By Rep. Jim Harrison
There was no shortage of surprises last week in Vermont politics. Treasurer Beth Pearce announced she would not be seeking reelection this fall due to health reasons. And, clearly with inside information, Commissioner Mike Pieciak, who had just two weeks ago indicated he was leaving his post at the Department of Financial Regulation, announced his candidacy on Friday, May 6 to succeed Pearce as treasurer.
Another surprise was TJ Donovan’s announcement that he would not seek reelection as attorney general and would be taking a break from public service. Donovan has often been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate when Scott steps down. Several individuals have expressed interest in the post, so it could be an interesting race.
Another statewide office, secretary of state, already has three candidates in the Democratic primary this summer with Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas announcing her candidacy for the race. She will face Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters and Montpelier City Clerk John Odom. All this coupled with the open congressional and senate races and lieutenant governor post could make this an interesting summer and fall.
Additionally, with the session perhaps only a week away from adjournment, some legislators are announcing that they will not be returning next year, including as many as five House chairs. Locally, in Rutland County, two of the three-member Senate delegation (Cheryl Hooker and Josh Terenzini) will be stepping down, which leaves only Brian Collamore seeking another term. And in case you are interested, yours truly will be seeking re-election to represent Chittenden, Killington, Mendon, and Pittsfield. More on that later when the session is done.
On the legislative front, the governor’s veto of the pension reform bill was no surprise, as he had indicated several times that he did not believe the package would fix the long-term sustainability of the funds or give new employees the option to join a 401(k)-type plan. What was surprising, however, is that the House and Senate voted unanimously to override the veto and enact the legislation. Most lawmakers felt the package was a step forward and one that couldn’t wait another year. The new pension oversight committee has vowed to continue discussions over some of the governor’s suggestions.
Friday afternoon saw the veto of H.715, the Clean Heat Standard. While an override may happen, the vote could be close. The legislation sets up a regulated system for heating fuel dealers, that even supporters of the measure acknowledge will increase the costs of fuel oil and propane in Vermont. The measure is largely seen as the major climate initiative of the session. Scott wanted more details on the impacts of the first- in-the-nation plan before his willingness to back it.
Other items of note:
- Scott vetoed a Burlington charter change that would limit when tenants can be evicted, which he believes will further limit housing options for renters. A delay in the veto override vote by the majority leaders suggested they did not yet have the necessary votes for an override yet.
- The House gave final approval to Act 250 reforms that includes the expansion of the environmental board, which is opposed by the administration and could trigger another veto. Several of Vermont’s mayors were also critical that the bill, S.234, did not do enough to relax Act 250 requirements for new housing.
- The Legislature gave final approval to a bill that requires adoption of a mascot policy that is nondiscriminatory and does not reference repression of others. Under the legislation, the Rutland Raider mascot may need to change once again.
- Changes to Vermont’s education funding has passed the Legislature and was sent to the governor. With the new student weighting system, some school districts will see property taxes increase while others will likely see a reduction.
- Negotiators from the House and Senate are working to reconcile differences in S.11, which contains workforce and economic development initiatives. Because of its financial implications and interest from the administration, the bill needs to be completed before the appropriations bill can be finished.
- House and Senate negotiators are working to come up with a tax reduction package equal to $40 million annually. The governor had proposed a $51 million package in January.
- Legislation to expand Vermont’s bottle bill got new life on Friday when the Senate budget committee voted it out without recommendation to advance it to the full Senate. With their version of the bill significantly different from last year’s House version, it remains to be seen if there is enough time to pass both Chambers again before adjournment.
Speaking of surprises earlier, my absolute favorite this session was an unplanned visit to the State House by our 3 1/2-old grandson, Theo. Robin (Theo’s Mom) may have embellished his Gramp’s position a bit when she pointed to the State House and told him it was Gramp’s office.
Rep. Jim Harrison represents Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. He may be reached at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or harrisonforvermont.com.