Legislative Session Dominated By Health Care, Budget

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(Host) The 2011 Legislature wrapped up its work last Friday night after completing final action on next year’s budget and the tax bill.

It was a session dominated by legislation that overhauls the state’s health care system.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

"The ayes do have it and the House stands in adjournment."

(Kinzel) After four months of activity, House Speaker Shap Smith brought the gavel down on the 2011 Legislative session.  It was a session where money issues and health care took center stage.

When lawmakers came back to the Statehouse in January, they faced a $175 million projected budget gap.

That gap was closed by making some cuts, raising some new tax money and using higher than anticipated revenue growth.

House Speaker Shap Smith praised his colleagues for their work on the budget:

(Smith) "We have passed a balanced budget for 2012 and done it without the rancor in many other places."

(Kinzel) Governor Peter Shumlin told lawmakers that he feels one of the greatest accomplishments of the session is the passage of a bill that transforms the state’s health care system and puts Vermont on the road to a publicly financed system that provides health care to all Vermonters:

(Shumlin) "You have set the foundation to implement the first health care bill in the country that’s going to treat health care as a right and not a privilege where health care is going to follow the individual not be required by the employer that’s going to grow jobs and economic opportunities and is going to use our health care dollars to make Vermonters healthy." 

(Kinzel) Lawmakers also passed legislation to expand broadband and cell phone coverage throughout the state by 2013 using a combination of federal, state and private funds.

A bill encouraging the development of small scale alternative energy projects was also adopted and legislation allowing the creation of as many as 4 marijuana dispensaries for patients who suffer from chronic pain also won final approval.

Several prominent issues didn’t win legislative approval this year including a tax on soda, changes to the state’s open meeting law and a bill that supporters call "Death with Dignity" and opponents refer to as "physician assisted suicide."

Because this session is the first year of the biennium, these issues and most other bills will be held over until the 2012 session.

At the very end of session, the Governor said he was proud that Vermont has a political system that’s not based on a divisive and negative atmosphere:

(Shumlin) "You have created a state legislature that does politics the old fashioned way; common sense, good judgment, working together, respecting each other ensuring that you do one thing and one thing only work for the best interests for the constituents that sent you here. You’ve got a lot to be proud of thank you very much."

(Kinzel) The Legislature could return in early June if the Governor decides to veto any of the bills that reach his desk.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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