Lawmakers tackle wages, police training, cellphones
MONTPELIER — Lawmakers spent much of last week fine-tuning bills they hope to complete before the end of the session and setting others aside as they look to complete their work by early May.
The House approved a jump in the minimum wage from the current $8.73 to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2015. The bill would bump the wage to $10.10 much faster than Gov. Peter Shumlin wants, and likely sooner than the Senate will agree to.
Shumlin wants the jump to take place over three years and reach the $10.10 mark on Jan. 1, 2017. That is consistent with what other New England states are on track to do.
Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, said the upper chamber appears reluctant to follow the House plan. He intends to introduce an amendment that will lift the wage to $10.10 in two years.
Shumlin said any differences between the House and Senate will be reconciled in the final hours of the legislative session.
The Senate Government Operations Committee worked on legislation that could redefine part-time police officers in the state. Part-time police officers in Vermont have the same police powers as full-time officers but receive less training.
Part-time officers receive about three weeks of training and must complete 30 hours of training each year on an ongoing basis.
The bill, H.765, looks to create varying levels of police officers.
The top level, officers who have completed a four-month police academy program, would have full policing powers. Second-level officers could respond to crimes in progress, while the lowest-level officers would only be allowed to perform security functions, transport prisoners and work on traffic control details.
The legislation has already passed the House, but is opposed by many local police chiefs who are unsure what powers their part-time officers would retain.
The legislation calls on the Criminal Justice Training Council to determining the scope of practice for each policing level and approve training for each one.
It’s unclear if the bill will advance in its current form.
Stuck in traffic
Meanwhile, legislation to ban the use of cellphones and other handheld electronic devices while driving appears to have come to a standstill.
The legislation, which sailed through the House by a wide margin, is currently languishing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The proposed ban is opposed by Shumlin, who has repeatedly said he does not favor “legislating common sense.” Despite his opposition, the bill appeared to have more traction this year when longtime opponent Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Chittenden/Grand Isle, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he now favors the ban.
But Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, a close ally of Shumlin and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has given no indication he will advance the bill.
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