Whirlwind of activity in Vt. Statehouse - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Whirlwind of activity in Vt. Statehouse

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A whirlwind of activity at the Vermont Statehouse Tuesday, as lawmakers try to adjourn on time.

The deadline pressure ahead of the close of the Legislature is palpable. It was been a busy day and it was far from over Tuesday evening. Many legislators began working before 8 a.m. and some may not wrap up until midnight.

Earlier Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to a state spending package. The plan is similar to the budget put together and approved by the House. Senators must still determine how to fund it. The biggest hurdle is the property tax.

"We on the one hand want to satisfy the desire for lower rates and tax bills; on the other hand we don't want to throw away money we could be using on system reforms using it for one-time... sort of pain-relief," said Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County.

Ashe's finance committee landed on a slightly more expensive property tax rate than the House did, but less of an increase than that proposed by the governor in January. However, the committee does not rely as heavily on reserves as the House did and raises additional funds through other tax changes in order to offer financial rewards to school districts that hold the line on spending.

A school district consolidation bill drafted by the governor's administration landed on the desks of reluctant legislators. In recent days, members of the Senate told reporters there wasn't enough time left for a substantial vetting of a school governance consolidation bill. The original proposal still hasn't reached the Senate and is scheduled for a full House vote Tuesday night.

But legislation entitled "possible provisions" landed before the Senate Education Committee Tuesday. We're told the legislative council drafted it at the request of the governor's administration.

Rep. Johanna Donovan chairs the House Education Committee and says she's glad her colleagues in the Senate may act on the issue.

"I think it's really wonderful that the Senate is starting to talk about this because it now will give us an area of conversation," said Donovan, D-Burlington.

The bill under consideration in the Senate would set curriculums at the supervisory level and offer tax breaks to communities willing to consolidate, while penalizing communities that don't make a "good faith effort." The measure would also require approval from the secretary of education before a board could fire its superintendent. Teacher contracts would still be allowed to vary by district and supplemental property tax relief funds would also be tapped to help with the associated costs of consolidation.

Senators say given time limits they are only likely to approve a small portion of possible provisions and could sort out differences with the House at that time.

Also on tap Tuesday, the Senate voted to put temporary restrictions on powdered alcohol until next year when they'll be better able to suss out the extent of the potential problem.

The House was debating a toxic chemicals bill Tuesday evening and was expected to vote on that measure before tackling school consolidation.

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