Bills of all sizes in legislative hopper

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(Host) When the legislature returns to the statehouse the big items often deal with taxes, spending or major shifts in state policy.

But beyond the attention-grabbing issues are a host of bills designed to solve problems both large and small.

VPR’s John Dillon looks at some of the first bills of the 2007 Legislature.

(Dillon) Essex Representative Tim Jerman says the inspiration behind House Bill Number 4 was a constituent who felt underpaid.

In this case, the person complained about the $30 the state pays for a day’s work on jury duty. Jerman’s self-employed constituent felt that was not enough. So Jerman has introduced a bill to raise the rate to $50, the same per diem rate that the state pays people for serving on many public board or commissions.

Jerman says he expects debate over whether the state can afford to raise rates for jury duty.

(Jerman) “Probably going to be a question about where would the money come from, and tough times, can we afford to do that? But it certainly seems like for people who are asked to give up work and do something else it’s not a very high level of reimbursement for a pretty tough job.”

(Dillon) The first bill introduced in the Senate came from veteran lawmaker Dick Sears of Bennington.

Sears recently retired as executive director of a program that helps at-risk youth. He says his three decades of work with kids led to the proposal to raise the age limit for a person to be treated as juvenile offender.

Sears says the bill gives prosecutors, judges and defendant more options.

(Sears) “This is all part of the whole effort that we’ve had, particularly for non-violent offenders to give the courts alternatives to dealing with some of these folks rather than incarceration.”

(Dillon) The bill raises the age limit from 17 to 25. Sears says the defendant would have to agree to treatment or a rehabilitation plan set by the court. If the conditions are violated, the case is sent back to criminal court.

(Sears) “To me it’s a win-win situation. You have a young person who is probably a first or second time offender and that offender gets into trouble, they can end up with a deferred sentence. They can get services in family court that wouldn’t be available to them in adult court. But if they mess up, they can still be held accountable for the adult charges and move on from there.”

(Dillon) Like Sears, Montpelier Representative Francis Brooks has a number of bills in the early legislative hopper. One bill would require a deposit on tires. Brooks says the measure was inspired by Montpelier students who haul dozens of tires out of the Winooski River every spring.

But the first bill Brooks introduced has a more personal story behind it. The legislation requires trucks carrying sand, soil or stone to be equipped with a cover. Brooks says he learned the hard way what happens when a flying stone meets a moving windshield.

(Brooks) “That particular piece of legislation is generated by the loss of windshield – my own.”

(Dillon) Brooks says he expects opposition to the bill from truck owners, as well as city and towns that may not want to pay for the mandated covers.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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