MONTPELIER — It was the calm before the storm Monday morning in Montpelier, where lawmakers huddled in committee rooms to put the finishing touches on the lingering bills of a legislative session that could come to a close as early as this week.
In the Senate Finance Committee, legislators dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on technical changes to the tax code. Up in the House Judiciary Committee, lawmakers worked on a draft of legislation that would protect Vermonters’ social media profiles from the prying eyes of their employers.
But the real action was going on behind the scenes, as power players began to broker the grander bargains that will be needed to resolve outstanding fiscal issues.
House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President John Campbell both said Monday that they’re on pace for a Saturday adjournment. That timeline will necessitate a frenetic floor schedule over the next five days — not to mention a quick resolution of the tax and budget bills. And while plenty of lawmakers have already penciled in post-session getaways next week, any number of glitches could force them to postpone their plans.
Smith’s ability to sound the final gavel Saturday would, he said, “require us basically to close the budget and tax bills by the end of the day Tuesday, or early Wednesday.”
The six-person conference committee overseeing the revenue negotiations had its first meeting Friday, and key figures have been sharing information over the weekend.
“The discussions have been productive,” Smith said.
Sen. Tim Ashe, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, characterized as “delightful” the opening talks.
His counterpart, Rep. Janet Ancel, chairwoman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said the threshold issue — whether to raise new money — is still unresolved.
“I think the biggest question right now is do we need to raise revenue,” Ancel said Monday. “And if we do, how much?”
From his ceremonial office in the Statehouse, Gov. Peter Shumlin kept watch over the legislative branch, hosting Smith, Campbell and their aides as the sides tried to find common ground on a revenue package that is by far the biggest sticking point.
Taxes and budgets aren’t the only magnets for controversy. House lawmakers Monday afternoon debated legislation that would create a special state-sanctioned driver’s permit for farmworkers who are in the country illegally.
Today the House will take up a campaign finance bill that appears to flout federal law by imposing a $5,000 limit on contributions to super PACs.
In the Senate, the long-running drama that has followed the end-of-life choices bill will culminate in a floor vote that will likely come this morning. That’s when supporters of the bill will find out whether either one of two swing votes — Sens. Peter Galbraith and Robert Hartwell — will compromise in such a way as to pass the legislation this year.
The closely watched debate over marijuana decriminalization also will wind to a close when the bill heads to the Senate floor Wednesday, where it is expected to win passage.
A late-session push for education finance reform could bear some fruit. While the package approved by the House last month won’t get through the Senate in its entirety, certain provisions — including one that would lower the threshold at which schools are penalized for higher spending — have found support in the Senate.
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