By Rep. Jim Harrison
In a note to House members early last week, Speaker Krowinski referred to the week ahead as the “Hurry up and wait” period of the session. As the Legislature strives to meet its self-imposed adjournment deadline, the full House recesses with the fall of the gavel periodically throughout each day, waiting for bills to return from the Senate or committees to consider various amendments or resolve differences between the House and Senate. These breaks could be as little as 15 minutes or as much as several hours.
The one bill that must past before adjournment is the annual appropriation bill for the coming fiscal year. House and Senate conferees were meeting multiple times each day to bridge the differences between their respective budget plans. And while not a member of the conference committee, the administration is involved with some of the discussions to ensure that the resulting budget bill does not face a veto.
Scott voiced two main objections to the budget bill: 1) that it diverted some of the rooms & meals tax revenue from the clean water fund; and 2) that it lacked a roadmap for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds the state will be receiving. In the end, budget negotiators satisfied both concerns and on Friday, May 21, the governor expressed optimism he would sign the bill.
And while a couple of into-the-evening sessions saw approval of a number of bills, the week ending deadline can often mean trouble for more contentious issues. A couple of bills, while backed by the Democratic leaders, that did not make it included S.79, a statewide rental housing registry, and H.157, a new contractor registry bill.
Both measures passed the House and Senate, but still had differences to resolve or just ran out of time. Both bills expand state government and add new state employees. The rental registry adds 61/2 new positions and would be the first statewide effort. As the calendar was a day or two short for final passage, both issues could get resurrected in a return in June for a veto session.
And Scott’s veto of S.107 is likely to guarantee a return to the virtual State House on June 23 to attempt an override or modification of the bill. That vetoed legislation raised the age to 19 at which certain crimes would be withheld from the public. The profile of this issue has been highlighted with several recent fatal accidents, where names of drivers involved have been withheld from the press. S.107 would increase the age further.
Other items of interest:
- Budget documents can be found at: ljfo.vermont.gov
- Broadband legislation appropriates $150 million to help extend high speed Internet to underserved areas.
- Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans will not be subject to Vermont income taxes for 2021.
- The structure of a pension task force to come up with a sustainable plan for the teachers and state employees’ pension systems was finalized along with a set aside of another $150 million of the current surplus. Pension payments, excluding the extra $150 million, now total 14% of the state’s general fund budget.
- The Legislature endorsed several changes to the new tax and regulate system for recreational marijuana, including some initial advertising restrictions, measures to improve social equity in this new market and a process to establish licensing fees prior to next January.
- Testing of schools for radon and PCBs was added to a bill to survey all K-12 school facilities.
- The governor announced Friday, May 21, that when 80% of Vermont’s eligible population — those age 12 and older — have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, the state will enter Step 4 of the Vermont Forward plan – currently slated for July 4 – and remove its remaining pandemic related restrictions.
With the number approaching 75% currently, 80% appears to be a feasible goal, but it will need help from those that have thus far not taken the initiative to get vaccinated. Scott estimated that if 1,500 people got vaccinated daily or a total of 28,000, the restrictions could be lifted by June 8. Scott also specifically called on those between 18 and 29, who are in the best position to help us achieve the 80% rate, as this group has thus far lagged in vaccination rates.
All Vermonters age 12 and older can find the schedule for daily walk-in clinics, or can register for an appointment, at healthvermont.gov/myvaccine.
The House adjourned at about 5 p.m. on Friday, May 21, until June 23 at 10 a.m. for the veto session.
On another note, the American Junior Golf Association event is returning to Green Mountain National in Killington June 21-24. If you are interested in volunteering for part of the event, please let me know at [email protected] I am the volunteer coordinator. There are openings for timers and water stations. Volunteers will receive a certificate for a mid-week pass at Green Mountain per shift and get to see some of the country’s top high school golfers.
Thank you for your continued interest in my legislative updates this session. It is an honor to serve as the state representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon.
Best wishes for an enjoyable summer!
Jim Harrison is the State House representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. He can be reached at [email protected]