Government

2011 Legislative Update: Week 12 (3/29 – 4/1)

by Jeff Wilson

Everyone seemed to be reading from the same page this past week as legislation on a few different fronts sailed through the House with little debate and disagreement. Here are a few highlights:

Capital Bill û This year’s Capital Bill won final approval in the House on a voice vote on Friday (4/1). This legislation, largely funded by general obligation bonds issued through the Treasurer’s Office, is the vehicle the State typically uses to address its long-term building and infrastructure needs. To take advantage of near record low interest rates, and to front load funding for some important projects, this year’s capital bill is comprised of a two-year spending plan, instead of the normal one year authorization. In all, the bill calls for an expenditure of $154 million; $90 million in FY 12 and $64 million in FY 13. The biggest outlay included in the spending blueprint is for a $29 million health lab proposed for a UVM-owned parcel in Colchester. Other spending authorizations of note, entail $10 million for the Vermont Telecommunications Authority to extend broadband and cell phone service and $4 million to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. This bill, like the other two outlined below, will now go to the Senate for review and consideration.

Transportation Bill û One old hand on the Transportation Committee told me that this was the first time during his tenure that the House’s version of the “T-billö differed only a smidgen from the Governor’s recommendation. In fact, the only difference was a $200,000 item the House Transportation Committee proposed for sidewalk improvements. This is a mere peppercorn when one considers that the total spending authorization on transportation is slated for $554 million in the next fiscal year (FY 12). With the expiration of Federal ARRA money, this year’s proposal is down about $41 million from FY 11. Most of the budgeted funding will be used for paving, road construction, bridges and local highway aid. However the plan also appropriates roughly $165 million for public transit, rail, aviation and a number of other non-highway items. The Transportation Bill was approved by the House on a voice vote this past Friday (4/1).

Consumer Protection û A bill updating Vermont’s consumer protection laws gained final approval in the House on Thursday (3/31) by a vote of 134-0 (Wilson voting yes). The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development spent a good deal of its time over the past few weeks educating itself about the new unscrupulous business practices that are now being employed by some outfits that haven’t made the Better Business list, and how best to protect Vermonters against them. Provisions in the bill bolster consumer protection against “crammingö (unauthorized charges on one’s phone bill), misleading discount memberships resulting in perpetual credit card charges and the misrepresentation of a geographic location by web-retailers. In addition, the bill requires that companies inform the Attorney General’s office of any security breech within fourteen days of the breech being uncovered.

That’s it for this week. I hear the session may wrap-up the first week of May. We’ll see. Enjoy those April showers.

– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative

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