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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Marijuana, End-Of-Life, Tax Bills Likely To See Action Before Session Ends

Vermont lawmakers are trying to wrap up their 2013 legislative session, with the hope of adjourning in early May.

Here’s a look at what’s been accomplished and what’s coming up in the next few weeks.

-Gas tax.  Both the House and Senate approved a gas tax, and so it will increase on May 1. Lawmakers favored a change to a sales tax on gas, rather than a per gallon increase. Many supported the bill because they wanted to take advantage of $56 million in federal matching funds.

-Tax bill. Governor Peter Shumlin doesn’t support the tax bill passed last week by the Senate Finance committee. Earlier this year, the House passed a bill raising $26 million dollars. This bill raised the rooms and meals tax, imposed sales tax on soda, candy, bottled water, and placed a cap on personal income tax deductions. Governor Shumlin did not support this bill.  The Senate took a different approach and their bill only raises $10 million not $26 million dollars, and they’ve cut the budget plan that passed the House. The Committee focused on income tax, by capping mortgage interest deduction at $12,000, and creating a new minimum interest tax rate of 3 percent for people making over $125,000 per year. And they’ve applied sales tax to bottled water. The governor is probably unhappy with both plans. After Senate passes their plan, they’ll go into conference with House to work out the differences in the proposals.

-Education: The governor focused on education in his inaugural address, and some of his proposals have gotten through including, a plan to expand school lunch program, a grant program to pay start up costs for new preschools, and additional funds for the University of Vermont and the Vermont State Colleges, earmarked specifically for financial aid for Vermont students. The governor’s big proposal was a $17 million child care initiative, that’s in trouble because it’s funded by the Earned Income Tax program. Lawmakers like the initiative, but don’t want to take money from low-income people to pay for the initiative.

-Wind moratorium. The bill was originally proposed as a wind moratorium. The Senate turned the measure into a plan to apply Act 250 to review process for renewable energy projects, and that was rejected in a close vote. In the end the Senate called for a study of renewable energy projects. The House decided to strip that bill down to a summer study of the issue, because in the near future the Energy Siting Commission will issue their report on renewable energy projects and the House will hold hearings on those proposals over the summer.

-Marijuana Decriminalization. This bill has already passed the House and Senate Judiciary Committee. There will be differences in the versions, but those are likely to be worked out in Conference Committee.

-End-of-life bill. A version based on a law on the books in Oregon was reduced on Senate floor to immunity for people who help a loved one end their life. The measure has been studied in House Human Services and House Judiciary Committee, and is going back to the original Senate bill modeled after the Oregon law. That bill could pass the House in the next week, setting up a battle in the Senate. It was a close vote in the Senate to pass the smaller amended bill, so the question will be whether one or two Senators change their mind, and if they do the more comprehensive bill will pass this year.

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