LEGISLATIVE CORNER Benefits cliff, check engine bills progressing in Montpelier

As I've written here before, I've introduced two bills this year and with only a couple weeks left in the session, I thought I'd provide an update.

H. 326, introduced on February 21, had 20 original cosponsors that included Democrats, Republicans, Progressives and Independents. It would address the so-called "benefits cliff" by allowing lower-income working parents to avoid benefits penalties by deferring new income into education savings accounts on behalf of their children.

After thorough review by the House Human Services Committee, on which I serve, it was approved unanimously by the full House on March 28.

Last week, I testified before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which subsequently approved H.326 without amendment. The Senate Appropriations Committee endorsed it earlier this week and sent it to the floor for debate.

I am hopeful for passage in the Senate by the time you read this column.

My second bill, H. 232, would eliminate the current Vermont regulation that denies you an inspection sticker for your car based solely on a "check engine" light being active on your dashboard.

Last week, I testified before the House Transportation Committee on this matter. It was subsequently featured in a news story by the local NBC affiliate and generated much interest on social media, as this rule impacts thousands of Vermonters.

While the bill's fate is uncertain, I will continue to press my case through the end of the session.

I can't count the number times that the cost of transportation has been raised in the context of Vermont's affordability and competitive challenges. Especially among lower income people, who are disproportionately impacted by this inspection rule, the cost of transportation is a critical issue. Unless the lights are related to safety, which is rarely if ever the case, car owners, not the state, should decide whether or not to deactivate their check engine lights.

Finally, as a review of the bigger picture, we seem to be maintaining support for enacting a balanced budget without raising taxes or fees. We have passed such a bill in the House, which is now under consideration in the Senate.

I credit Gov. Phil Scott for setting the tone in his campaign and in his statements since being inaugurated. I also give credit to the Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson, as well as to the chair of the Appropriations Committee, Kitty Toll, for their leadership in developing the legislative means to that end.

Contrary to the occasional complaints of political gamesmanship in Montpelier, in my view the session thus far has seen much cooperation on matters great and small. House passage of a balanced budget is the best example of this, and it is the issue that means the most to Vermonters.

As always, feel free to contact me with questions, comments and criticism. I'm trying to be better about keeping my Facebook page updated, so you can look for me there. Or, please send an email to bkeefe@leg.state.vt.gov, or you may call or text to my phone at 802-353-8326.

Rep. Brian Keefe (R-Manchester) represents the 4th Bennington District in the Vermont House of Representatives.


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