House ties up loose ends before final stretch

first_imgby Nat Rudarakanchana May 12, 2013 vermontbiz.com The Vermont House voted on three minor legislative changes before breaking for the weekend; theyll return to wrap up business on Monday and Tuesday.House Judiciary Chair Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, tweaked an omnibus opiate bill to ensure that hashish is treated similarly to marijuana, regarding criminal consequences for possessing over 5 grams of hash, which is equivalent to two ounces of marijuana.Lippert said he noticed that recently approved Senate legislation didnt provide increasingly harsher penalties for higher amounts of hashish. Under that legislation, he said, someone could possess a ton or a kilo of hashish and still face only a misdemeanor charge.Under current marijuana decriminalization legislation, possession of an ounce of pot results in a civil fine. Possessing an ounce to two ounces is a criminal misdemeanor, while possessing more than two ounces is a felony.Lippert amended the bill, with the support of the House floor, to ensure that between 5 and 10 grams of hash results in a misdemeanor charge, and that over 10 grams of hash results in a felony charge.The amendment couldnt be attached to the marijuana decriminalization bill, its natural home, because there wasnt enough time left in the legislative calendar, said Lippert. Since House Republicans refused to suspend procedural rules to allow enough time for the amendment, they had to tack it onto the omnibus opiate bill.Another minor amendment came to agricultural legislation. The amendment allowed temporary agricultural workers here under a federal H-2A visa to avoid taxes levied by the state, quietly imposed in 2008, but not widely known about until 2012 and in some cases, February 2013.State and federal notices requested back taxes from 2008, too, surprising many farmers, according to Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden.Zuckerman said the taxes were imposed without enough advance notice in the first place, and could deter sorely needed foreign workers from returning to Vermont and working on apple orchards or in other key agricultural areas.There are fewer than 500 H-2A workers in Vermont, according to a fiscal note from the Joint Fiscal Office.U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has tried and failed for years to extend the H-2A visa program to dairy farm workers, who are currently excluded under the federal program.The opiate bill was also amended to compel more frequent checks by doctors of the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System, which tracks the prescribing and distribution of drugs prone to abuse.The Senate allowed the Department of Health more flexibility to set how often doctors could check the database, leading to the policy disagreement.last_img read more