By Rep. Jim Harrison
For as long as anyone can remember, the end of the 2019 legislative session was unique and awkward at best. Late Friday afternoon, the House invited Governor Scott to address the chamber for his customary end of session remarks, after which the House adjourned until January 2020. What made the ending very different is that the Senate refused to adjourn and is now scheduled to return to Montpelier Wednesday, May 29.
Senate leader Tim Ashe, is holding out for passage of an increase in Vermont’s minimum wage and a new mandatory paid family leave plan with a new payroll tax. While each measure has been approved by both the House and Senate this session, the versions were different and compromise on each measure seemed elusive.
On Friday morning, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson gave the Senate an ultimatum, “pick one of these compromise options or we are going home.” Letter from Speaker Johnson to Senator Ashe
The Senate had been holding up the state budget, a “must pass” bill, in hopes of strengthening its negotiating hand on minimum wage. That move backfired when the Speaker announced the House would amend a separate unrelated Senate bill with the budget and call the Senate’s bluff. When no deal came back from the Senate, negotiations stopped and the House proceeded to adjourn for the session, leaving the Senate all alone.
Within the House chamber, Speaker Johnson received strong bi-partisan support on her decision to stand up to the Senate leadership and adjourn for the year.
To complicate matters, the House and Senate must agree to an adjournment resolution under the Vermont Constitution in order for the session to be officially done for the year. While the House approved such a resolution, the Senate refused on Friday afternoon. If they don’t agree, the bodies have to return to the Statehouse after three days and find agreement. The governor may intervene if the dispute continues.
While it’s not unusual to have disagreements at the end of a session on particular policy or budget issues, this year was much different with the House and Senate leaders dueling it out between the chambers, with the Governor largely watching from the side. The differences were largely within the Democratic majority and not with the Republicans.
Meanwhile a number of other measures were passed in the past two weeks and will soon be on their way to the Governor. Some of these include:
- Clean water funding utilizing existing revenues
- An increase in the exemption on the estate tax
- Testing of lead in schools and child care centers
- Waiting period for firearm purchases
- Ban of plastic single use bags at the checkout
- Regulation of neonicotinoid pesticides to help bee populations
- Economic development initiatives
- Workforce development
- Right to an abortion
- Expansion of broadband deployment
- Medical monitoring from exposure to chemicals
In all, 86 bills were agreed on and approved by both chambers this session. Approximately 60 still need to be signed (or vetoed) by the Governor as a large number of the bills were not completed by the legislature until recently.
Assuming the legislature has fully adjourned, the regular updates will be less frequent for the balance of the year. I hope you enjoyed keeping up with the issues at the State Capitol the past few months. As always, district residents can reach me at Jharrison@leg.state.vt.us. I wish everyone a very good summer. I plan to schedule “meet & greet” sessions in the fall to get your input prior to the start of the 2020 legislature.