- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Lawmakers agreed on a budget, a renewable energy siting bill and a measure calling for more transparency in prescription drug pricing as they worked toward an expected adjournment for the year late Friday or Saturday.

“If we pull an inside straight we could get out of here tonight. But I don’t think that’s likely,” House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, said Friday afternoon.

He later said he was more confident the session could be pushed through to conclusion late Friday or early Saturday.

As of late Friday afternoon, work continued to reach agreement on a bill related to one of several arcane factors that affect school property taxes. But an afternoon-long drama over energy siting was resolved by a conference committee working in a room packed with renewable-energy critics wearing what has become their uniform: green fluorescent vests.

The critics complain that wind and solar generating projects are being built around Vermont without enough input from town leaders and citizens’ groups. Much of the ire has been directed at the utility-regulating Public Service Board, which reviews the projects.

The bill agreed to Friday, Senate Bill 230, calls for towns and regional planning commissions to be given greater say in reviewing the projects as long as they have drafted energy plans that comport with the state’s goals. The main goal of the state’s energy plan is that it should get 90 percent of its energy from renewables by 2050.

Conference committee members got stuck on and later resolved one aspect of the energy bill that threatened to derail the whole package. It dealt with rules the Public Service Board is being called on to draft to more tightly regulate the noise coming from wind turbines.

Meanwhile, any hope for what those supporting marijuana legalization would call progress was dashed, when a commission the House approved earlier in the week to study legalization was stripped from the bill by the Senate. The Senate had passed a legalization bill in February and pulled the commission from the measure out of frustration at not winning House approval for legalization or even an expansion of decriminalization.

Another piece of legislation that passed and was ready to be shipped to Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin was a bill calling for greater transparency in prescription drug pricing. Democratic Rep. William Lippert, chairman of the House Health Care Committee, said it calls on state health regulators to come up with a list of the 15 biggest examples of rising drug prices and then for manufacturers to justify the increases.

The fiscal 2017 budget bill called for nearly $2.5 billion in spending of state funds, a 3 percent increase over the current fiscal year. Features included $700,000 in new spending on aid to students at the Vermont State Colleges and more money for social workers, prosecutors, public defenders and one more judge to address the sharp rise in child protection cases.

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