The bill, H.525, was sidelined after the proposal of an amendment with bipartisan backing to implement the merger by January 2018.
The House bill was offered as a follow-up to the body’s rejection of Gov. Phil Scott’s executive order, signed in January, to merge the two entities. Last week the House rescinded the governor’s order on a party-line vote.
Though the order was rejected, the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee put forward the bill to create a working group to study the idea of a merger and make recommendations.
Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, co-sponsored the amendment, which would have required Liquor Control and the Lottery Commission to merge by January. He said he was looking to offer a compromise proposal.
Harrison believes combining the two departments would be more efficient than the current system, in part because they each serve many of the same retailers.
“Understanding there’s some caution, let’s delay it until January and also have this study group look at some of the issues,” he said.Before the amendment could be voted on, however, the House decided to send the bill to the House Government Operations Committee — effectively sidelining the bill for the session.
Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said the bill was put forward as “an olive branch” to indicate there was interest in the House in working toward a possible merger.
“It became clear that people were not interested in an olive branch,” she said.
Johnson said that when a lack of interest in working collaboratively on the issue over the summer became evident, the leadership decided to send the bill to House Government Operations, where lawmakers may revisit it later.
“We’re very interested. We want to move forward, but there are a lot of details to work out,” Johnson said.
In a series of documents provided to the Legislature detailing the merger, the administration outlines several proposals to cut costs, including streamlining permits and marketing, and privatizing the warehouse and distribution operation.
However, Johnson questioned whether the governor’s plan would produce substantial savings.
Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, chair of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, noted that the committee voted down the proposal to set the merger for 2018. She predicted the full House would have rejected it too and said it is an important issue for the Government Operations Committee to review.
“I think that we would have rejected that amendment but did not see the point of a protracted discussion,” Head said.Some legislators, however, lamented the situation as a lost opportunity.
Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, said she was disappointed the House didn’t move forward a bill to implement the merger.
The body has had “plenty of time” to work on legislation to combine the two departments, she argued.
“To me this is a no-brainer,” Scheuermann said. “It just makes no sense that we can’t do something like this — a common-sense move to find greater efficiencies, to provide greater service to Vermonters.”
Several legislators noted that the proposal has come up in past years. Scheuermann said the decision not to move forward is a partisan one.
“To lose this opportunity just for politics is really a shame,” Scheuermann said.
Scheuermann and Harrison are hopeful the Senate will advance a bill containing language to merge the two departments later this year.