NEJHE will report on new education-related laws and other legislative highlights from each New England statehouse, starting with Vermont …
On May 14, Vermont lawmakers wrapped up their session by passing a $5.2 billion budget for FY14. House and Senate proposals to changes in the income tax fell by the wayside as did proposed increases in taxes on bottled water, soft drinks, candy, dietary supplements, clothing purchases over $100, cigarettes, health care insurance claims and satellite television. In the end, lawmakers joined with Gov. Peter Shumlin and agreed not to raise any additional taxes.
Earlier in the session, the tax on gasoline increased by a net of 5.9 cents. The tax on diesel fuel increased by 2 cents as of July 1, 2013 and will go up another cent in the following year.
Lawmakers doubled the subsidy on Amtrak providing an additional $3.1 million to keep passenger service going on the Vermonter and Ethan Allen routes.
- Approved physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients
- Decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of marijuana
- Required pharmacists to check drug registries before filling prescriptions and require patients picking up prescriptions or other behind-the-counter medications to provide a photo ID
- Approved driver’s licenses to migrant workers
- Passed the Equal Pay Law which was recently tested in Dreves vs. Hudson Retail Group where the court found in favor of the female manager of airport newsstand, who was paid less than her male counterpart.
- Allowed home care providers to take part in collective bargaining after voting to form a union and approving a union to represent them.
Shumlin successfully lobbied lawmakers to support a $2.5 million increase in funding for the University of Vermont, Vermont State Colleges and the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation in exchange for holding the line on tuition increases.
UVM President Thomas Sullivan urged lawmakers to approve UVM’s $45 million budget with the promise that half of what is appropriated would go to financial aid for Vermont students.
Schoolchildren on the state’s subsidized food program will now receive free school lunches. Previously, more than 35,000 Vermont schoolchildren were ineligible for free meals at school but could receive a reduced-price meal. The legislation signed into law earlier this year by Shumlin will now provide these students with free breakfast and free lunch.
Flexible Pathways Initiative
The Vermont General Assembly responded to Shumlin’s suggestion that more be done to help poor children achieve access to higher education by passing the Flexible Pathways Initiative which expands options for students who may want to enroll in college courses before graduating from high school.
Vermont schools must now have an action plan to address concussions and ensure that athletic coaches and referees are trained to recognize concussions and other head injuries. Also, by July 1, 2015, a statewide concussion task force is to be established. Additional provisions of the legislation require a health care provider to be present at school athletic events which involve collision sports (e.g. football, hockey, lacrosse, wrestling) and allows schools to have epinephrine on hand to treat allergic reactions and nurses to administer the drug.
Carolyn Morwick handles government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures.