BARRE TOWN — Local officials received an update on proposed legislation, including gun bills and retail cannabis, from its two members of the state House of Representatives.
At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Select Board heard from Rob LaClair and Francis “Topper” McFaun, both Republicans.
LaClair started the conversation with cannabis. He said a bill that would set up a retail market in the state for cannabis has been moving its way through the House. He said the bill came out of the Ways and Means Committee with a 14% excise tax and a 6% sales tax. LaClair said the bill is going to head back to Ways and Means because the latest version received a “cool reception” due to a 2% local option tax another committee added that had been removed from the bill.
LaClair said he and other legislators are concerned that there is no roadside testing in the bill for those who may be driving under the influence. He said the issue is such testing doesn’t show the level of impairment.
“And that’s true. Actually nothing currently being done shows the level of impairment,” he said, adding the state is currently using police drug recognition experts to determine if someone is under the influence.
He said there are also some constitutional concerns about requiring a saliva test without a warrant.
The bill had an opt-out provision so communities would have to vote to disallow a retail cannabis in their towns. LaClair said it’s now opt-in so towns have to say they want retail cannabis first. That’s a key part of the bill for Barre Town. Local officials have discussed in the past creating an ordinance banning or restricting the sale of cannabis in town, but have been told such an ordinance would be useless if a retail system is set up by the state.
Board member Norma Malone asked LaClair what the board can or cannot do. He said right now the town would have to vote to allow retail cannabis. If Barre Town residents voted for retail cannabis, LaClair said the town’s zoning regulations would apply.
McFaun talked about proposed gun legislation which has also been a hot button topic in town. He said right now there is a bill being considered that would establish a 72-hour waiting period after a background check is completed before someone could take possession of a gun he or she bought. He said this would cover all transfers of guns and not adhering to the waiting period would result in a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of a year in prison and $500 fine.
He said the bill would go into effect on passage, but he has spoken to other legislators who don’t think it will pass. McFaun said a similar bill in the Senate would call for a 48-hour waiting period after a background check is completed. That also carries with it a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of a year in prison if the waiting period isn’t observed. He said this bill would not cover transfers of firearms that don’t require a background check.
“That’s the bill that I’m told will probably go forward,” McFaun said.
Last year Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill that would have required a 48-hour waiting period for those wishing to buy a handgun.
The board was recently asked by Gun Owners of Vermont to support a resolution declaring Barre Town a “Second Amendment sanctuary” municipality. But officials declined saying the resolution was not legally accurate. Michael Monte, the town’s attorney, pointed out the resolution declared owning guns was an “inalienable” right, but felons are not allowed to have guns.
Instead, the board made a statement Tuesday which said “The Barre Town Selectboard stands in support of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, and of Article 16 of the Constitution of the State of Vermont, to wit, that the People have a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State; and that the Board implores the Vermont General Assembly and Governor to refrain from passing nay further legislation that would serve to infringe upon that right.”
The statement was sent to the governor and given to LaClair and McFaun.
Malone wanted to make it clear the statement did not make Barre Town a “sanctuary town.”