On June 19, 2024
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Legislature overrides six vetoes, a new record

Courtesy Vermont General Assembly

By Shaun Robinson and Sarah Mearhoff/VTDigger

Of Gov. Phil Scott’s seven vetoes only a sweeping data privacy bill was sustained by the Senate. The six vetoes set a new record for the Vermont Legislature, beating the record they set last year with five vetos  in a single day. But Scott made his own record, since he took office in 2017 he’s vetoed 52 bills, the most of any governor in state history by far. 

On Monday, June 17, by 5:34 p.m., both chambers had adjourned from the one-day veto session. 

To override a gubernatorial veto requires a two-thirds vote of members present. In theory, Democrats have veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate. But in practice, party affiliation, on its own, is not always indicative of how a member will vote on the question of whether to override the governor’s will.

That proved to be the case on Monday. The road to overriding one veto was particularly bumpy: The Senate ultimately made three attempts to override H.72 — a bill allowing for the establishment of an overdose prevention site in Burlington — before the chamber finally succeeded at about 4:15 p.m.

With H.72 having been a major priority of Democrats this session, the Senate’s initial failure to override Scott’s veto led to shock and tears in the chamber Monday morning. Moments after the first vote, the bill’s proponents gathered in a tight circle outside the Senate chamber, strategizing to find a way to revive the bill before lawmakers adjourned for the summer.

When all was said and done, the bill was salvaged thanks to Sen. Richard Westman, R-Lamoille, who initially voted to sustain Scott’s veto but by that afternoon, he made a special request to change his vote, and the veto was ultimately overridden by a 20-9 vote.

Also on Monday, lawmakers in both chambers overrode Scott’s veto of H.887, the state’s yield bill, which sets an average property tax rate for the year in order to fund Vermont’s public education system. With their votes, lawmakers ignored Scott’s recent pleas to further buy down this year’s projected average property tax increase of 13.8%. (See story, page 1). 

Governor Scott responded after the Legislature’s override saying, “With their votes, they have not only decided to impose a historic double digit property tax increase this year but also added pressure on property taxes next year before even factoring in next year’s school budgets. Despite knowing about this since December 1, they have done nothing to prevent property taxes from increasing in the future.”

Legislators on Monday also overrode a slate of vetoes on environmental bills from this legislative session: Votes in favor of H.687, a bill reforming Vermont’s decades-old land use law, Act 250, prevailed. (See story, page 1). 

Scott’s veto of H.706, a bill that bans seeds treated with a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which harm pollinators, was overridden in both chambers. 

And H.289, a bill establishing a renewable energy standard, will take effect after the House and Senate voted to override Scott’s veto.

Lawmakers also voted to override Scott’s veto of H.645, a bill proponents say would ensure people have equitable access to restorative justice programs across the state. The legislation sets out baseline standards for county prosecutors to follow when deciding whether someone who commits a relatively minor crime should be referred to a restorative justice program in their community, instead of being charged in court.

The bill also moves oversight of these “pre-charge diversion” programs from the state Dept. of Corrections to the office of Attorney General Charity Clark. Scott’s veto hinged on a lack of funding in the bill for an additional position in Clark’s office to carry out that work.

But Clark pushed back on the governor’s reasoning earlier this month, saying that her office already had the resources to start fulfilling the bill’s requirements this year. 

The House voted to override Scott’s veto of the restorative justice bill 110 to 35, while the Senate later overrode it by a narrow 21-8 vote.

Data privacy

Garnering the longest floor debate on Monday by far was lawmakers’ consideration of whether to override Scott’s veto of H.121, the data privacy bill. It also included provisions that would have compelled social media platforms to alter their algorithms for users under 18 years old, with the goal of addressing social media’s mental health impacts on children.

The House quickly and decisively voted to override the veto, by a 128-17 vote. But in the Senate, members debated the merits of the bill — and whether it could wait until next year — for nearly an hour before 15 senators ultimately voted to sustain the veto, and 14 voted in favor of the bill.

That hour-long debate was despite the fact that the votes had already been counted ahead of Monday’s session. In an email Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D/P-Chittenden Southeast, sent to legislative colleagues Sunday night, she wrote that the chamber didn’t have the votes to override the veto.

“(W)e would still not have 20 votes in the Senate regardless of everyone maintaining their vote from May because of the loss of Senator Sears,” Ram Hinsdale wrote in the email, referring to the death earlier this month of Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington. “Beyond that, we have lost seven additional votes as senators have had more time post-session to consider the impact of the (private right of action) on Vermont-based businesses, non-profits, medical facilities, educational institutions, utilities, and employers.”

The bill didn’t go down without a fight. Ram Hinsdale and other senators noted that many of the bill’s effective dates were years in the distance, even if it had prevailed. But several senators said Vermont couldn’t wait until next session to pass the bill.

“I have never felt so much urgency to pass a bill,” Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Windsor, said during Monday’s floor debate.

Beyond overrides

Lawmakers’ work was not limited to overrides Monday. They also granted approval to three other bills that hadn’t made it across the finish line before the end of the regular legislative session last month.

The Senate gave its final signoff to H.55, a bill that makes a number of changes to Vermont’s employment laws and includes a provision pushed by state Treasurer Mike Pieciak to pilot a state-managed trust fund for Vermont children born on Medicaid. 

H.890, a bill that delays for a year the implementation of one of several newly created health insurance claim processing requirements, was also greenlit.

H.81, a bill about property rights for farmers and independent mechanics to independently repair their equipment, was once again amended by the House on Monday afternoon, and was thus  stalled for the year. The other two bills will now head to the governor’s desk.

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