By Rep. Jim Harrison
Last Monday, Feb. 10, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill to raise the minimum wage in Vermont to $12.55. In his veto message, Scott said, “Despite S.23’s good intentions, the reality is there are too many unintended consequences and we cannot grow the economy or make Vermont more affordable by arbitrarily forcing wage increases. I believe this legislation would end up hurting the very people it aims to help.”
The Democratic leadership in the Legislature sees the issue very differently. “Governor Scott prevented 40,000 Vermonters who earn less than $12.55 an hour from getting a much-needed raise,” Sen. pro tem Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) said in a statement shortly after the veto.
Late last week the Senate proceeded to override the veto on a 24-6 vote (two-thirds necessary). The House could take up the issue as early as this Wednesday, Feb. 19, However, the measure did not pass with a veto proof margin in the House so conversations (or more likely, good old fashioned arm twisting) are taking place with seven more moderate members of the Democratic majority that previously opposed the legislation.
This comes on the heels of one member of the majority party, Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, taking the unusual step of publicly rebuking her leadership on the House floor that she called were “unseemly and disrespectful,” as it pertained to efforts to flip votes on the paid leave bill. That measure fell just one vote shy of an override, after seven members changed their vote.
With the margin on the minimum wage measure perhaps a little closer to an override this time, some of the backroom discussions could be intense.
The House Natural Resources Committee advanced legislation to change Vermont’s Act 250 land use law on a 6-3 vote with two members absent. Some speculate the two absent would have voted against the measure, so this bill is far from done. Changes include exempting designated downtowns from Act 250 review and adding criteria around climate adaptation.
The Senate Health Care Committee advanced S.288, which bans the retail sale of flavored tobacco products and e-liquids (vape) in Vermont, but does not prohibit customers from using them if purchased elsewhere.
Legislation to provide funding for first responder and paramedic training is under review in Senate and House committees. The measure is in response to the growing shortage of EMS providers, especially volunteer first responders who often have to pay $600-$1,000 to get trained before they can even volunteer for their town.
The House Judiciary Committee expects to advance new gun legislation following a scheduled public hearing on Tuesday. The measure, H.610, among other provisions, removes firearms from those with abuse orders against them and up to a 30 day wait for purchases if results of a federal background check aren’t received back (currently 3 days).
A minor updating of some of the statutes governing state employee pensions sparked a few sharp questions on the House floor as to the failure of the current payment plans to make progress on the estimated $4.5 billion unfunded liability Vermont faces. More conversations on this topic are expected to happen soon.
Representative Matt Trieber, D-Bellows Falls, announced he will be resigning his seat, citing conflicts with his job as a youth counselor. Trieber, in my view, is one of those rare legislators who truly looks at the issues, rather than the party affiliation, first. He will be missed.
The first group of legislative pages said goodbye last Friday, which indicates the session is a third complete.
In the next few weeks, I hope to see many of you at upcoming meetings in our district. These include annual school meetings at Barstow Feb. 25, and Windsor Central Feb. 27, as well as town meetings (Mendon, Killington and Chittenden, March 2 and Bridgewater, March 3). I will also be speaking at the Killington Pico Rotary on Feb.26.
Jim Harrison is the state representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. You may reach him at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us. Messages may also be left at the State House during the legislative session at 802-828-2228.