As the civilian toll in Ukraine grows, state lawmakers are fast-tracking legislation to send humanitarian aid to the besieged nation. Legislature suspended its rules last week to fast track the bill, H.717. The House passed it on Tuesday, March 8, the Senate on Thursday, March 10, and it was delivered to the governor’s desk, March 11. He is expected to sign it at a candlelight vigil on Tuesday evening, March 15, on the State House steps.
H.717 was originally proposed by Gov. Phil Scott and earmarks $1 for every Vermonter, plus $1,749— the sum the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery collected from sales of Russian-sourced products between Feb. 24, when Russia launched its invasion, and March 2, when Vermont took Russian liquor off the shelves.
According to the text of the bill, that totals $644,826.
A spokesperson for Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said the governor’s office is poring over causes recommended by the U.S. State Department and White House. The administration will direct the money to where the office determines it’ll do the most good in Ukraine, the spokesperson said.
“The plight of Ukrainians pulls at the heart of every one of us,” Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, told his colleagues on the floor. “There is no amount of money that will make everything right again, nor bring back those lost. However, this legislation shows that we are united together — the governor, the Legislature and the 643,077 Vermonters we collectively represent can help.”
The state’s pension system is also liquidating its Russian holdings. Tom Golonka, who chairs the state Pension Investment Commission, said the move was made by investment firm BlackRock, not at the specific request of anyone in state government. Through its indexes, he said, Vermont’s pension system held roughly $6 million in Russian holdings — a number Golonka described as “minimal exposure,” unlikely to majorly disrupt the pension system’s bottom line after liquidation.
VTDigger contributed to this reporting.