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Phone: 802.876.6200

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Legislative Update January 24, 2020

01/24/2020 6:06 PM | Denis Bourbeau (Administrator)

A Party of One

While the two major political parties battle for the soul of the nation in Washington, D.C., Vermont has all but abandoned the two-party system. Gov. Phil Scott now provides the lone statewide voice for Republican moderation in what is otherwise a supermajority in support of the major social, environmental and economic issues on the left.

That overwhelming lack of disagreement was on full display in the Statehouse this week, starting with a budget address from the governor that proposed increased funding for education, downtowns, climate change and health care. The address elicited virtually no Democratic dissent. That followed his state-of-the-state address two weeks ago that included only one new policy initiative: universal after school programs.

The budget proposed only modest spending growth and no tax increases, but that is hardly a framework to which Democrats could object.

Two longstanding Democratic priorities moved closer to enactment this week. An agreement between the House and Senate on paid family leave legislation, H.107, passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 89-58. That margin is not quite enough to overcome an expected veto by Gov. Scott, but a handful of Progressives voted no because they don’t believe the bill goes far enough. They may join with Democrats in supporting an override vote, which promises to be very close.

An agreement to increase the minimum wage to $12.55 in 2022 passed the House today by a similar margin of 93-54. Although Gov. Scott had promised to veto earlier iterations of the bill, this increase is much smaller than previous versions. There was speculation in the State House that he might sign this more modest bill.

The challenge facing the state GOP was underscored by the recent creation of an “Agri-publican” group that is an offshoot of sorts of the state party. One of that group’s candidates was denounced this week by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist for making transphobic and demeaning comments.

As if the party needed to be further divided, it has been unable to reconcile its competing Trump and anti-Trump factions. While the statewide party apparatus remains loyal to Pres. Trump, few of its elected members, including Gov. Scott, have any allegiance to Trump or his policies. 

Ironically, the absence of any political apparatus backing Gov. Scott has given him the freedom to look beyond the party to a broader base of support. Unlike most national Republicans, Scott can appeal to the middle, and not a conservative base, for political support. That has proven to be a winning political formula. According to one poll, Scott is the third most popular governor in the country, behind only Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan – two other moderate Republicans who govern blue states.

All of this is good news for Scott’s reelection prospects, but terrible for the GOP as a whole. The bench of potential statewide Republican candidates is virtually empty, while the Democratic bullpen is packed with ambitious and experienced candidates.

Inside the State House, Democrats continue to have the unilateral ability to determine the outcome of legislation, limited only by the prospect of an occasional veto if they veer too far left
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Global Warming Solutions Act: asking for too much or not enough?

The House Committee on Energy and Technology took testimony this week on the The Global Warming Solutions Act. University of  Vermont Professor Jon Erickson stressed that Vermont needs to transition away from “old economy thinking” and embrace “new economy thinking.”

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Minimum wage conference committee finds agreement

A conference committee on minimum wage legislation, S.23, reached a compromise this week. The Committee of Conference Report passed the House on Friday by a vote of 93-54 and is expected to easily pass the Senate as well.

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Paid family leave on its way to the governor

The Paid Family Leave bill Committee of Conference Report, H.107, was voted on in the House on Thursday and passed on an 89-58 vote.

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Is there a problem with Act 250 district commissions?

The House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife continued hearing testimony on a proposed package of changes to Act 250 offered in collaboration between the Scott Administration and the Vermont Natural Resources Council, and in competition with a committee bill introduced last session.

Read more


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