On March 16, 2022

We are all Ukrainians

By Rep. Jim Harrison

At the request of Governor Scott, the Legislature unanimously approved a contribution to Ukrainian humanitarian efforts equal to $1 for every Vermonter. I had the honor of reporting the legislation, H.717, on the House floor. In my remarks I said, “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 together — the governor, the Legislature and the 643,077 Vermonters we collectively represent, in our desire to help the people of Ukraine.”

Scott is expected to sign the measure at a candlelight vigil on Tuesday evening, March 15, on the State House steps.

S.254, introduced to remove qualified immunity for Vermont law enforcement, did make it out of the Senate judiciary committee on Friday, March 11, ahead of the deadline. However, it no longer does what senate leaders and the ACLU advocated for in the original bill. It does not remove qualified immunity, but rather codifies existing case law and asks for a report back to recommend changes on existing laws. Even this watered-down version of the bill barely advanced on a 3-2 committee vote.

Similar scenes played out throughout the State House, as Friday was the deadline for various committee priorities to advance or possibly wait for another year. The Senate education committee, for example, removed a key provision of S.162, which would have allowed teachers to break employment contracts. School administrators were concerned that such a provision could have unexpectedly left schools shorthanded at the last minute. The committee chair asked the various parties to come to a compromise and report back. When that effort failed, the provision was pulled from the bill.

While the deadlines are self-imposed by the Legislature, it forces committees to focus their priorities and allow time for more thorough deliberations in the second half of the session.

Some items of interest:

  • The House government operations committee has finalized its House redistricting map for the next 10 years based on census changes. Chittenden, Killington, Mendon, and Pittsfield will comprise the new Rutland-11 district, and Bridgewater will join Barnard, Pomfret, and sections of West Hartford in the new Windsor-4 district. If enacted, these changes will begin with the November elections.
  • On Friday, March 11, the House overrode the Governor’s veto of a change to the Brattleboro charter that will allow 16-year-olds to vote in town elections on a 102-47 vote (two-thirds necessary). The Senate is expected to act on the veto this week. Scott opposed the change arguing against different voting rules by town and concern over readiness to vote at 16.
  • Legislation to enact a Vermont Clean Heat Standard has been advanced by two House committees, although on divided votes. The new program intends to help the state achieve reductions in greenhouse gases but could significantly increase the cost of heating fuels. The program, if enacted, will be designed by the Public Utilities Commission. Impacted fuels include wood pellets, oil, natural gas, and propane.
  • The House passed H.115, which sets up producer responsibility for disposal of household hazardous products, such as cleaners. To be sold in Vermont, products would need to be part of a collection system they are funding for their products’ proper disposal.
  • The Senate is making a modification to the gun control bill, S.30, that had been vetoed by the governor. Their new legislation, S.4, will allow up to seven days on a background check, as opposed to the 30 days proposed in S.30.
  • A proposal to institute ranked choice voting in Vermont did not advance prior to Friday’s deadline. Under the proposal, voters would rank candidates on the ballot if there were more than two listed. If no one received 50% of the vote, there would be a recalculation based on the rankings. The measure had been promoted by the Vermont Public Interest Group, which had been running ads featuring two of the candidates for Vermont’s Congressional seat in Washington, Senators Becca Balint and Kesha Ram-Hinsdale.
  • The House general affairs committee has advanced legislation that would establish a truth and reconciliation commission with full time staff and three full time Commissioners. The commission could recommend changes to Vermont laws, policies and measures to undo past discrimination, including possible reparations to groups harmed in the past. The new bureaucracy could be a precursor to additional liability to the state.
  • The House approved the final version of the annual budget adjustment bill, H.679, which increased spending by approximately 5% over the budget passed last spring. The increases were largely the result of allocating unspent new federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and unexpected state surplus money on one-time expenditures.
  • In-person activity at the State House continues to increase with the return of the Senate, and visitors. Only a small handful of members still participate remotely due to health issues. Two years after the pandemic began, we are inching ever closer to “normal.”

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

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