On March 2, 2022

MT: Some action before the Legislature is off for the town meeting recess

By Rep. Jim Harrison

A few years ago, Pat and her sister Carol were helping my father-in-law clean out his house for a move. They came across a desk and file cabinet that were labeled MT. They wondered what that meant. Dad laughed and replied that it was cleaned out = empty = MT. Likewise, the Vermont State House will be MT this week as the Legislature is off for the Town Meeting recess.

With the halfway point in the session approaching, committees often search for compromise to keep initiatives alive.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, may have struck a compromise to the qualified immunity protection issue for law enforcement. Rather than expose an individual police officer to lawsuit damages when doing their job and potentially make it harder to retain and attract officers to Vermont, the committee is looking at having any damages be the responsibility of the employer. In addition, if the suit fails, the plaintiff would be responsible for paying the legal fees of the defendant, which could discourage frivolous lawsuits.

Last Tuesday, the governor vetoed S.30, which adds a fine for bringing a firearm into a hospital and extends the period for the federal background check from three days to 30. In his veto message, Scott offered a compromise of seven business days.

Other issues of interest:

House and Senate conferees signed off on H.679, the Budget Adjustment Act. The legislation is an annual mid-year adjustment of state finances to align with budget needs for the remainder of the fiscal year. The governor has raised concern on the use of one-time federal ARPA funds for different proposals in the BAA that could take away from the long-term investments he agreed to last year with the legislature.

The House Energy & Technology Committee advanced H.715 on a 7-2 vote. The bill establishes a clean heat standard, which is a key component of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont. The devil will be in the details yet to come, as to the environmental benefits and costs to consumers and businesses.

The Senate Education Committee advanced S.139, which would require schools to adopt a policy prohibiting school mascots that reference a racial or ethnic group. The measure was fueled, in part, by the Rutland School Board debate over the use of the Raider name. Rutland County Senators were split on the issue with Senator Cheryl Hooker supporting the bill and Senator Josh Terenzini, opposing it.

The House approved a Burlington charter change, approved by the voters, that would allow the city to ban oil and gas heating in new construction.

The House gave preliminary approval to H.697 on Friday, which allows some landowners to enroll some non-logged forest land in the state’s Current Use program. Proponents believe the change will allow the development of more old growth forests, which retain carbon removed from the air. Current Use allows farm and forest land to be taxed on its current use and not its development potential.

Former U.S. Attorney for Vermont, Christina Nolan, declared her candidacy for the U.S. Senate. If successful in the Republican primary, she will face current Congressman Peter Welch in the November elections for the seat being vacated by Pat Leahy.

The Vermont House continues its path to more in-person. On Friday, some members took strong objection to a tightening of temporary rules that allow remote participation and voting if you have Covid, been exposed to it or have an underlying condition. Beginning March 8, members will have to notify the Speaker’s office if they wish to participate and vote remotely due to a Covid related reason. Additionally, a note from your medical provider will be required if a member is claiming underlying conditions prevent their return. (Some members have been participating remotely all session.) Meanwhile, the Senate, which has been operating remotely since March of 2020, is expected to return to the State House in a hybrid format after the town meeting week break. In my view, in-person legislating is much better than behind a computer screen. Much is lost without those informal conversations that enable a better understanding of different points of view and potential for compromise.

P.S. There will be no update next week due to the State House being MT.

Rep. Jim Harrison is the state house representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. He can be reached at: JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us.

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