It looks pretty clear at this juncture that the final curtain will come down on the 2011 legislative session sometime between May 6th and the 9th (most are wagering on Saturday the 7th). The Senate gave final approval to the health care reform bill on Tuesday (4/26); the last of the “must-do” bills to clear both chambers this session. Conference Committees were appointed to iron out the differences between House and Senate versions of about a dozen or so bills. And, once the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed on the “big five” — the budget, the transportation bill, the capital bill, miscellaneous tax and health care – work at the State House will be gaveled to a close until next January (barring a special session of course). Although things seem to pop up from the most unlikely places, the differences between the House and the Senate on the big stuff do not appear to lend themselves to any rancorous delays and debate.
House and Senate committees continued to work hard last week in an effort to move about half a dozen bills over the finish line. At this writing it appears that the telecommunications bill, the clean energy bill, “medical” marijuana dispensaries and the jobs bill will make the final cut, but it’s certainly not a slam dunk at this late date by any stretch of the imagination.. Given the fact that this is the first year of the biennium, any bill that doesn’t make it to the Governor’s desk this year will still be in play and get a second bite of the apple in 2012.
And then, there are those bills that saw a good deal of ink, but never made it out of the starting gate. There was a lot of speculation that this was going to be the year for the “death with dignity/ physician assisted suicide” bill. The word around the State House on this one is that the votes were there in the House to pass it, but the Senate looked a bit dicey. This meant that the House leadership was not going to let such an emotional and contentious bill out of committee, knowing that it might get bogged down or killed in the Senate. Tax reform (remember the Blue Ribbon Commission) was another one that didn’t make it out of committee this year. Although we took a good deal of testimony in Ways and Means (my committee) on reworking the income tax in an effort to reduce rates and simplify the system, the changes necessary to move ahead with the contemplated revamp were not enthusiastically embraced by those vested in the current morass of deductions, credits and exemptions. As soon as any serious discussion about change started to gain any steam, the special interest groups and their lobbying teams descended on the committee room in droves. I still like the Commission’s work and hope we get a chance to revisit it again before it starts gathering dust. But then again, the chances are probably between slim and none that meaningful tax legislation will see the light of day next year, an election year.
The temperature is rising, leaves are poking out and the General Assembly is starting to pack-up. Ahhh – spring is here. With a little bit of luck Week 17 will be the final chapter.
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative