On May 15, 2024
State News

Safe bet

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, it does  so with an adjournment resolution. It states that if the governor vetoes any bill after the Legislature leaves, it will return to consider those vetoes. If he doesn’t, the full Legislature is adjourned sine dine, which means the 2023-24 biennium is done until a new Legislature is seated in January.

While I may have lost the adjournment pool, it is a very safe bet there will be gubernatorial vetoes over the next several weeks and the Legislature will be back on June 17.

The closing days of the session are inevitably a roller coaster ride with some bills seemingly dead for the year, only to come to life again as a deal with the other chamber materializes. The deadline of getting a bill passed or it goes away can be a significant motivation for the House and Senate to settle their differences. Such was the case with a major data privacy bill, H.121, where a late Friday compromise was reached to allow both chambers to agree and send the bill on to the governor.

Different from this session (in a positive way in my view) was the willingness of House and Senate negotiators to work with the governor to find a path forward to craft the final budget bill that will likely receive Scott’s approval. Last year the Legislature overrode a gubnatorial veto to enact it into law.

However, there is a list of bills being sent to Scott that could be veto candidates. Chief among them is the education finance legislation, H.887, which contains the yield number to set the statewide property tax rate. 

The bill includes an average 13.8% property tax increase (local rates will vary depending on individual school spending and a town’s CLA, common level of appraisal). It also includes a study about potential future changes to the education financing system and ways to reduce costs. While the overall tax increase was less than the 18% estimate at the beginning of the session, the legislation lowered that rate by adding the sales tax to online software, increasing the rooms tax on short term rentals by 3% and utilizing surplus funds.

The danger in using one-time surplus money to “buy down” rates is that it could exacerbate the increase next year when those funds are unavailable. The governor has been critical of the lack of any cost containment measures in the bill. If vetoed, legislative leaders will need to either work with Scott to find a compromise or muster the votes to override the veto.

A few other bills that could face additional scrutiny from the governor include:

H.72, safe injection sites

S.259, climate superfund cost recovery fund

S.213, river corridors

H.766, prior authorization for health care

H.289, renewable energy standard

With safe injection sites, Scott does not support enabling illegal drug use, while supporters believe it will save lives. On other bills, Scott’s focus has been on whether they increase costs to Vermonters. It is unknown whether the Act 250/housing bill, H.687, will receive his approval. The administration has been critical of some of the Act 250 changes that make it more difficult to build in rural towns, but support changes easing some of the housing restrictions in downtown areas.

In closing, thank you for your interest in my legislative updates during this past session. This concludes my regular reports, but I will provide updates as pertinent information becomes available in the coming months.

I plan to seek re-election this fall as the state representative for the Rutland-11 district (Chittenden, Mendon, Killington, and Pittsfield) and will be collecting petition signatures to get on the ballot in the coming weeks.

In the category of life after the legislative session is over, I had to laugh recently when we offered to help out with our three Atlanta grandsons so their mom and dad could enjoy a break for their June anniversary. It turned out that even before we could offer, Graham, who is 12, had already checked out the Red Sox schedule and pointed out that the Sox were playing the Atlanta Braves during that period…and, yes, tickets were available. Just a little hint to his grandparents… Looking forward to the summer ahead!

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.

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