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Legislative Update January 10, 2020

01/10/2020 6:03 PM | Denis Bourbeau (Administrator)

DRM | Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC

Session Opens with Conciliatory Spirit

The legislature reconvened this week in an atmosphere noteworthy for its lack of rancor or partisanship. The placid environment is perhaps a reaction to the ongoing political chaos in Washington, D.C. Whatever the cause, the signs of peace and harmony were everywhere:
 

The Governor’s staff joined with environmentalists in proposing a surprisingly aggressive set of reforms to Act 250, Vermont’s revered land use statute – reforms that have eluded countless previous governors, commissions and legislators.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe made clear that they’ve made amends and put their high-profile disagreement from last session behind them.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said he would consider endorsing progressive Democrat Tim Ashe in his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor.

Most significantly, the Governor’s annual State-of-the-State address was entirely devoid of any partisan or even controversial initiatives.


The Governor’s speech, in addition to its lack of partisanship, differed from most previous addresses in its lack of any real policy agenda. He understandably highlighted the state’s growing demographic crisis, which is exacerbated by an economy that is increasingly divided between a handful of thriving urban areas and a long list of “have not” communities suffering from declines in virtually every measure of success: jobs, residents, wages and property values.

As the legislature heard in a separate report this week, by 2020 one in four Vermonters will be over the age of 65. The state has had a zero percent growth rate in the last decade. Gov. Phil Scott failed to propose any new initiatives to reverse that trend, likely because there seem to be few policy options available.

While the Governor’s address was mostly a recitation of his administration’s successes, he did propose one major new initiative that got the attention of Democrats:  the creation of a universal afterschool network that would align students’ days with the length of the workday. House and Senate Education Committees will almost certainly embrace the offer to come up with a way to create this new program.

There will, of course, be controversy in the months ahead, and there were plenty of signs of what that might look like. The Governor’s address was interrupted for fifteen minutes by a crowd of climate change protesters in the House chamber. That is a precursor of future Statehouse discord on the issue of climate change legislation. Both the House and Senate are considering ambitious climate change bills, but Scott counseled caution, saying he “simply cannot support proposals that will make things more expensive” for Vermonters.

A handful of holdover disputes from last year are likely to be resolved soon, but without the acrimony that accompanied them last year. These include bills to create a medical monitoring cause of action; to create a mandatory paid family leave benefit; and to increase the minimum wage. In addition, the legislature will continue its work to create a tax-and-regulate system for marijuana – an effort that Scott would be happy to see go away.

None of these issues are going to create anything close to the harsh partisanship that exists in Washington. And that is something for which all Vermonters can be grateful.

Act 250 compromise brings strange bedfellows together

In a rare demonstration of compromise on Act 250, the Scott administration and Vermont’s environmental groups have agreed on a comprehensive package of changes to the state’s iconic land use law.

Read more

Paid family leave heads to conference committee

The paid family leave bill, H.107, was pulled off the legislative calendar on the first day of the session and sent back to the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee.

Read more

Minimum wage moves to conference committee

Legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage, S.23, was taken off the House Calendar this week and moved back to the General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee for further action.
  
Read more


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