It’s a problem that happens almost every year. The state budget and all tax bills start in the House and towards the end of the session many of these bills hit the Senate floor for debate.
The Senate started this week with 39 bills on its calendar, and on Tuesday, it dealt with 6 of them. One of the bills was the Transportation Budget for next year. It’s the largest in state history because it includes an additional $100 million in federal funds to help with damages caused by Tropical Storm Irene.
The bill appropriates $640 million and it significantly increases spending on paving and local and state bridge projects. Grand Isle senator Dick Mazza is the chairman of the Senate Transportation committee.
"The Transportation bill before you represents a significant commitment by the state of Vermont for infrastructure, providing investments in critical areas where our infrastructure is showing signs of aging," Mazza said.
The bill also encourages communities with big bridge projects to consider closing a road down completely instead of installing a temporary bridge. Lamoille senator Richard Westman says this approach could save a lot of money.
"Most of the time one third of the whole cost of a project that you do is the temporary bridge you put in," said Westman. "So if we can eliminate the ability to have to put in a temporary bridge and just go ahead and move very quickly on a project we can save a whole lot of money."
The Senate also voted to expand the state’s ignition interlock system for drunk drivers. The program is voluntary and it allows people convicted of DUI to continue to drive as long as they agree to have the interlock system installed on their car.
The system contains an on board breathalyzer machine. If the driver records more than a .02 alcohol level the car won’t start. Judiciary chairman Dick Sears says the program has been very successful in keeping drunk drivers off the road.
"I just want all of us to take a few minutes and recognize how important this program has been in helping to reduce drunk driving but also in giving people an opportunity to continue to have a restricted license," Sears told the Senate Wednesday.
The Senate also passed the Capital Bill for next year. This legislation contains money to build a new State Hospital in Berlin.
It also includes funds to begin the process of renovating the State Office Complex in Waterbury that was severely damaged by tropical storm Irene at the end of August.