Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday March 10, 2010

Here’s a quick update on what happened on Tuesday. The House Judiciary committee did complete its work on H. 590, the mediation in foreclosure bill. The vote from the committee was 7-2-2. The Chair decided to hold the bill until Friday when it will be delivered to the House clerk’s office. Once a bill is delivered, it goes on the Notice calendar the next day. Then a bill advances to the Action Calendar on the next legislative day. Chairman Lippert did not want to distract the committee from its work on H. 470 by having to prepare for floor debate on the mediation bill. So, it will make the crossover deadline by being delivered by this Friday. But the bill still faces some hurdles. The Vermont Bankers’ Association has begun an all out effort to defeat the bill. It will probably get enough support to pass the House but its future in the Senate is less than clear to me right now.
On the Senate side, the Judiciary Committee returned to hear more testimony on S. 279the jury bill. Yesterday it heard from representatives of insurance companies while today testimony was scheduled from Paul Harrington, Executive Vice President of the Vermont Medical Society. I heard yesterday that he sent an alert to all Vermont physicians asking them to contact senators to express their opposition to the bill. I’ll do my best to get some long distance updates so I can report on where this now stands. Just as in the House, the Senate faces the same crossover deadline this Friday.
If you read the Vermont section of today’s Burlington Free Press and/or listened to Vermont edition on VPR at noon or 7 PM, you’d have a good update on where judicial restructuring now stands. At yesterday’s briefing of two House committees, Chairman Lippert announced that his committee had finalized plans for 6 full time probate judges and 2 half time judges. The bill that is about to emerge from the committee will look a lot like the position urged by the VBA’s Board of Managers. As soon as I can get the final version, I will get it out to you for your review. What I am missing today and tomorrow in committee is the final decision making on the two remaining issues: how to pay for the additional probate judges and the judicial functions (if any) of side judges.
So here’s the calendar. House Judiciary must finish its work by Friday. The bill will appear on the Notice Calendar on Tuesday, or earlier if the Speaker of the House decides to call a Monday session. But, since the bill involves spending, it must be committed to the House Appropriations Committee. That committee has a different cross over deadline- Friday, March 19th. So, debate can be expected during the wee of March 22nd. Passage by the House will get the bill to the Senate the week of the 29th. Will there be enough time for that body to work the bill? Remember that adjournment is expected on Friday, April 30th. The legislature is funded for a 16 week session, ending on that date. It leaves the Senate Judiciary, Government Operations, and Appropriations Committees about 4 weeks to get through a bill that may be about 200 pages long. The other thing to remember is that Senators serve on more than one committee. Senate committees meet only a half day as opposed to House committees. So there’s a lot to be done in a short time. There will be opposition to parts of the bill no doubt. The committee members have their work cut out for them as they must now educate all House members about exactly what the bill does and, probably more importantly, what it does not do. There’s a lot of misinformation out there in the legislature and, I still find, among members of the Bar. That’s one of the reasons we’re going to be discussing this at the Mid Year Meeting next Friday. Please join us for a briefing on the bill; come to ask questions; and learn how you can help by contacting your House member(s) before the vote in the House. As always, thanks for reading. I’ll try to update you on progress even though I’m out of town.

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