Legislative Report from Rep. Dennis Devereux
The end of the session always finds some well intended legislation left undone. This was the case with a labor bill that the commerce committee had worked on for over a year. The concepts will need to be recreated in a new bill, and many times it can result in an even better proposal. This does not make a committee that has taken many hours of testimony feel any better.
This was also the case with our committee bill that would limit access to vital records and reduce the chance for identity thief. After a total rewrite of the first draft, we felt the version passed in the house would easily win acceptance in the senate. Concerns soon came from many directions, and we realized our bill, written with input from the Vermont Department of Health, would not be finalized this session.
The last thing any legislator wants to see is something controversial attached onto a well written bill at the end of the session. This is what happened to an education bill that many of us had followed all winter. The school merger bill contained language that would provide transition money to encourage supervisory unions to consolidate offices. During our final days, an amendment was added that would require the payment of agency fees (union dues) by school employees who do not belong to a union. The thinking was that these people do benefit in some way and should be required to pay a weekly amount. Suddenly, a bill that was on track to pass, was in doubt. Here we were going into our last day, and if the amendment remained in place, the bill would die. A deal was made that would bring the bill up for a final vote only if the amendment was removed. Many of us were relieved when the original bill survived. We also understand that the agency fee issue will return next January.
Projected spending increased about 6% over the previous year’s budget. Most of the increase was due to the damage from Tropical Storm Irene. We approved the largest transportation budget ever to repair our roads and bridges. This includes a $27 million increase to the $77 million spending proposal for paving projects. People understand the need to resurface our roads. The legislature also saw an increase in demand placed on our human services agencies when lives were changed forever.
The support for our recovery efforts made the vote for rebuilding our state’s infrastructure an easy one for me. Decisions surrounding the state hospital added to the many complex issues we faced the first week last January. An amendment that would help our district calls for one half of future surpluses to go to the education fund to lower property taxes. I look forward to a year free of disasters so we might see a reduction in spending.
One of the last must pass bills is the committee of conference version of the appropriations bill. Some of its major components include the capital construction and transportation bills, and this year the state employees’ Pay Act. This marked the restoration of the pay cuts that our state employees offered to take for two years. Also non-union employees and the legislature took a reduction in pay up to 5% for the same period.
I look forward to discussing the issues we worked on, and hope you will contact me with a message at 802-259-2460 or firstname.lastname@example.org .