Last week, the Vermont Senate adjourned and with that, the legislature ended the session until January. The first half of the biennium was marked by a number of controversial bills but ended with two key pieces of legislation left unfinished.
Vermont legislators passed bills guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion and advanced a Constitutional amendment that would encase that right in perpetuity if another legislature and citizens eventually agree. It also passed a 24-hour waiting period on handgun purchases and a plastic bag ban.
But at end of the session, the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate failed to compromise on two key bills - minimum wage and paid family leave. Middlebury College Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson says the session ended with a lack of urgency to complete those bills. “Part of it is that it is the first the first half of the biennium and they can always come back and do this over in January. On the other hand they started out this session with grand ambitions: ambitions of passing the minimum wage and paid family leave. And you don’t start out the session by saying here’s what we’re going to do and then finish it and not do those things unless something has gone off the rails. So I think something did go off the rails there.”
The Ethan Allen Institute is a conservative Vermont think tank. President Rob Roper is critical of the session overall and glad the legislature did not get to the remaining bills. “I think we dodged a couple of bullets with the $15 minimum wage and paid family leave. But we’re still looking I think at $70 million more in education funding for a system that’s losing kids at a couple of thousand per year. That makes absolutely no sense to me. We’re looking at things like a plastic bag ban that is just going to make it more inconvenient for shoppers and for retailers for a policy that all the science says is going to increase the carbon footprint of the state because all the alternatives to plastic bags create more carbon than the little flimsy plastic bags do. You know overall I think we came out on the short end of the stick but it could have been a much shorter end to a much dirtier stick.”
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe were criticized for not compromising over the minimum wage and paid family leave legislation.
Again Bert Johnson: “Governor Scott does come out of this looking pretty good. He didn’t get tangled up in it. He didn’t say he was going to veto one thing or the other. He just said he would wait to see what they came up with and when they came up with nothing he looked pretty smart as a result of that. So I think if you had to pick winners and losers at the end of this session you’d have to say Phil Scott comes out looking like a winner.”
The Vermont legislature did not schedule a veto session and will begin the second half of its biennium on January 7th, 2020.