Commentary: Rep. Bock highlights notable bills

By Rep. Tom Bock

We’re into the last two weeks of the 2018 legislative session in Montpelier, always a chaotic time. Pressure is building to get bills through the before adjournment.

The House and Senate need to reconcile differences on bills affecting funding for education and clean water as well as many other issues.

Following is a brief description of just a few of the more consequential bills that still need to be considered for passage before the session ends.

Bill S276, voted out of my committee (House Agriculture & Forestry), is a wide-ranging bill that would establish a number of rural economic development initiatives such as providing funding and regulatory incentives for farms, the forest products industry and other emerging agricultural businesses. The purpose is to encourage economic growth that is tied to the rural economy.

S175 would establish a wholesale importation program of pharmaceuticals from Canada. If implemented, the program has the potential to save Vermonters millions of dollars.

S203 addresses the crisis in the lack of mental health beds. The proposal would allow additional inpatient beds that would help to ease the problem with patients being held for long periods in hospital emergency rooms.

S260 seeks to develop recommendations for long-term funding for cleaning up the waters of the state. A per parcel fee, an increase in the rooms and meals tax, a $2/night per bed tax, and an impervious surface fee are some of the sources of revenue that are being reviewed.

H911, the Education Fund bill that lowers property taxes by establishing a progressive state income tax that should raise an additional $60 million dedicated to the Education Fund, continues to be considered. If education property tax rates remained the same in FY19 as they were in FY18, the shortfall in the Education Fund would be $58 million, which would then require a 5.5 cents increase in the property tax next year. Gov. Phil Scott wants to use one-time funding to help close the $58 million gap.

S.40 proposes to raise the minimum wage from $10.50 to $15 per hour over the course of six years. Although this increase may help some Vermonters, it could hurt many other Vermonters and small businesses due to cutbacks on hours, loss of jobs, loss of benefits, and loss of sales. More moderate increases may be preferred.

H196, the Paid Family Leave bill, a main priority for the House this biennium, would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave during family situations such as pregnancy, birth, and illness. The program would be funded through a 0.141 percent payroll tax.

Once the second year of the legislative biennium finally adjourns, bills that are not passed this year will be considered dead. It is also possible that a “veto session” will take place to address any bills that the governor might veto.

As always, I welcome any questions, opinions, thoughts and concerns you may have on any legislative issue. You can contact me at tbock@leg.state.vt.us or tmbock@vermontel.net. I look forward to hearing from you.

Tom Bock of Chester represents the towns of Andover, Baltimore, Chester and North Springfield in the state legislature.

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