Vermont Legislative Leaders Outline Session Successes
The Vermont Legislature adjourned on May 19th with the threat of a budget veto by the governor and a special session planned at the end of June to deal with vetoes. Although the session ended with the focus on teacher health care contracts, the leaders of the legislature say the controversy overshadowed a number of legislative accomplishments.
The Vermont legislature adjourned two weeks later than planned. The tardy dismissal was due to Republican Governor Phil Scott’s insistence that the legislature pass his late-session proposal to change how teachers’ health insurance plans are negotiated. The governor says it will save property taxpayers $26 million annually. Gov. Scott threatened a budget veto if it was not passed, but nonetheless Democratic leaders of the House and Senate failed to craft a compromise and adjourned.
Before the debate over the teacher contract proposal erupted, the session had been characterized as dull. An April 26th Seven Days headline read “Listless in the Legislature.”
Vermont Senate President Pro tem Democrat Tim Ashe: “Some have described it as a boring year. And from my point of view in light of what’s going on in Washington that’s just fine by me. And boring doesn’t mean that we weren’t doing important work. It just wasn’t the type of contentious material that we’ve seen in other years.”
Ashe continues with a number of items that the Senate passed or made progress on during this first half of the biennium. “We made major investments in mental health services, increasing child care subsidies for very low income families so that parents can actually go to work, major advances in juvenile justice to change the way we handle young offenders, a big economic development bill, a housing bond, ethics bill for the first time, I mean really the first ethics bill we’ve been able to pass, changes to the way we handle proceedings at our Public Service Board when there are large energy projects and telecommunications projects, a job program for youth, you know the marijuana legalization bill. All those things went through the normal process and will make a difference in the lives of Vermonters. And it is all overshadowed by this last second proposal.”
Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson also cites a number of successes in the lower chamber throughout the session including protecting the state from negative federal actions. “There was quite a bit that involved protecting Vermonters from federal changes that were happening. Things like energy efficiency standards so we didn’t slip backwards there. Protections for civil rights. We’re seeing people with real increased fear where immigration is concerned, where people of color, people of varying religions. And so we’re trying to put on the books laws that say everybody’s welcome.”
Johnson also says this House session successfully moved economic development proposals forward. “We really listened to communities where Act 46, an education governance law, was concerned and provided a little more flexibility. The Chamber of Commerce gave the Legislature an A this year for economic development for our really good budget that has no new taxes and fees, for a strong economic development policy, for the downtown development TIFF legislation that we passed. That’s incredible. And the budget passed through both houses with a grand total of one dissenting vote. I think it was a really strong legislative session and until that last few weeks there wasn’t a whole lot of drama. We were just doing our work.”
The Legislature will return to Montpelier for a special session on June 21st and 22nd.