Statehouse advances stun gun, child care measures
MONTPELIER -- The Vermont Senate called Monday for better police training on the use of electronic stun guns, while the House narrowly approved a measure to allow home-based child care operators to unionize.
Those actions -- as well as a new snag for an effort to ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving -- came as lawmakers began with a fast pace what they hope will be the last week of their 2014 session.
"It's our full intention to finish up our business and get out of here by Saturday," Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell said in an interview. But he said the deadline was not certain. "There's always some surprises" near the end of the session.
One came Monday, when the Senate Transportation Committee defied expectations and decided not to support a House-passed version of the measure to ban the use of cellphones and other hand-held electronic devices while driving.
The full Senate followed suit Monday afternoon, and a panel was appointed to work out differences with the House on a motor vehicles package that contained the cellphone ban.
A key Senate opponent of the cellphone ban has been Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He said many drivers would simply defy a ban. "A lot of Vermonters are going to get stopped and pay a fine," he said in an interview.
The Senate's version of the stun gun measure is slightly more restrictive than the House-passed bill on when police officers can use the weapons. Both call for a statewide policy and beefed-up training for officers, with the Senate version asking for a study of whether officers who carry Tasers -- the stun gun of choice for police in Vermont -- should also wear body-mounted cameras.
The legislation comes nearly two years after a 39-year-old Thetford man with mental illness, MacAdam Mason, died of cardiac arrest after a state trooper used a stun gun on his chest when he refused to lie on the ground.
One of the longest House debates Monday came on the child care unionization bill, which would allow home-based operators of child care programs with 12 children of fewer to join a union to negotiate with the state over the subsidies low-income working parents get for placing their children in the programs. The Senate has passed identical language, and Gov. Peter Shumlin supports the measure.
It comes up for final House approval on Tuesday, and members said Monday's 70-64 vote was the closest of the session in the Democrat-dominated chamber. Sixteen members missed the vote.
In other business, the Senate passed its version of a minimum wage increase, which would go in stages from its current $8.73 to $10.50 by 2018. The House has passed a faster but slightly smaller increase, going to $10.10 in January. If the House does not concur with the Senate, the bill would have to be worked out in a conference committee.
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