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Vermont Governor Vetoes Toxics Bill But Senate Overrides

Vermont Statehouse 2018
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse

The Vermont Senate on Thursday overrode Governor Phil Scott’s first veto of the session.  On Monday, the Republican nixed a bill that would regulate toxic materials.  As WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, Senate sponsors were rankled over the governor’s move, but industry lobbyists agreed with the governor that the bill is unnecessary.
Governor Phil Scott rejected the bill, saying it is “…duplicative…will jeopardize jobs and make Vermont less competitive for businesses.”  His veto message notes that Vermont has some of the most comprehensive chemical regulations in the country protecting consumers and children.  He also says the bill would make no changes to Vermont’s standards nor have any practical impact on how
they are regulated.   

House Speaker Democrat Mitzi Johnson issued a statement expressing her disappointment.  "S.103 proposed a modest step to protect Vermont children and families from toxic substances in children's products and drinking water. It's unfortunate that the Governor is prioritizing corporate interests over public health and the safety of Vermont families"

Bill sponsor Senator Brian Campion represents the Bennington area where PFOA has been a problem.  “I completely disagree with the governor’s position on this. This very much is a proactive bill.  There’s nothing in the bill that is going to help fix the situation in Bennington.  But what this does do is we want to make certain that businesses are regulated and that jobs at any cost are not the way to do good business in the state.”

Co-Sponsor Senator Ginny Lyons says she was dumbfounded by the veto.  “The bill was about preventing the  release of toxic chemicals, harmful chemicals, in children’s products. We want to ensure that kids don’t grow up with autism, special education needs, cancer or other debilitating diseases that increase costs to health care.  So that’s the underlying philosophy and intent of the legislation. He’s vetoed that. We find that unreasonable.”

Associated Industries of Vermont Vice President William Driscoll supports the veto. He says there  are at least three problems with the bill: it would allow for peer review rather than scientific evidence; gives the Department of Health rather than the legislature the power to ban products; and he says the bill removes the ability to  assess whether a product actually poses a health risk before being banned.  “I think in total all those changes really raise the prospect of really undermining the integrity and the credibility frankly of the regulatory process and the scientific standards and legitimacy that would be required for making decisions. And also it would send a very chilling message in terms of what kind of approach Vermont might have to product and manufacturing regulations in general. And there are also some perennial proposals to expand the scope of the current children’s products regulations to all consumer products.”

Thursday afternoon the Vermont Senate considered the governor’s veto without debate.  "By reason of the wording of the Constitution of the state of Vermont, the Senate is obligated to reconsider the bill.  The question that you will be voting on is as follows: Shall the bill pass notwithstanding the Governor’s refusal to approve the bill?  Two-thirds of the members who are present must pass the bill over the objections of the governor.  Otherwise the veto of the governor will be sustained.”

Lieutenant Governor and Senate President David Zuckerman announced that the Senate overrode the veto on a 22 to 8 vote.  It now goes to the House for consideration.

Audio of the Senate session is courtesy of the Statehouse webstream provided by Vermont Public Radio.