Rep. MIKE YANTACHKA
The time has come where we’re nearing the end of the legislative session and work needs to be completed on bills if they have any chance of being enacted in this session. For the House, this includes many Senate bills now under consideration. These include bills for taxing and regulating recreational cannabis sales (S.54), increasing the minimum wage (S.23), requiring a 24-hour waiting period for handgun sales (S.169), and raising the age for buying tobacco products to 21 (S.86). House bills waiting for similar action in the Senate include broadband development, taxing e-cigarettes, increasing weatherization assistance, increasing child care assistance and paid family leave, not to mention the major money bills for capital spending, fees, transportation and the budget. Bills that were not passed before crossover on March 15 can have a second chance if their provisions are added to a bill that was passed by the other body and deals with the same topic.
The cannabis tax-and-regulate bill is now assigned to the House Government Operations Committee. Recently, Gov. Scott stated that he would not sign the bill if it didn’t allow for roadside saliva sampling for THC levels. The Senate did not include such testing because of the concerns that the results do not conclusively indicate impairment and because saliva testing impacts privacy. The House Judiciary Committee has been asked to review the appropriateness of including saliva testing before Government Operations brings the bill to the floor for a vote.
The imposition of a 24-hour waiting period for handgun sales is also in House Judiciary. About half of suicides are by gun and result in fatality 90 percent of the time compared to other methods. Failed suicides by other means allow a victim to get counseling and treatment. A 24-hour delay can short-circuit an impulsive act that is irreversible. This bill passed the Senate as a compromise from the first draft requiring a 72-hour waiting period. Concerns about how a longer waiting period would impact gun shows led to the compromise since gun shows are usually held on weekends. One possible amendment being considered is to include long guns (rifles) in the waiting period.
Raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 has been passed by the House in previous years, only to die in the Senate. This year, the Senate passed a Tobacco-21 bill and sent it to the House. A lot of progress has been made over the years in reducing smoking, especially among our youth. However, with the advent of vaping, addiction to nicotine is on the rise not only in high school but even in middle school. Raising the age for tobacco products would also apply to e-cigarettes and accessories. There is a long list of supporters of this bill, including the leadership of the Vermont National Guard, and the bill is likely to pass on a floor vote.
The House Energy and Technology Committee has possession of Senate bill S.95 which will allow municipal electric utilities like Washington Electric Co-op or the Stowe Town Electric Department to borrow amounts up to 50 percent of their assets without requiring a vote of their members. This provides our committee an opportunity to add language that will increase the allowable net metering capacity for school districts that have merged from 500 kW to 1,000 kW. This will provide merged school districts the ability to offset a greater amount of their electrical needs with renewable energy while saving taxpayers money.
And a quick note on the weatherization bill that would raise heating fuel prices by 2 cents per gallon. The Senate considers the fuel tax increase too onerous and is considering raising money for low-income weatherization another way. Meanwhile, fuel oil prices went up 5 cents per gallon in the past month, two and a half times the fuel tax increase, and Vermonters are not getting any additional benefit from it. Did anyone notice? Just sayin’.
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