Adjournment in sight for Vermont Legislature

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(Host) Legislative leaders have resolved their differences over the state budget for next year. That paves the way for the General Assembly to adjourn Friday.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has the details.

(Kinzel) The stalemate over the $900 million budget involved a $50,000 appropriation for the National Legislation Association on Prescription Drugs – a group headed by former Senator Cheryl Rivers (D-Windsor).

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch (D-Windsor) argued that the money was justified because the group is saving the state millions of Medicaid dollars. But House Speaker Walter Freed (R-Dorset) strongly opposed it on the grounds that Vermont is one of the few states that makes a contribution to the Association. In the end, Welch was successful in keeping the money in the budget:

(Welch) “That organization has been extremely successful in helping us bring down the cost of prescription drugs. So I think it’ll be important for Vermonters to maintain that level of leadership.”

(Kinzel) In return, Freed was able to convince the Senate to drop a provision in the budget that gave the attorney general more authority to investigate marketing violations by drug companies.

(Freed) “Nobody even knows why it was in the budget, who wanted it in the budget. They have no rhyme or reason for it. It made so sense at all.”

(Kinzel) While disagreements over the budget were resolved, efforts to find a compromise on permit reform fell flat as House and Senate conferees could not agree on the best way to consolidate appeals.

A plan to raise legislative pay has also been abandoned. The House voted to boost salaries by 24% but the Senate wanted to a commission to study the issue before making any decisions. Representative Ken Atkins (D-Winooski) says the House was willing to accept a smaller pay raise but he felt it was important to recognize that lawmakers haven’t had a raise in eight years:

(Atkins) “What’s going to happen if we don’t get a raise for our people, is you’re going to end up with retired people, rich people and lawyers who can put their practice off for five months. I’m a retired person, I’m a retired school teacher. I’m not saying they’re not necessary. What I’m saying is that we also need to have the other groups and the other voices here.”

(Kinzel) Legislative leaders are hopeful that adjournment can now take place by late Friday night.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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