The Senate Friday gave final approval to the fee bill, but only after Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, gave a short speech criticizing the way the bill was handled.
“Once in a while here, even after many years, you learn that something you did you should not repeat,” the Bennington Democrat said. “And that is putting what should have been a stand-alone bill into this (fee) bill and it certainly wasn’t a decision made by myself or the Finance Committee.”
This year’s fee bill, typically a routine measure, sparked a gun rights debate because it included a section creating a system for storing firearms, ammunition or weapons of people ordered not to possess them as the result of a relief from abuse order.
The bill passed the House with little fanfare. But it was the subject of heated debate in the Senate over the course of several weeks during the second half of the session.
Although the Senate Finance Committee vets the fee bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on it because the firearms storage section was essentially a criminal justice measure.
Sears lamented several times in committee that he sacrificed other House bills in order to work on the gun storage section.
“I think it’s a lesson for all of us for the future,” Sears told his colleagues Friday morning.
It is unclear who exactly put the firearms section in the fee bill, although it does contain a fee.
Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration early in the session brokered a deal between the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, who pushed for this measure.
Other gun rights groups, however, did not support it and spoke out in hearings before Sears’ committee.
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, Judiciary Committee vice chairman, voted against the bill on the second and third reading, saying Thursday that committees failed to take enough testimony from police about storing guns. Judiciary Committee member Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor, also voted no on the third reading.