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‘Grump’

While our grandsons call me “Gramp,” my fellow House Appropriations Committee members were probably thinking “Grump” as a more fitting name for me by the time Friday evening came along. That it was a long week would be an understatement. As the committee clerk, one of my tasks is to record votes, draft and write motions and ensure they get to the House Clerk’s Office on each amendment and bill that goes through our committee. With a deadline to get bills referred to our committee out by Friday night, March 22, there was lobbying by fellow legislators and various interest groups to have us take up their priorities. There wasn’t enough time or money to do them all. A number stayed on our committee wall, potentially sealing their fate for this session.

In addition, several of the bills we had to vote on included major increases in spending, taxes, and fees, plus an expansion of the hotel voucher program. With some of these I let my emotions get a little ahead of me. At one point, a fellow committee member sent me a message, “It’s time to chill.” Suffice it to say, I needed to do some apologizing for my outbursts… Some extra sleep over the weekend should help. It’s hard for me to go along with spending money we don’t have.

As it stands now, I think several of the bills are on the path to vetoes. If Governor Scott has been consistent about anything in his time in office, it has been the importance of affordability and his dislike for new taxes.

The new spending bills, including public housing projects, expansion of Judiciary staffing and Medicaid expansion, are proposed to be paid for by an array of taxes and fees totaling well over $100 million annually. Surcharges in real estate transactions, higher mutual fund fees, increases in corporate taxes and an income surcharge on higher incomes are some of the “revenue enhancers” for now.

Some other items

  • The Senate approved legislation to protect river corridors and floodplains from future development to help minimize property damage with future flooding events.
  • A controversial land use bill, H.687, will be debated on the House floor this week. Some have suggested that in some rural areas, Act 250 permits will be required to build even a single-family home under the bill.
  • A proposal to amend Vermont’s constitution that would add the right to unionize is likely to pass the Senate this week. It is already in current law. If ultimately approved by voters, the measure would prohibit a future legislature from enacting a right to work law, which gives workers the option whether to join the union at their business.
  • The House approved H.289, which will require 100% renewable energy for our electric needs as early as 2030. Scott has voiced concern over the impact on ratepayers and suggested a different path to the same objective at a lower cost.
  • The House approved two bills (H.621 and H.741) that increase access to diagnostic breast imaging and colorectal cancer screening.
  • The Senate approved S.258, which changes the makeup of the Fish & Wildlife board to give legislative leadership some of the appointments. It also bans the hunting of coyotes with dogs.
  • The Senate gave final approval to S.18, which bans flavored tobacco and nicotine products. It is not clear what the governor’s position is on the legislation, although he has raised concern about the revenue loss expected, which may require additional taxes to replace it next year.
  • A Senate Committee advanced a new tax on streaming services, such as Netflix.
  • The House gave unanimous approval to a data privacy bill, H.121, which aims to protect consumers from some of the data collected on them online.
  • Governor Phil Scott announced the appointment of Zoie Saunders to serve as Vermont’s next education secretary. Currently, Saunders works as the chief strategy and innovation officer for Broward County Public Schools in Florida, the sixth largest school district in the country. Heather Bouchey has been serving as interim secretary since the resignation of Dan French last year.

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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