in July of next year, manufacturers that use chemicals designated by the state as “chemicals of high concern to children” must disclose information about those chemicals to the Department of Health. The law also created a working group that would make recommendations to the health commissioner about regulating designated chemicals.

Language in the law states that the commissioner of Health can move to add a chemical to an existing list of 66 chemicals of high concern to children “upon the recommendation of the working group.” The committee’s amendment sought to amend the law to state that such action could be taken “after consultation” with the group.

Other changes sought in the amendment would require that there be a “reasonable risk of exposure” rather than “children will be exposed” to such chemicals. It also added language that there must be “one or more safer and technically and economically feasible alternatives to the chemical” before it can be added to the list.

The Senate voted to approve those changes to the existing law before considering an amendment from Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, to kill that section of S.139. The changes sought to Act 188 were attached to the legislation, a miscellaneous health bill.

Flory said she heard from members of the business community that were concerned about the proposed changes.

Sen. Peg Flory

Sen. Peg Flory

“They were not thrilled with the bill passed last year,” she said. “With this they were really concerned.”

The vote on Flory’s amendment to eliminate the changes was first taken by voice. Flory then called for “division,” which requires members of the Senate to stand to show how they voted. That resulted in a 15 to 15 tie, requiring Scott to fulfill his constitutional duty.

“I will be voting yes, so the motion passes,” Scott said from the Senate dais.

The lieutenant governor said he sided with the business community, which opposed the changes, so as not to create uncertainty for them.

“I’ve talked a lot over the last couple of years about certainty in the business environment. I remember some of the debate last year and I think there was some exceptions made in the business community, and others came together on this bill. So, I thought, ‘Why not give it a chance to work and see what happens?’” Scott said after the vote.

The Health and Welfare Committee took testimony on the proposed changes to Act 188 last month and heard from several representatives of the business community who were opposed to the changes. Those arguments proved to be enough to scuttle the changes Thursday.

Sen. Anthony Pollina, a member of the committee who presented the proposal to his colleagues on the Senate floor, said the changes would bring the language in the law more in line with the language used by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory authorities.

“We are talking about chemicals that we know are dangerous. I want to make that very clear,” Pollina said. “What we’re trying to do is bring … our law in line with accepted practices.”

Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, a public advocacy group that pushed heavily for the proposed changes to Act 188, said the law’s current language could “invite legal action” if a commissioner were to add new chemicals to the list. He said he was disappointed with Thursday’s developments.

Paul Burns

Paul Burns

“We want the law to be able to work in order to protect children’s health,” he said. “It’s more difficult, for sure, and some of the language in the current law presents a very high bar for the commissioner to meet if he or she is ever going to take action to regulate a toxic chemical.”

Burns said VPIRG would look at ways to change the outcome before a third and final vote on the underlying bill is taken Friday.

William Driscoll, vice president of the Associated Industries of Vermont, said he and others opposed to the changes would look to preserve Thursday’s outcome.

“Frankly, at some point, if people go overboard trying to undo something, it doesn’t look very good for them. At some point some sort of sense of seemliness and appropriate behavior has to prevail,” Driscoll said. “It would be kind of analogous to that they’re trying to undue what the did last year, and then they try to undue what they did just the next day. I guess they need to decide what kind of people they want to be.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Lawmakers to discuss guns, education and health care

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers this week will tackle issues related to health care, economic development, gun control, education and advanced directives for the terminally ill.

Tuesday, the Senate is expected to give final approval to a bill that would expand the circle of people who are authorized to make end-of-life decisions for a patient who lacks the capacity to do so for himself or herself.

Current law allows for family members — spouse, parent, adult child, sibling, or grandchild — members of the clergy to make decisions regarding do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders or an order to continue life-sustaining treatment.

The proposed bill would allow for the designation of one or more “surrogates” who are capable of acting “in accordance with the patient’s known wishes and values,” the bill states.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate will take up an economic development bill that would lower the wage threshold for employers to qualify for the Vermont Economic Growth Initiative, a state program that provides financial incentives for employers in a number of fields — including manufacturing and technology — who offer their employees a “livable wage.”

The bill before the Senate would lower that wage amount from $14.64 an hour to $13 an hour. Critics of the bill say the reduction in the salary threshold could end up costing the state money as more workers qualify for public assistance.

Still on the Senate side, this week, the Senate Education Committee will discuss a school-district merger bill approved last week by the House. The bill calls for school districts to study and come up with proposals on how they will merge into districts with at least 1,100 students.

In a nod to the narrative coming out of the November elections that voters are fed up with rising property taxes, the bill includes a provision to cap education spending if it exceeds this year’s rate of growth of 2.95 percent.

Over on the House side, the Judiciary Committee will discuss and take testimony on a gun-control bill approved by the Senate in March. The bill would require the state to report individuals who have been adjudicated by a court as a danger to himself or others to the National Instant Criminal Background Check Registry.

The committee will take testimony from advocates of the bill — such as Ann Braden, co-founder of Gun Sense Vermont — and opponents, including Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, who will likely rehash the arguments heard throughout the session in the Senate Judiciary Committee and during a public hearing in February.

Barring any surprises in the House Judiciary Committee, the real debate will likely occur when and if the bill comes up for a vote in the House.

On the health care front, the House Appropriations Committee will discuss a bill approved by a narrow margin last week by House Ways and Means that would raise taxes on cigarettes by 25 cents a pack and would impose an excise tax of 0.5 cents an ounce on sweetened beverages, which is projected to raise approximately $18 million.

The money is intended to leverage federal dollars to raise reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid, but is less than the $52 million in revenue proposed by the House Health Care Committee.

The Appropriations Committee is expected to take recommendations from the Health Care Committee as to how the money should be used.

Capitol Beat with the Governor 4-3-15

Play

Gov. Peter Shumlin chats with Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami about the House’s health care bill. He’s not a fan.

Senate passes Election Day registration, defeats ID requirement

MONTPELIER — The Senate passed an election day registration bill Wednesday after defeating an amendment that would have required voters using the provision to provide voter identification.

The legislation, which passed on a voice vote, would allow residents to register to vote on the day of an election. Under current law, a person who wants to cast a vote on Election Day must be registered to vote by the previous Wednesday.

Proponents said the bill will provide greater access to voting booths for Vermonters.

“I am extremely grateful to the Senate for taking up and passing Election Day voter registration with overwhelming support. The support showed by the vote indicates that the Senate appreciates that this is truly a voter rights issue,” Secretary of State Jim Condos said Wednesday.

Franklin County Sen. Dustin Degree, a Republican, tried to amend the bill to require photo identification in order to register on the day of an election. He said the bill in question “doesn’t have any of the safe guards that other states do.”

Sen. Dustin Degree

Sen. Dustin Degree

According to Degree, nine of the 10 states that currently allow same day registration require a valid photo ID. He said six of the states have a provisional ballot process for potential voters that do not have the proper identification.

Degree said has “been convinced by the articles and the studies that have been done that say election day registration can be both effective and a safe way to enhance voter participation.” But additional safeguards to avoid fraud would be better, he said.

“My fear is that while we are citing wonderful studies that show the benefits of election day registration, we don’t have any of the safeguards that other states have. We have none of them,” Degree said.

Most of his colleagues in the Senate disagreed, rejecting the amendment on a 7 to 21.

Senate Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Jeanette White, D-Windham, said her committee was split on Degree’s proposal and did not take a formal position. White said she personally found that it created “two tiers of voters in Vermont,” including a “second level of voter who isn’t quite a full voter unless they can show the valid photo ID.”

Democratic Windham County Sen. Becca Balint said voter fraud is “extremely rare.” Laws requiring identification “are designed to restrict people from voting,” she said, and disproportionately impact the young, elderly, minorities and the poor.

Sen. Becca Balint

Sen. Becca Balint

“It’s critical that we ensure the integrity of our elections, but we should not undermine free and fair access to the ballot under the guise of voter fraud,” Balint said.

Degree’s fellow Republican, Sen. Diane Snelling of Chittenden County, call the amendment “well-intentioned but troubling.”

“It’s hard not to think about southern states that are trying to prevent people from voting,” she said. “I’m not saying this is that but it does remind me of it.”

Condos, following Wednesday’s votes, echoed many of the arguments made by senator’s against the amendment.

“Sen. Degree’s amendment would have changed the way we register voters — it would have created a second tier of registration just for Election Day that systematically targets students, new residents, the elderly, and Vermonters living in rural areas of the state. These Vermonters are fully eligible to vote but may not have the very specific forms of identification laid out in the amendment,” he said.

Julia Michel, a democracy advocate for VPIRG, hailed the bill’s passage Wednesday.

“With the Senate’s vote today it’s pretty clear they view the bigger problem being a lack of voter participation rather than unsubstantiated cases of fraud. VPIRG is thrilled. This is a good day for democracy,” she said.

The legislation now moves to the House for its consideration.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Senate defeats bill to protect workers’ use of sick time

MONTPELIER — Legislation to prevent employers from retaliating against workers who utilize earned time off benefits failed on the Senate floor Tuesday as Democrats split their votes.

In a rare defeat for a bill that makes it to the Senate floor, the body voted 12 to 14 to scuttle it after a late push Tuesday morning from pro-business groups. Democrats, who control the chamber with a veto-proof majority, split their votes — seven in favor and seven opposed.

For Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, it was a failure of Democratic leadership that led to the bill’s defeat.

Sen. David Zuckerman

Sen. David Zuckerman

“The real question is, in my mind, if Democrats are supportive of workers’ rights, what happened to those seven legislators and why wasn’t there some leadership to make sure they were on board?” he said. “My understanding is usually a bill doesn’t come to the floor unless you think it’s going to pass.”

The Senate agreed to amend the bill, S.133, to clarify its language on a 15 to 11 vote. The language approved states that “an employer, employment agency, or labor organization shall not discharge or penalize an employee because the employee has used, or attempted to use, accrued employer-provided sick leave or other employer-provided benefits.”

The Legislature in recent years has been unable to advance legislation mandating that employers provide earned sick leave. Zuckerman said the legislation defeated Tuesday did not require any employer to provide sick time.

“This bill was not forcing any employer to create any policy. This was simply to say, if, as an employee, you have a sick leave policy then you can’t then retaliate against an employee for utilizing the sick leave policy. Just don’t offer it or don’t retaliate,” he said. “It seemed like a pretty straight-forward bill.”

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, the Senate Majority Leader and a co-sponsor of the bill, said bills routinely make it to the floor when the outcome is not entirely clear.

“There are lots of bill where you don’t have it wired beforehand — you think it’s the right thing to do, there’s some disagreement in your caucus and you use the debate to see what the issues are and what can move forward,” Baruth said. “On this one we knew it was relatively close and we were, I think, plagued by some absences.”

Sens. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, and Dick Sears, D-Bennington, were absent from Tuesday’s floor session. And Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, was presiding at the podium with Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott absent from the chamber.

Baruth said he was “disappointed in where the Senate ended up” rather than solely with his own caucus. The bipartisan legislation was co-sponsored by Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, who serves as chairman of the Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee.

Sen. Philip Baruth

Sen. Philip Baruth

“We had a near-unanimous voice vote on this language last time and obviously a large number of people switched their vote from then to now, even though the bill was less objectionable. We bent over backwards and we removed some language that people had a worry about last year. So, disappointed in the direction of the body as a whole,” he said.

The state’s largest business groups distributed a letter Tuesday morning to members of the Senate urging them to reject the bill. The letter, signed by the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Vermont and 12 other organizations, claimed the legislation would increase employers’ exposure to litigation.

“This legislation elevates receipt and use of all these benefits to the kind of protected class status heretofore reserved for race, gender, age or disability,” they wrote. “If enacted, the provision could serve as a disincentive for employers to provide benefits to employees because it would not only preclude the employer from taking disciplinary action when appropriate, but it would also increase the employer’s exposure to future litigation.”

Bennington County Sen. Brian Campion, a Democrat, who voted against the measure, cited some of the very same reasons.

“In part, I feel like it’s bad for employers and employees. I could see some employers stepping back and not giving certain benefits in fear that it might be setting them up for a legal situation,” Campion said.

The legislation stems from allegations that Sodexo, a food service and facility management company, retaliated against some workers who used paid sick time. Campion said he has not heard of other situations in Vermont where similar practices have been alleged.

“I just struggle when legislation is built around one situation, and from what I’ve heard, this really is a [single] situation. I’d be much more interested to dig in broadly if this is happening statewide,” he said.

Because the bill was defeated it cannot be considered again by the Senate during the current biennium. There will be other efforts aimed at protecting workers, though, Baruth said.

“Are we done with trying to protect workers? No. We’re all trying to come out of the Great Recession still and I think part of the thinking was we have to help business, the economy is still fragile, etc,” he said. “I subscribe to that notion very strongly, I would just add to it that all those businesses have workers who are also coming out of the recession and getting fired for using earned sick leave that you were promised, earned and took according to the policy seems to me an unconscionable way to run a business.”

Roll call vote results:

Yes

Sen. Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden

Sen. Rebecca Balint, D-Windham

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden

Sen. Anne Cummings, D-Washington

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden

Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange

Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland

Sen. Anthony Pollina, D-Washington

Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden

Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden

No

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia

Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison

Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington

Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland

Sen. Dustin Degree, R-Franklin

Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland

Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia

Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle

Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin

Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden

Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex-Orleans

Sen. Rich Westman, R-Lamoille

Read the business groups’ letter to members of the Senate:

Election-day voter registration moves forward

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers are taking a step that could increase voter participation.

By a vote of 20 to 7 Thursday afternoon, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow residents to register to vote on the day of an election. Currently, an individual who wishes to cast a vote on a Tuesday must have registered to vote by the previous Wednesday.

“Those of us in this building spend a lot of time thinking about elections, but most people don’t,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham. “People move or go into long-term care facilities in a town where they were not originally registered to vote and didn’t get engaged until the last moment. That doesn’t mean they’re uninformed.”

Under the terms of the bill, an individual could show up at a polling place the day of an election and present documentation of residency as required by federal law, such as photo identification or a utility bill. Either the town clerk or members of the municipality’s board of civil authority would review the documentation, and if approved, the individual would be a allowed to vote that day.

Currently, 13 states, and the District of Columbia, allow election-day voter registration.

“This is a voter-rights issue,” said Sec. Of State James Condos, following the vote. “This is for the benefit of the voter, for the benefit of the citizens to exercise their constitutional right to cast a ballot.”

According to Condos, places that have election-day voter registration have seen their rates of participation rise 10-12 percent since implementation.

Several senators expressed concern that election-day voter registration could lead to voter fraud, including Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland — who voted for the bill — and Dustin Degree, R-Franklin, who did not.

“There are lots of problems with elections with the system we have now,” Degree said. “I think the integrity of our elections is more important than increased participation.”

White disagreed that the bill could open up the door to more voter fraud.

“There is no more potential for voter fraud than there is under the current system we use now,” White said. “If someone wants to commit fraud now, all they have to do is say they registered when they renewed their driver’s license.”

Condos downplayed the idea that voter fraud is much of an issue at all.
“We have a hard enough time getting people to vote once, never mind voting twice” Condos said “Voter fraud is really nonexistent in this country. There have been many, many accusations, but they usually filter out and there will be a logical reason for what happened.”

The bill is expected to come before the Senate for final approval Friday.

Senate advances gun bill

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to new gun restrictions by a 20 to 8 vote that will make it a state-level crime for some convicts to possess firearms and require that people determined by a court to be in need of mental health treatment be reported to a federal database.

Wednesday’s vote followed months of behind the scenes political machinations and some public spats as advocates and opponents of the new gun measures tried to gain the upper hand. Advocates, including Gun Sense Vermont, which strongly backed the bill, claimed success Wednesday.

“I think any time there is a vocal minority it can be a little tricky, but what’s so exciting is how vast, aggressive grassroots support has really changed the landscape. It’s meaningful because, finally, common sense gun legislation is getting passed,” Gun Sense Executive Director Ann Braden said.

But opponents, including the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s clubs and the National Rifle Association, also claimed victory because they were able to kill off earlier versions of proposed legislation that included expanded background checks.

“At the end of the day, from the bill that was originally proposed to this, the other side, I think that their agenda has been rejected. On that note we’re happy,” said NRA lobbyist Darin Goens. “If the question was asked on the original bill I think the vote would have been very different.”

Braden said her group will not be looking to restore the background check provision in the House.

“We’re focused just on this bill, not adding on,” she said.

The scaled-back bill passed Wednesday was the result of proposals from the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Health and Welfare Committee. Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, told his colleagues on the Senate floor Wednesday that the bill looked to clarify a simple point — who should possess a firearm under Vermont state law.

Sears noted that that all of the other states have a similar state-level law that excludes some convicts from possessing firearms, as does the federal government.

“We are the outlier in this particular area. There are no other states at this point,” he said.

A agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a federal prosecutor provided testimony to the Judiciary Committee that federal prosecutors “don’t have the time or the resources to prosecute these offenses in federal court,” Sears said.

Under the law, people convicted of so-called “listed crimes,” the most serious crimes in the state, will be restricted from possessing a firearm. The law makes some exceptions for lewd and lascivious behavior, as well as reckless endangerment and other motor vehicle-related crimes. The law also includes crimes involving the selling or trafficking of drugs that carry prison terms of at least 10 years.

The legislation will also require those found by a court to be “in need of treatment” for mental health reasons to be reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Sears said 38 states require such reporting.

Sears noted that the state of Virginia passed a law requiring such reporting following a mass shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2007.

“I would hate for Vermont to wait for such a tragedy,” he said.

Much of the debate on the Senate floor Wednesday centered on how and when a person could have their right to possess a firearm restored after being reported to the database. The Senate approved an amendment that would allow a person to seek restoration of their right after 18 months, if they were found by a court to no longer be in need of treatment.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, sought passage of an amendment that would have eliminated a waiting period altogether, but it was defeated on a voice vote.

“This is a constitutionally delineated right,” Benning said. “My concern is that once you have had a constitutional right removed it should not be your problem to try and get it back.”

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, voiced opposition to the bill, fearing that it will be altered as it makes its way through the House. He asked why an existing state law that makes it a crime for people to possess a firearm while committing a crime is not enough.

“The key word is “while committing another crime,” Sears said, noting that state prosecutors, under the provisions of the bill, would be allowed to prosecute some convicts just for possessing the firearm.

“If you believe that convicted violent felons and drug traffickers …. ought not to have firearms, then I guess that’s how your vote would be. To me, this is a pretty simple policy choice that we’re faced with,” Sears said.

Rodgers also expressed a believe that many gun rights groups have expressed throughout the legislative process, that outside groups were influencing the legislation and encouraging lawmakers to act.

“This is largely driven from outside forces and I believe the Judiciary Committee had some evidence of that in testimony recently,” he said.

Rodgers said the state has a long heritage and tradition of gun ownership and those that disagree with it “may want to seek another place that has a culture that they like.” He made a motion to delay the bill by having it committed to the Appropriations Committee but that effort failed on a voice vote.

The bill is up for a final vote in the Senate Thursday before heading to the House.

A full story will appear in Thursday’s editions of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and the Rutland Herald.

Roll call vote results:

Yes
Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden
Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham
Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia
Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison
Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor
Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington
Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington
Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia
Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden
Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange
Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor
Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor
Sen. Anthony Pollina, D-Washington
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington
Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden
Sen. Barbara Snelling, R-Chittenden
Sen. Rich Westman, R-Lamoille
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham
Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden

No
Sen. Brian Colamore, R-Rutland
Sen. Dustin Degree, R-Franklin
Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland
Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle
Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin
Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland
Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans
Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex-Orleans

NRA lobbyist says he represents Vermont interests

MONTPELIER — A National Rifle Association lobbyist is on hand at the State House for today’s Senate debate and vote on a gun bill, just days after gun rights advocates accused Gun Sense Vermont of being a front for a national group.

Gun Sense maintains that it is a Vermont-based, grassroots organization. The two-year-old group is seeking passage of a bill, S.141, that would make it a state-level crime for some convicts to possess firearms. It would also require the names of people found to be mentally ill by a court to be reported to a national database.

Earlier versions of legislation before the Senate included an expansion of background checks to private gun sales, but that has since been shelved.

On Monday, the Vermont Second Amendment Coalition blasted Gun Sense for being a front for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group Everytown For Gun Safety. A lobbyist from the Necrason Group, testifying on behalf of Gun Sense, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Gun Sense needed “to get national expertise” before signing off on a proposed amendment.

NRA lobbyist Darin Goens, right, sits in  the State House cafeteria Wednesday with Evan Hughes of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs.

NRA lobbyist Darin Goens, right, sits in the State House cafeteria Wednesday with Evan Hughes of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

On Wednesday, just hours before the Senate was due to debate the bill, NRA lobbyist Darin Goens denied being a national interest on the other side of the debate.

“We’re a grassroots organization. I represent Vermonters. I’m not sure they represent Vermont citizens. They’re a national group who has funded a lobbyist,” Goens said, while sitting and chatting with Evan Hughes of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

Goes said he has worked with Hughes’ group in opposed S.141.

“We’ve worked hand-in-hand with the Federation of Sportsmens Clubs,” he said. “They’re our state association so we’ve worked with them for the last several years,” Goens said. “On this particular issue we’ve met with legislators jointly. We’ve discussed amendments. We’ve organized events to make sure that our membership turns up at the capitol to make sure they’re voice is heard.”

Toxins debate reignited in Senate

MONTPELIER — A host of industry representatives are pushing back against language inserted into a Senate health care bill late last week that would alter a 1-year-old law that looks to regulate toxic products in commercial products.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee heard testimony from several people Wednesday looking to scrap the language added to S.139 on Friday. It would make changes to Act 188, which was signed into law last year by Gov. Peter Shumlin following an arduous back-and-forth process that was finalized in the waning hours of the previous biennium.

The law created a reporting mechanism for manufacturers that use certain chemicals in children’s products. Beginning in July of next year manufacturers that use chemicals designated by the state as “chemicals of high concern to children” must disclose information about those chemicals to the Department of Health.

It also created the Chemicals of High Concern to Children Working Group that would make recommendations to the commissioner of health about regulating designated chemicals.

But an amendment to S.139 approved by the committee Friday would make significant changes to the law. It would allow the commissioner of health to add chemicals to the list through rule making based on “credible, scientific evidence,” removing language in the law that calls for “the weight of” such evidence to be considered.

Opponents of the change say it could allow a single study to form the basis for regulating a chemical.

It would also change the authority of the working group. Instead of allowing the commissioner of health to adopt rules regulating the sale or distribution of children’s products containing such chemicals “upon the recommendation” of the working group, the commissioner could act “after consultation” with the group. It diminishes the oversight and purpose of the group, which includes members with varying viewpoints.

The amendment would loosen the standard for allowing the commissioner of health to act by changing the threshold from “children will be exposed” to “there is potential for exposure.”

And it also removes language calling for “a probability” that exposure or frequency of exposure to such chemicals could cause or contribute to adverse health impacts before the commission of health could act.

Several industry representatives, including William Driscoll, vice president of Associated Industries of Vermont, testified Wednesday against the changes.

“We are very concerned about the proposed amendments to that statute, even as it is being implemented,” Driscoll said. “We feel that however well-intentioned, the amendments … are unwarranted and actually undermine the statute.”

Allison Crowley DeMag, a lobbyist representing the American Chemistry Council, said the language undermines the process undertaken last year to craft Act 188. The law that was eventually enacted represented a deal, she said, and the amendment seeking to change it would “undue what was a very collaborative effort last session.”

Allison Crowley DeMag

Allison Crowley DeMag

“At the end of the day, everyone in this room, as far as I know, we all gave some, we all won some, but we all came to a deal. Part of that deal was implementing this working group that represented all different types of interests,” she said.

Crowley DeMag urged the committee and others supporting changes to the law to allow the law to be enacted as passed last year.

“The working group hasn’t even been appointed yet and here we are undoing what I thought was a very collaborative effort last session. I’m just really disappointed in the process,” she said. “If the chemical industry had come out and done something like this I know people would be very, very concerned about it. I think that we should just go forward with what we did last session, whether we liked it or not, and just move ahead with the process as it was outlined last session.”

Representatives of IBM and the Personal Care Products Council also testified against the amendment, while representatives from Seventh Generation and Vermont Conservation Voters testified in favor of the changes.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, vice chairwoman of the committee, said she is looking to make changes because of potential legislation in Washington that might undercut the state’s ability to regulate chemicals. Changes under consideration to the federal Toxic Substances Control Act could prevent the state from strengthening its law in the future, she said.

“We heard that the Congress is acting on TSCA to make changes which would hold states exactly where they are with respect to chemical regulation, or preempt us altogether, which I hope wouldn’t happen,” she said.

Lyons also said she is looking to enact language the Senate passed last year that was removed by the House before it became law. Because the session was ending, the two chambers did not go to a conference committee and the Senate had to settle for the House version, she said.

“We wanted to approve the language that was passed in the bill last year to ensure that our department of health can do its work,” she said. “This opens a conversation that we were unable to have last year because the bill went right up to the end.”

Driscoll said the there is no need for the state to rush because the changes being considered to the federal law would preempt state actions taken after Jan. 1 of this year. And the federal legislation is not focused on the “procedural matters” addressed in the committee’s new language, he said.

“Arguments that these amendments must be rushed into enactment to avoid federal preemption are without factual basis,” he said.

Others see the issue differently, including VPIRG. Executive Director Paul Burns said there was never a deal in place to pass the law.

Paul Burns

Paul Burns

“Right up until the end the industry lobbyists were opposing it and were opposing the Senate for suspending the rules to take it up. This notion that there was a deal, and certainly a deal that included an understanding that nobody would ever come back to try to change the law, that just doesn’t exist. That’s just a fantasy,” Burns said.

He said the “modest changes” added to S.139 are intended “to make a law that is designed to protect kids from toxic chemicals a little more effective.”

If changes are made to the federal law the state would be prevented from taking any action against chemicals that the federal Environmental Protection Agency considers regulating for a seven year period, Burns said.

“It puts it on list, so seven years later they may decide to regulate or they made decide not to. In all that time we would be prevented from taking any action,” he said.

By acting now, the state may be allowed to continue to regulate chemicals at the state level, depending on what Congress passes, according to Burns.

“That could be grandfathered in … if we could make it happen soon enough,” he said.

There are differences of opinion within the committee’s 5-member ranks. Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, said he believes the committee’s amendment is “superior to the language that’s in the law.”

However, McCormack also said he believes “a deal is a deal,” and making changes now could hinder future efforts to craft collaborative policy in the future.

“If a deal was made I’m reluctant to just say, ‘Well, it was a bad deal so now we’re going to make a new deal,’” he said. “I’ve got to roll this one around in my mind for a little while.”

Lyons challenged his position.

“So we’d never change a law again? I’m going to push you on that one,” she said.

Lyons said the Senate’s position last year was abandoned because of the time crunch.

“The deal, as it left the Senate, was all consumer products were being regulated. That was a deal I felt very firm about,” she said. “Some of the changes that were made in the House, I think, have been identified here as being problematic.”

First-term Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, indicated he supports keeping the existing law as is.

“I do think that you had disparate parties brought together. There was concession on both sides, an agreement was reached and Act 188 was passed,” he said. “You haven’t allowed the process to work yet.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Anthony Pollina, P-Washington, indicated his willingness to amend the law. Committee Chairwoman Claire Ayer, D-Addison, was absent Wednesday due to a family emergency.

The committee is expected to make a final decision on whether to seek changes to Act 188 this week.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Gun bill advances in Senate

MONTPELIER — The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill ahead of the Legislature’s Friday evening deadline for non-money bills on a 5-0 vote, ensuring the full Senate will consider a scaled back-gun bill this year.

The legislation, supported unanimously in the committee Friday, seeks to ban some convicted criminals from possessing weapons and will require people found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others to be reported to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It would take effect on Oct. 1.

The legislation is a scaled back version of another bill, S.31, that Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, declared “dead,” because it included an expansion of background checks for private gun sales, something that was vehemently opposed by gun rights activists.

Sears, who wrote the original draft of the revised bill that looks to keep guns out of the hands of some convicts, said he supports the idea because Vermont is the only state in the nation without such a statute. The federal government also has a similar law, but federal prosecutors often do not prosecute because of limited resources, advocates argued.

The committee voted unanimously Friday to merge the Sears-crafted language with the mental health reporting component, which came as a proposal from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. That committee’s chairwoman, Claire Ayer, D-Addison, urged the Judiciary Committee to include it in its provision earlier this week. It was also part of S.31.

Those found by a court to be a danger to themselves will, if the bill is signed in to law, be reported to the federal database beginning Oct. 1. Anyone reported to the database could be removed from the database after three years if a court rules they are no longer a danger.

The committee labored over which crimes to include in the ban Friday morning before voting on the measure. Most major crimes in Vermont are included, but the committee agreed Friday to remove lewd and lascivious conduct, several motor vehicle crimes and all misdemeanors except domestic violence.

The committee’s action Friday was hailed by Gun Sense President Ann Braden, who helped launch the effort for new gun laws in January. She called the vote “an historic victory.”

“This is a gun violence prevention bill that’s going forward despite the opposition of the gun lobby. It shows that second amendment rights [and] respect for the 16th amendment in the Vermont Constitution goes hand-in-hand with gun violence prevention,” Braden said.

Although Sears declared Friday that S.31 — and expanded background checks for private gun sales — is dead for this year and next year, Braden said her group will continue to push for it.

Sen. Dick Sears

Sen. Dick Sears

“I think these are really important measures that are definitely going to keep guns out of the wrong hands. In terms of background checks, we still want that to happen. We knew that this was going to take a long time,” she said.

Evan Hughs, legislative liaison for the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said his group will also continue its effort to ensure that gun rights are not infringed upon.

“It’s one more step in an evolving process of legislation. As the federation we’re concerned about the interests of the hunting and shooting community in the state of Vermont,” he said following Friday’s vote. “At this point we still have things that concern us but we’re willing to participate in getting the bill right.”

The meticulous attention the committee paid to the bill Friday illustrates the delicate process — and political challenges — involved in passing gun legislation. Sears said he felt “extreme pressure from all sides.”

“When I announced that I wasn’t supporting the background portion of the bill that pissed off most of the more liberal members of my caucus as well as the leadership of my caucus as well as many of my constituents back home,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, an original sponsor of S.31, pushed Sears hard to advance a bill. He spent considerable time in the Judiciary Committee, often seated near Sears, monitoring its progress.

“I think his behavior has been fascinating,” Sears said.

His attention was bothersome to Sears, and prompted the veteran lawmaker, who is known to express his displeasure at times, to offer Campbell total control earlier this week.

“There was one point where I asked him if he really wanted to chair the committee,” Sears said.

Campbell, a deputy state’s attorney in Windsor County and a former police officer, said he was pleased with Friday’s vote, but noted it is only “one small battle won.” The extra attention, he said, was a result of its importance.

“When you see the effect that heroin and other drugs have had on our families here in Vermont, I was willing to do anything I needed to do to try to come up with an answer,” he said. “In addition to being the pro tem I am also one of the senators. This is a bill that I actually sponsored, and as such, it was one where I felt I had not only a duty but an obligation to shepherd it in any way I could.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, listen to testimony on a gun bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, listen to testimony on a gun bill.

Campbell said he was aware of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s discussions with members of the committee and was trying to counter that force.

“The governor made it very clear how he feels about this bill. He doesn’t support it,” Campbell said. “The governor is very powerful and the administration is very powerful. As such, I guess I had to step up my involvement.”

Shumlin, who strongly opposes any new gun laws, was pushing his message. Sears said he had conversations with Shumlin, including a call Thursday night from the governor to inquire about the bill’s status.

“He asked me what I was expecting to have happen,” Sears said. “He never said, ‘Don’t do it,’ but he’s been pretty clear publicly.”

The governor has adopted a wait-and-see stance. He acknowledged in an interview Friday that he has been speaking with committee members “over the last weeks,” but will not declare if he intends to veto the legislation if it clears both chambers and reaches his desk.

“If a bill comes to my desk, I will look at it when it gets to me. These bills have a long way to go. My feelings I’ve made clear. We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Let’s give them the latitude to do what they think is right and the governor will do what I think is right.”

Sears said the bill, as crafted, is narrow and could end up with the governor’s support.

“If we can get it through without adding something on in either the Senate or the House, I suspect he’s going to be comfortable with the idea that there’s certainly people that probably shouldn’t possess firearms,” Sears said. “It’s up to him. He’ll do what he wants.”

Shumlin, however, is far from offering his support.

“These are tough bills. (Sears is) trying to come out with one that he thinks is sensible, but we may well agree to disagree,” Shumlin said.

Campbell, despite warnings from some opponents of the bill that his efforts would cause him political harm, said he decided to push away.

“The price that I will end up paying for this is one that won’t be known for a couple years. I’ve had people tell me, quite frankly, that my political career is over for pushing this bill. As I’ve said before, that’s fine, I’m ready to deal with that.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Read the legislation below: