State News

This is “Mud season” of the legislative session

By Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon

As Vermonters well know, especially those of us on dirt roads, we are approaching mud season. It may not be our favorite time of year, but we take solace in knowing that green grass, warmer temperatures and spring flowers are just ahead. In some respects, this is the “mud season” of the annual legislative session. Some of the bill making and “mudslinging” may not be pretty, but perhaps necessary, as we prepare for adjournment in a few weeks.

With the Governor’s release of a letter listing about 15 bills making their way through the process that he had concerns, it will be interesting to see if the differences can be bridged. While no one wishes for a special Veto session to address any gubernatorial rejections, dates have already been put forth by legislative leaders for mid-June, for just that. The list includes bills that may contain a new tax or fee, or in the Governor’s view, make it harder to grow the state’s economy. The $15 minimum wage proposal is one such bill in his view.

One of the bills dealing with toxics, S.103 is also on the list. It has already been passed by both chambers and sent to the Governor. It allows the Health Commissioner to add new chemicals to the state’s list of banned items in products without the approval of the advisory committee currently in place. Global Foundries, one of the state’s largest employers, expressed serious concern over that change in the bill. We may know, as early as Monday, April 16, whether the Governor will veto or sign the legislation.

While the Governor has called for cooperation in addressing his concerns about the list of problem bills, legislative leaders believe they have a job to do that is independent of the Governor. “The governor believes he has a non-negotiable position,” Senate President Tim Ashe said in an interview this week. “The Legislature has non-negotiable positions….”

Meanwhile, a $120,000 allocation to study “decarbonization” is in the budget that passed the House and is expected to pass the Senate. The Governor has been adamant over any new carbon tax or spending more money to study it.

With the legislature scheduled to adjourn on May 11, the next few weeks will determine if the session will be extended to work out differences or the legislature will return in June to fix “must pass” bills like the state budget or education financing.

Let’s hope for a short “mud season.”

Teachers union changes course on health care

Since last spring, the Governor’s proposal to move the negotiating of health care benefits for K-12 teachers and school staff from the local level to statewide, has been contentious and divisive. It ended up with a very rare tie vote on the House floor last May and ultimately led to a veto of the state budget and education funding bills.  And last month, a proposed amendment encouraging a discussion on the issue generated a flooding of grassroots calls in opposition by union members.

Since then and following conversations in the House Education Committee, State House hallways and within the NEA Board and staff, the union has come out in favor of a uniform statewide benefit for healthcare. While not necessarily in line with the administration’s proposal from last year, the move is a significant change of position by Vermont NEA and holds promise that all sides can come up with a path forward in the final weeks of the session.

“We recognize the fundamental shift a statewide health care commission is in our relationship with local school boards,” Martha Allen, NEA Board President said. “But it is clear that unless our members have the opportunity to work as equals with school boards in determining their health benefits, and unless strong reform measures are pursued and achieved by school employees and school boards to bring down the irrationally high costs of health care, Vermont’s public school employees will continue to see health care become less affordable.”

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