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Jobs bill moving; All Dems committee upsets GOP

first_imgby Anne Galloway, www.vtdigger.org(link is external) April 29, 2011 The buck stops with the Senate Finance Committee. Two major bills are under consideration in the money committee ‘ H.56, the energy bill, and H.287, the jobs bill ‘ and both come with sticky language that senators were trying to make sense of on Thursday.The energy bill contains two troublesome provisions: 1. The governor’s proposal for raising $2.7 million to shore up the Clean Energy Development Fund; and 2. The propane consumer bill passed by the House that limits certain fees on the sale of the gas. Neither issue was resolved on Thursday, but Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, said she had been told that the bill had to be out of committee by 1 p.m. on Friday.The jobs bill is also complicated ‘ and on a fast track. On Thursday, Senate Finance took testimony on several facets of the kitchen-sink economic development legislation, including potentially controversial tweaks to the neighborhood designation program and the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive.The Shumlin administration has asked the Legislature to give incentives to developers who want to build housing in downtowns or ‘growth areas.’ Under the proposed rules, developers could apply for the designation with the blessing of a municipality. The defining requirement of the program that developers would be obliged to comply with is a high level of housing density. (There are a number of other ‘smart-growth’ criteria developers would have to meet as well, including construction of pedestrian walkways.) In exchange, developers wouldn’t have to pay a land gains tax on the transfer of the undeveloped land, and the permitting process under Act 250 and municipal zoning rules would be waived. Winooski’s downtown and Severance Corners in Colchester are two examples of projects that have won the designation.Lawrence Miller, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said the state needed a way to encourage developers to build in Vermont’s downtowns.‘This is a subtle change,’ Miller said. ‘It’s less burdensome for municipalities and for the developers who work in partnership to make these happen.’Another proposal in the jobs bill is a ‘lookback’ provision that would allow companies to change their applications to the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive program. In order to qualify for a cash grant through VEGI, companies must meet overall hiring targets for a two-year period. The jobs bill proposal would set up new criteria for the program. Under the provision, the Vermont Economic Progress Council would be permitted to consider applications from businesses already enrolled in the program that have had layoffs and have rehired the same employees for significantly different work.‘This allows the council, in limited circumstances, to consider applications from businesses that are reinventing themselves or significantly changing what they’re doing,’ Miller said.The VEGI bill is set to sunset next January. The legislation would extend that deadline to July 1, 2012, so that lawmakers have time to change the program if they so wish next session.All Dems committee upsets GOPWell, the squabble happened as predicted. Republican lawmakers sought to place one of their own on the health care conference committee set to work out differences on H.202, but no dice ‘ even after they threw the rule book at House Speaker Shap Smith.The speaker was not about to appoint a naysayer to the committee, which, as one observer noted, is supposed to be about presenting the House position on the big health care reform bill ‘ not espousing a partisan stance. The rhetorical question posed was, ‘Why would you put someone on the committee who hates the legislation?’Smith said the decision came down to whether there was a single GOPer who voted for the bill, and the answer was: uh, no. The whole point of the conference committee, according to several observers, is to negotiate with the Senate ‘ not create an opportunity for tri-party bickering (lawmakers had their chance on the floor of the House when the bill was originally considered back in March).On Thursday, Smith named Rep. Mark Larson, D-Burlington, chair of the House Health Care Committee; Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, vice chair of the House Health Care Committee; and Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, also a member of the committee and the Democratic leadership team, to the conference committee.On the Senate side, members of the conference committee will be Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison; Sen. Sally Fox, D-Chittenden; and Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland. All three sit on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.The Health Care Conference Committee is meeting Friday at 9 a.m. in Room 10.Meanwhile, pressure is building from single-payer advocates to change two provisions of H.202. The group Vermont for Single Payer is asking activists to call lawmakers to block a change to the bill that allows a carve-out for military personnel. They are also seeking to revoke language that would preclude foreigners from medical treatment under Green Mountain Care.The Vermont Workers’ Center is holding its annual Health Care is a Human Right/May Day rally on Sunday, starting with a march from Montpelier City Hall to the Statehouse steps where Sen. Bernie Sanders will join the crowd at noon. Hundreds of Vermonters have rallied around the single-payer flag in past years.Go and sin no moreThe House passed the so-called ‘recidivism’ bill on Thursday. The legislation allows the Department of Corrections to implement measures to keep ‘nonviolent’ offenders out of jail ‘ and save the state money.In a 12-year period, from 1996 to 2008, the cost to keep the state’s inmates in jail more than doubled, from $48 million to $130 million.House Republicans fought the bill on the grounds that the legislation gives too much power to the executive branch.Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, said though she understands the economic imperative, she believes allowing the Department of Corrections to put a nonviolent criminal on furlough undercuts judges’ decisions.‘When is a judge’s decision a decision?’ Scheuermann asked. ‘I fear, as I’ve been sitting here this year in particular, that we are abdicating our responsibility as the legislative branch and providing expanded authority to the executive branch. And now we’re doing it with the judicial branch.’The bill also raised questions about an incident on Tuesday in which Jeffrey R. Davis, who is on furlough, led police on a high-speed chase in Washington and Orange counties and damaged police cruisers. Police shot at his vehicle. Davis eventually gave up and now faces aggravated assault charges.Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, told lawmakers that Davis wouldn’t have qualified for a furlough under S.108, the recidivism bill, because he was a violent offender. Davis was granted a furlough on conditions because he met his minimum sentence. Several weeks ago he didn’t meet the conditions of his release and the Department of Corrections was looking for him when law enforcement tracked him down.Rep. Bob Lewis, R-Derby, said he thought the recidivism bill would put an ‘undue burden’ on law enforcement officials. ‘Direct me to where it says anyone on furlough has a place to live and a job,’ Rep. Topper (Frances) McFaun, R/D-Barre, said, ‘In my experience, whether a prisoner is on furlough or parole, if you don’t have a place to live and you don’t have a job, your chances of succeeding are minimal.’The bill passed, 102-32. Anne Galloway is editor of vtdigger.orglast_img

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