On March 25, 2021

Ticket to freedom

By Rep. Jim Harrison, Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon

Last Friday a vaccine rollout plan for all Vermonters over 16 was detailed that Governor Scott believes can help the state re-open this summer. He even suggested that life in Vermont hopefully could return to normal by the Fourth of July. However, the ticket to that freedom is getting a vaccine as soon as you are eligible. With new and more transmittable variants of Covid-19 now here, there is a real urgency to act now.

To learn more about vaccines, to set up an account, or to register, visit healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine.

Welcome to March Madness

As a new member to the House Appropriations Committee, the process of reviewing budgets for all areas of state government has been quite an education. And as we worked to put it all together last week, through extended zoom sessions, one of my colleagues said, “Welcome to March Madness.” It had nothing to do with our little diversion side competition with the NCAA basketball tourney (which incidentally I would rather forget right now given my bottom tier ranking).

The member was referring to the frantic week in committee reviewing all the policy bills referred to Appropriations that had associated price tags and reconciling them with the total budget and available funds. Unless an extension was granted, those individual bills sent to us in the past week or so, will likely need to wait for another day because of crossover rules. A new youth council proposal was among the casualties, not because of lack of support, but the committee ran out of time Friday night and any new funding in a bill could potentially cause reconsideration of another item.

Concurrently, final decisions on budget priorities had to be made so that a final budget draft can be ready for a vote on Monday, March 29. This year was complicated by the anticipated availability of new money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This allowed for large one-time investments in technology upgrades, affordable housing, energy upgrades and clean water. Additionally, with the available surplus state funds, $150 million was set aside to put toward pension liabilities.

Somehow, by Friday evening a plan emerged to put major policy initiatives, like expanded childcare assistance, workforce development, funding for the state employees collective bargaining agreement, state colleges, a bump in tourism marketing and much more altogether.

Once formally approved on Monday, the bill will go before the full House, where amendments can be offered to alter the spending plan. The budget hopefully will advance to the Senate by the end of the week and they will likely make more changes.

In the meantime, the Governor has expressed reservations over spending new federal ARPA money before guidelines are clarified.

Highlights last week:

• The prospects for an expanded bottle bill this year may be in limbo as the bill, H.175, did not advance from the House Ways & Means Committee by the Friday deadline.

• A proposal to allow resident non-citizens to vote in Winooski ran into a bit of controversy on the House floor when it was learned that their proposal also included voting on school budgets, which tie into the statewide education funding. It would effectively mean that a different criterion for voters in one community could impact tax rates in other communities. The measure was sent to the Education Committee to consider that concern.

• Speaker Jill Krowinski presented an $84 million proposal to invest in higher education, scholarship programs and workforce development initiatives. A major part of the initiative involves a financial path forward for the Vermont State Colleges that was put forward by Rep. Peter Fagan, vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

• Legislation promoted by labor advocates to add a 20% increase in state unemployment benefits in addition to the extra $300/week federal payment has run into pushback from business groups and the Governor. They are concerned over the additional $50 million annual cost they will have to absorb, as well as a potential decreased incentive to return to work.

• The full Senate gave approval to S.15, which institutes mailing ballots to all active registered voters in future general elections and a study on its potential in other elections. The measure now goes to the House for consideration.

• The House approved three education initiatives, all funded by federal money. The new measures included: improving literacy grants to districts, community school grants and a statewide school construction assessment study.

• The House Government Operations Committee continues to take testimony on the potentially thorny issue of how to address the growing pension liability. In addition to increased State contributions, proposals under consideration may include some sort of shared risk model and/or future benefit adjustments.

• A rental housing (including short term rentals) registry bill, S.79, will be taken up by the full Senate this week. The Senate Appropriations Committee reduced the number of new employees from five to one and a half to manage the new registry with a proposed amendment to the bill.

Congratulations to Lyle Jepson, who was appointed by Governor Scott to the State Board of Education. Lyle is the president of the Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region (CEDRR).

You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or harrisonforvermont.com.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Vermont Legislature adjourns after a contentious 2024 session

May 15, 2024
Session was shaped by debates over property taxes, housing shortages, flood recovery and public safety By Sarah Mearhoff and Shaun Robinson/VTDigger After a tumultuous day of dealmaking on housing, land use and property tax measures, the Vermont Legislature adjourned its 2024 session in the early hours of Saturday morning, May 11. The Senate gaveled out at 1:18 a.m.…

New data shows first decrease in Vermont opioid deaths since 2019

May 15, 2024
Overdose deaths in Vermont have decreased for the first time since 2019. According to the Dept. of Health’s newly released Annual Fatal Overdose Report, opioid-related overdoses resulted in the death of 231 Vermonters in 2023, a 5% drop from 2022 when 244 Vermonters died. The overdose report includes data on Vermonters who died of any drug…

Safe bet

May 15, 2024
After a week of long days and late nights, the regular session of the 2024 Vermont Legislature adjourned early Saturday morning just after 2 a.m. My best guess in the annual adjournment pool was 6:30 p.m. Friday evening, which turned out to be way too optimistic. When the Legislature finishes its work for the session,…

A lot accomplished this Legislative session

May 15, 2024
Vermont’s 2023-24 Legislative Biennium ended in the wee hours of Saturday morning May 11. The Senate gaveled out at 1:18 a.m. and the House about 2 a.m. This has been a hard session. It was begun in the wake of a natural disaster, with a state recovering from terrible flooding. Despite these challenges we managed…