By Rep. Jim Harrison
The recently adjourned Vermont Legislature will be heading back to a virtual session on June 23 to take up a couple of bills vetoed by Governor Scott. These bills would allow non-citizens to vote in Montpelier and Winooski. House and Senate leaders have indicated they planned to move forward to override the governor’s vetoes on these voting changes as well as potentially another bill raising the age to 20 before certain criminal offenses are public.
Arguably, if Winooski and Montpelier choose to allow non-citizens to vote in local or school elections, it is their business. And in the case of new legal residents from other countries, it might be seen as a welcoming gesture. Proponents of the change will also argue this is all about local control.
On the other hand, the governor raises a legitimate concern that our voting rules, whatever they are, should be uniform. What happens when a town brings forth a proposal to allow second-home owners or nonresident business owners to vote? Or a change in voting age, as Brattleboro has recently proposed (16-year-olds)?
Initial indications suggest leaders Krowinski and Balint have the votes to override the governor. The bigger question for me is whether we should take more time to have a more comprehensive policy discussion on this issue if this is the direction the state and Legislature want to go. By creating different classes of voters, in different towns, you are potentially creating a vastly unequal playing field. For example, is it proper to allow different groups of voters to weigh in on statewide school spending issues?
And is this the right time or place to end the 2021 session?
In many respects, the past session has been marked by positive collaboration between the governor and Legislature. A blueprint of the new federal funding from the American Recovery Plan Act shares common vision in key areas moving Vermont forward, such as broadband expansion, clean water, housing, and clean air. This past week, Scott praised the work of the Legislature when he signed the transformative childcare bill. He also indicated he supported one to address inequities in our health care system, by providing access to critical health care services for children and pregnant women who are not eligible for Medicaid because of their immigration status.
Even legislation that Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has expressed concern about, possession of buprenorphine, was signed into law by Scott following insertion of a sunset date by lawmakers. The governor viewed this as an opportunity to review the bill’s effectiveness in reducing opiate overdoses.
And then there is the pandemic. Most Vermonters give the state high praise for its response to Covid-19. The past year can be summed up as collaborative on so many levels. We are perhaps just days away from a full lifting of restrictions as more Vermonters get vaccinated.
In my opinion, this is not the time or place to accentuate disagreements and end the 2021 session with veto overrides on bills that can wait for another day.
Jim Harrison is the state house representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. He can be reached at: [email protected]