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Vermont Legislature passes humanitarian aid bill for Ukraine

Vermont Statehouse
WAMC/Pat Bradley
The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier (file)

The Vermont Legislature has approved funding to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine, a week after Governor Phil Scott called for state leaders to respond to the Russian invasion of the country.

Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Republican governor signed an executive order barring the sale of Russian made products in Vermont liquor stores.

On March 3rd he expanded the order, mandating divestment in any Russian investments and cancelation of any contracts. At the time the state legislature was on its annual Town Meeting break and he called on lawmakers to take specific action as soon as they returned.

“I’m asking that they immediately appropriate $643,077, a dollar for every Vermonter, to support humanitarian efforts for the people of Ukraine," said Scott.

H.717 was introduced Tuesday in the Vermont House. Appropriations Committee member and Rutland County Republican James Harrison offered the measure for consideration.

“The plight of Ukrainians pulls at the heart of every one of us. There is no amount of money that will make everything right again nor bring back those lost. However this legislation shows that we are united," says Harrison. "Together the governor, the legislature and the 643,077 Vermonters we collectively represent can help.”

Harrison outlined the bill’s provisions.

“$644,826 is appropriated for humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine. This represents one dollar for each Vermont resident plus $1,749, which represents the funds collected by the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery from the sales of Russian spirits from when the invasion began on February 24th through March 2nd when those products were removed from store shelves, explained Harrison.

Albany, Vermont Republican Vicki Strong asked Harrison why the bill does not define humanitarian assistance.

“I’m just wondering what this will be going toward?," Strong asked.

"The administration has been in contact with the White House and has received a list of approved humanitarian relief efforts for Ukrainian citizens," Harrison explained. "They are in the process of reviewing that and we did not necessarily feel in committee that we should be micromanaging that.”

“I do hope and pray that this money will go toward the needs of housing and food and health care,” responded Strong.

The House passed the bill on a unanimous voice vote.

When the measure came up for consideration Thursday in the state Senate, Burlington Democrat Kesha Ram Hinsdale proposed an amendment.

“I in no way intend to slow down humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine. Half of my own family came from Kyiv almost a century ago persecuted as Jewish people," Ram Hinsdale said. "I am introducing this amendment and then plan to withdraw it to simply draw attention to the need to open our hearts wider for every conflict that occurs on this globe and particularly ones that we had a hand in.”

Before withdrawing her amendment, Senator Ram Hinsdale also called for more funding to support immigrants resettling in Vermont. Hinsdale is one of several candidates running for Congress.

The Senate passed the aid bill on a unanimous voice vote.

Governor Scott plans to sign the bill during a Freedom and Unity vigil on the Statehouse steps Tuesday evening.