• Lawmakers to take up a host of issues
     | April 21,2014

    MONTPELIER — Lawmakers will look to advance a host of bills this week as they eye adjournment in early May.

    The House will consider the Senate’s version of a GMO labeling bill this week. The Senate approved last week an altered version, on a 28-0 vote, of a House-passed bill. Small differences, including the effective date, must now be reconciled. If the House concurs, Vermont will be on track to become the first state in 2016 to require the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients.

    The House will also consider an economic development bill, S.220, that includes a new fund recently proposed by Gov. Peter Shumlin. Shumlin proposed last week creating the Vermont Enterprise Fund, with $4.5 million in funds, to help the state recruit businesses to Vermont and retain those already here.

    Shumlin’s plan would use expected surplus money from the general fund, and provide him, along with the Emergency Board, discretion to provide incentives to companies. The focus will be on research and development and technology firms.

    A Senate bill concerning the regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries will also hit the House floor. The Senate, in its version, sought an expansion from the current four dispensaries to six. The House Human Services Committee would keep it at four.

    The House Ways and Means Committee has also attached a study on the economic impact of legalizing and taxing marijuana. More than 50 lawmakers sponsored an amendment calling for that study last month, but their attempts to attach it to a miscellaneous tax bill were rebuffed by House Speaker Shap Smith, who found it to be not germane to the underlying bill.

    House Committees, meanwhile, are set to continue work on S.252, which addresses the state’s path to Green Mountain Care, Shumlin’s proposed universal, publicly financed health-care system. The committee is seeking a February 2015 deadline for the Shumlin administration to deliver a financing plan.

    The push by lawmakers for a deadline is a reaction to Shumlin rescinding a promise to deliver his financing plans this year. Shumlin has said he decided not to provide lawmakers with that information because his team is still working out details.

    The Senate also will continue work on a minimum wage bill. The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs voted 5-0 Friday on its minimum wage plan, which will boost the rate from its current $8.73 per hour to $9.15 on Jan. 1, 2015. It would then be raised to $9.60, $10.00 and $10.50 over the next three years until 2018. Annual cost-of-living increases based on increases in the consumer price index would resume in 2019.

    The plan differs from the House-passed version, which would raise the rate to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2015.

    The Senate Appropriations Committee is likely to review the legislation before it hits the Senate floor. Amendments are expected on the floor as some lawmakers look to speed up the increase closer to the House version.


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