House Panel Passes Beverage Tax

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In a dramatic turn of events, the House Health Care committee has voted to support a bill that helps the state implement a new health care exchange in January

Last Friday, the committee voted not to advance this legislation but a number of members reconsidered their vote over the weekend.

The first order of business, in a day marked by many parliamentary procedures, was a formal motion to revisit last week’s vote.  Rutland Rep. Doug Gage opposed the idea:

"I take issue with the fact that you want to bring it up I think in part because people don’t like the result that came out Friday."

But committee chairman Mike Fisher reminded Gage that the panel operates under the concept of "the majority rules."

"It’s an appropriate motion and a majority of the committee can make that decision as long as the bill is in our possession."

The committee voted to reconsider Friday’s vote but then got bogged down in more procedural issues. That prompted Fisher to take the very unusual step of asking House Clerk Don Milne to come to the committee room to offer some advice.

"I’m going to ask the committee to hold on for a moment this is one that I need to get the Clerk’s read on."

With the procedural issues settled, the debate focused on several key provisions of the bill.  Barre City Rep. Paul Poirer was upset that the legislation increases out of pocket expenses for individuals who are moving from Catamount Health Care to the new Exchange:

I haven’t gotten away from my fundamental belief is that this schedule for premiums and out of pockets is the wrong direction."

But Fisher argued that the plan was the most affordable option available at this time.

"I want to commit myself to work to find any avenue I can to find more subsidy for those populations."

Jericho Rep. George Till turned out to be a key swing vote. He backed the bill because it contains a penny per ounce tax on sugar sweetened beverages. The tax replaces an assessment on employers that don’t offer coverage to their workers.

"To me it’s a health bill and if we don’t control the rate of spending on obesity it’s going to swallow our budget. So to me the sugar sweetened beverage tax is an important piece of that because of the unique contribution that sugar sweetened beverages make to obesity."

The legislation now goes to the House Ways and Means committee for its review and it’s uncertain if the committee will support the new soda tax.

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