By Rep. Jim Harrison
The 2020 legislative session came to a close on Friday evening, Sept. 25. It was a session like no other, with issues like emergency Covid related measures and funding, online meetings via Zoom since March and a two month break in the summer thrown in to get a better handle on state revenue forecasts.
The extended session length no doubt tested some members of Vermont’s part-time citizen legislature, especially those with other job or family commitments.
In his closing remarks to legislators Friday, Governor Scott thanked members of the General Assembly for their collective efforts at sharing pertinent information with their districts, especially the early days of the pandemic and the changing rules under the state of emergency.
Scott also pointed to:
Passing a balanced budget without raising
Modernizing our professional licensing system to make it easier for most licensed occupations to relocate here.
Expanding the work of mental health and social workers within our state police
Allocating nearly $1.25 billion of federal stimulus funds including: Close to $230 million in economic recovery grants, $30 million in grants to support farmers, over $100 million in federal funds to support education, $300 million to stabilize our healthcare system.
Little mention was made of differences with the Legislature, such as the override of his veto of the climate bill and potential objections on the police use of force measure coming his way or the Act 250 legislation. A hint of disagreements was made with this statement, “And only in a small number of cases, from my perspective, did we see election year partisanship make an appearance. But, all things considered, I think we can chalk that up to bad habits being hard to break and the unnecessary influence of national politics,” Scott said.
The climate legislation, which gives broad powers to a new, un-elected panel to direct the Agency of Natural Resources to implement measures to reduce greenhouse gases, was sent to the governor in time to get the bill back for an override vote.
The police use of force and Act 250 bills will have different outcomes if the governor chooses to veto those as the Legislature has adjourned and override votes are not possible.
The use of force bill by law enforcement was called the most restrictive law in the country by the Vermont Dept. of States Attorneys & Sheriffs. It is also opposed by most law enforcement agencies, as well as the governor’s own public safety commissioner, Michael Schirling.
The Act 250 legislation was scaled back quite a bit by the Senate and sent back to the House with a take-it-or-leave-it message (the Senate had adjourned before a House vote was even taken). The bill now sets up a path to place outdoor trails into a regulatory model and adds a new criterion to Act 250 that requires the review of impacts on forest fragmentation when developing a parcel. The administration has expressed disappointment with the bill as other measures, such as exempting certain downtown or village development, were not included. Whether the governor will veto the bill because of a missed opportunity for larger compromise, is an open question.
And, perhaps vintage Scott, he closed his remarks to lawmakers with: “I’ve said, and I believe, that our nation and our state are best served by those willing to work together, guided by shared principles, to find common ground. This is one of the lessons of Covid-19.
“It’s my hope the spirit of public service that’s led us through the difficult days of this emergency will remain with us, long after our lives have returned to normal, and that this unity continues to fill the halls of the State House when we come together — in person — once again… Thank you all for your work. And remember: Wear a mask. Avoid crowds. Stay home when sick. And wash your hands, a lot. Spread the word. Not the virus.”
On that note, I will be signing off from the weekly legislative updates until the new Legislature is installed in January (if re-elected). Thank you for taking the time to read my reports (and sometime ramblings) throughout the year.
P.S. As we enter the peak of the fall campaign season, it saddens me that some take it upon themselves to take down candidate signs that are on private property. I know of at least six Milne signs for Lt Governor that recently disappeared in Mendon. Please be respectful of all candidates and their signs.
Jim Harrison is the state representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. He can be reached at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us.