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Vermont legislative wrap-up - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermont legislative wrap-up

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MONTPELIER, Vt. - Campaign season is heating up now that lawmakers closed the legislative session this weekend. So which bills made the cut?  And what did lawmakers not get to this session?

"I think it was a great session," said Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-Vermont). Two days after the closure of the two-year legislative session, Shumlin touted the passage of the education package he laid out when his most-recent term began.
     
Last year, the legislature expanded dual enrollment for high school seniors and agreed to pay for up to one year's worth of costs for science, technology, engineering, and math grads who promise to stay in state for five years. This year the Governor found it harder to sell his education priorities. Montpelier did sign-off on universal Pre-K, but plans to ensure consolidation of Vermont's school boards and administration fell apart. "We're going to have to build more consensus," Shumlin admitted.

The Governor will sign a compromise budget that contains more than $5 billion worth of spending and raises just less than $6 million more in new taxes compared to the previous version.
      
The door never opened for proposals to drastically overhaul school funding and lawmakers will likely need to fill a $50 million revenue hole next year. Residents' average property tax bills will be five percent higher and the state's cigarette tax will jump another 13 cents. But a proposal to tax e-cigarettes fizzled. "We got out with meeting the promise not to raise income taxes, sales taxes, rooms and meals taxes on hard-working Vermonters," Shumlin said.

Raising the minimum wage stole the momentum of mandatory paid sick day proposals after the Governor and President stumped for the issue in March. Vermont's lowest earners will see their hourly rates climb to $10.50 by 2018, but will just miss the $10.10 by 2017 mark called for by the two chief executives.
     
There's a plan to pay-off teacher's pensions after the state allowed interest to compound into a financial hole, and child-care workers will be allowed to unionize in order to negotiate reimbursement rates with the state.
     
New legislation will also expand incentives for installing solar panels -- both for companies and residents. Lake shore property owners face new development rules, but proposals to regulate rivers and streams remain moving targets.

The state will spend more on road repairs than ever before. Popular opinion and overwhelming favorable votes forced the Governor to reverse his stance on a ban of hand-held cell phone use while driving -- the measure will become effective in October.
     
Lawmakers made it easier to prove drugged driving charges and created stiffer penalties for dealers and new regulations for pawn-dealers, while giving addiction treatment programs more resources.

Those involuntarily treated for a mental health crisis will have more rights to a speedy hearing, and lawmakers mandated the development of a state-wide Taser policy as a reaction to the death a MacAdam Mason, a Thetford man who reached out for help, but died when police used a stun-gun on him.

Doctors won't have to fear providing treatment for long-term Lyme disease symptoms -- the existence of which is the subject of debate.

A push to follow other states in legalizing and taxing pot went up in smoke, but the Governor signed the first GMO labeling law in the country, with an effective date that bill will likely be challenged in court soon. A lawmaker is also taking the Governor to court to force him to release a single-payer financing plan originally due in January of last year.  And lawmakers pushed debate until next year on whether to OK gun restrictions passed by Burlington voters in March.
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