On March 6, 2024

Heating up

With self-imposed deadlines coming up to move legislation from the House to the Senate or vice versa, the pace of bills advancing is heating up. And being the second year of the biennium with elections coming up this fall, the motivation to get one’s priorities passed is increased. For some it may be now or never.

Unfortunately, several of the initiatives being advanced include new money.

On Friday, H.645, which expands restorative justice programs, was quickly amended by the House Appropriations Committee, to remove its funding for two new positions (a total of $277,000). That could become a common theme for the committee as it grapples with decisions over the next few weeks to balance next year’s budget. Another housing bill is heading to the Appropriations panel that calls for close to $200 million in new funding. That will most likely be impossible to satisfy unless lawmakers want to raise significant new taxes.

Heating up could also apply to some of the rhetoric between advocates, including Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, for a new renewable energy bill and the Scott administration. An analyst for the Public Service Dept. estimated the legislation, H.289, could cost ratepayers an additional $1 billion over the next 10 years. Supporters of the bill say that the number is exaggerated but haven’t offered any analysis of their own. They also don’t believe electric infrastructure needed for local renewable power sources should be included in the cost estimates.

There are also the beginnings of disagreements among committees about what if anything to change with Act 250 to allow more housing development this session. Members of the tri-partisan rural caucus sent a letter to House Speaker Krowinski, outlining several concerns with a pending Act 250 bill under review in the House Environment & Energy Committee.

And finally, all eyes will be on the outcome of proposed school budgets this week. If most are approved, homeowners could see average increases in property taxes of 20% or more, with some districts over 30%.

At a press conference on Friday afternoon, March 1, the chair of the House Education Committee said he didn’t even know how he would vote on his own school budget, where he is a former board member. In a separate interview, the governor indicated he was leaning toward voting against his own school budget in Berlin.

Other issues of interest:

  • Commissioner of Health, Dr. Levine, has apparently changed course and now is supportive of safe injection sites in Vermont. This conflicts with the governor, who appointed him to the position.
  • The mid-year budget adjustment bill, H.839, received final passage by the Legislature on March 1 and was sent to the governor for his signature. The bill includes capping the price paid to operators of hotels participating in the hotel voucher program for homeless at $80/night. It also includes financial assistance to towns impacted by last summer’s flooding to help cover their required local match for FEMA assistance.
  • A Senate committee approved a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday and will now go to the full Senate. This would increase the state’s legal holidays to 13. June 19 marks the day when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed.
  • The House Judiciary Committee approved H.534, which allows prosecutors to combine retail theft cases by an individual, that happen within 14 days. If the cumulative total theft is over $900, the potential penalties for the offenses increase, including possible prison time.
  • Just over a third of the Legislature, along with the lieutenant governor, signed on to a letter to President Biden to halt arms sales and military aid to the nation of Israel, and to use all means within his ability to demand an immediate ceasefire in Palestine. Other legislators have suggested that foreign relations are not the purview of the Vermont Legislature and that we are not informed enough about this conflict to add our opinion one way or the other.
  • For the second time in recent weeks, a constitutional amendment proposal to allow the Legislature to establish guidelines for elected sheriffs and states attorneys has been sent back to committee as it lacked the necessary 20 votes to advance the measure to the House. The proposal is likely dead for the session.
  • Another Senate committee is considering a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to unionize, which is already stated in Vermont law.
  • The entire State House family gave an appreciative send-off to Sergeant-at-Arms Janet Miller on her retirement last week. A big thank you to Mendon’s Teri Corsones (Vermont Court Administrator), for baking the large beautiful and delicious cake in honor of Janet Miller. On Friday, the Legislature elected a new Sergeant-at-Arms, Agatha Kessler, in a very close vote, 84-82, over Mike Ferrant. Kessler was the deputy director at the office of professional regulation and Ferrant is the legislative operations director.

With the Legislature on recess this week for town meetings, there will be no report next week. Hooray!
Jim Harrison is the state representative for Chittenden, Killington, Mendon and Pittsfield. He can be reached at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or harrisonforvermont.com.

Courtesy Vermont Joint Fiscal  Office

Chart shows grant funding for towns in Rutland and Windsor Counties that were most impacted by the July floods. Ludlow received the second most funding, Killington fourth most in the state.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Gov. Scott vetoes bill that would’ve restricted bee-killing pesticide

May 22, 2024
Staff report On Monday, May 20, World Bee Day, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation meant to protect bees and other pollinators from a widely-used neuorotoxic pesticide. The bill (H.706) would  eliminate most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) in Vermont, which have been associated with alarming losses of managed and wild bee populations. Neonic insecticides are used on…

Health premium increases of 16%-19% projected for 2025

May 22, 2024
Vermonters are again facing steep upward premium growth for 2025 due to the cumulative impact of hospital costs, drug prices and state health care policy choices. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont projects that these trends will continue and will require rate increases of 16.3% for individual health plans and 19.1% for the small group…

Sanders: weight loss drugs could bankrupt U.S. health care

May 22, 2024
As part of his investigation into the outrageously high price of Ozempic and Wegovy in the U.S., U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a stunning new report May 15 exposing the potential of weight loss drugs to bankrupt American health care. In the report, HELP…

The future of fertilizer? Pee, says this Brattleboro institute

May 22, 2024
By Kate Kampner, Community News Service Editor’s note: The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost. When Peter Stickney walks along his cow paddocks in the morning, he notes the scattered patches of greener grass across the…