By REP. LINDA MYERS
As you read this column, the Vermont Legislature will be nearing the end of the 2019 session. Vermont’s legislative year is scheduled for 18 weeks, this year to end on May 17 or 18. With closure so near, both the House and the Senate will be working long hours to finish work that must be done this year, the budget and the revenue bill, which are regarded as the money bills. Other than those two bills, H.542 and H.541, all other bills, not passed this year can be held over until next year. The two money bills, which are always introduced by the House of Representatives, are now in the Senate waiting action by that body. My committee, Appropriations, wrote the budget bill, and we are looking forward to hearing from the Senate in regards to its actions on the bill. I anticipate we will be working to amend the Senate’s changes to the bill with the possibility of a conference committee looming. For those of you not familiar with the term “conference committee,” that consists of three members of the House and three members of the Senate who meet as necessary to agree on a final proposal to present to their respective members. The final vote on those bills is usually the culmination of the session.
While the money bills must originate in the House, proposed amendments to the Vermont Constitution must originate in the Senate. This year, two amendments have been proposed that have engendered a lot of discussion throughout the State. Proposition 2 calls for clarifying the prohibition on slavery and indentured servitude in the Vermont Constitution. Proposition 5 would guarantee an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy (abortion) in the Constitution. Both amendments have been passed by the Senate and await action in the House. To move forward, each of the propositions must pass both Houses of the Legislature this year. They must then be approved by both Houses in the first year of the 2021-2022 biennium and then approved by a vote of the residents of the State.
All of the other bills that you have been reading and hearing about have either been passed or are awaiting action by both Houses of the Legislature. These include the following bills that have received much public comment this year: S.54, the cannabis retail bill; S.23, the minimum wage bill; S.113, the prohibition of plastic carryout bags, expanded polystyrene (foam) and single use plastic straws; S.22, calling for a 24-hour waiting period for the purchase of hand guns; H.107, paid family leave; and H.47, taxing electronic cigarettes.
This will be my last column for this year. I will be back with “Messages from Montpelier” in January 2020. Thank you for your many comments to me this session and for the support you have shown my efforts working for the residents of Essex.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the group of legislators who write the state budget or “Big Bill,” I have spent the first three months of the 2019 legislative session taking part in constructing the bill that will determine the spending for Fiscal Year 2020. It was a new assignment for me in Montpelier, one that afforded me a close-up look at how a group of 11 people from different areas of Vermont and different political parties spend five days a week for almost three months looking closely at proposed State spending and working to ensure that funding for the many agencies and departments of State government is equitable and will enable residents of Vermont to benefit from that funding.
In my past almost-18 years in the Legislature, I have gone to the House chamber to listen to the members of Appropriations Committee present the budget, knowing I will spend the next three hours hearing how and why the State of Vermont intends to use billions of dollars to fund the operations of the State. For most legislators, those three hours of hearing numbers can be tedious, and quite frankly, boring. This year I was one of the presenters of the Big Bill, and it made me understand and appreciate how hard 11 legislators work to bring fairness in the spending of every dollar of State funds.
This year’s $6.1 billion Big Bill, as presented by the House, continues to focus on strengthening the State’s fiscal position. The bill uses ongoing funds for ongoing expenditures and reduces pressure on FY 2021 by continuing to build the State’s reserve funds. The overall proposed budget calls for a 2.6% increase in State spending which includes the General Fund, all other State funds, and Federal funds. The General Fund, the money that Vermonters pay for with their taxes, is $1,646,453,793, up 3.9%, but $22.2 million of that amount is due to the necessity of continued funding of the Teachers Retirement Funding program. That 3.9% General Fund growth rate in FY 2020 would be 2.6% without the retirement funding. Other significant amounts included in the budget include $1,721,769,204 in the education fund, $2,040,533,736 in Federal funds, and $1,585,102,671 in Global Commitment funds (Medicare and Medicaid).
Highlights of the House of Representatives FY 2020 budget include spending on: key actions and funding for vulnerable Vermonters including substance use disorders/mental health; funding for aging and disabilities programs; economic development; housing; child care; Climate Commission initiatives; and higher education.
If you want to learn more about the FY2020 budget, go to the Vermont General Assembly website, legislature.vermont.gov. Click on the Joint Fiscal Office box, click on “Appropriations & Budget,” then on FY 2020 Resources, and then on the FY 2020 House Budget Web Report. Be prepared to spend a few hours pouring though lots of numbers. If you have specific budget questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have other questions about what is happening in Montpelier, email me or call me at 878-3514 and leave a message.
By DYLAN GIAMBATISTA
We are now in the 17th week of the 2019 legislative session. The House and Senate are expected to adjourn sometime in the next week or two. Given that the end is in sight, this will likely be my last of my session updates before we return to the State House in 2020. I want to thank the Essex Reporter for sharing this important space. I also want to thank my Essex House colleagues for their service and commitment to our community and state.
The House and Senate are debating the final set of bills that will advance this year. 728 bills have been introduced by legislators since we convened in January. As of May 3rd, just 27 of these bills had passed both chambers. The Governor had signed 9 into law. Many more are expected to be signed within weeks of adjournment.
New laws are the product of months of committee work and thoughtful deliberation between lawmakers, the administration, and various stakeholders. The goal is to find common ground. Even the most contentious negotiations generally remain respectful. This is a key part of what sets Vermont’s legislative process apart from the gridlock in Washington DC.
It remains to be seen whether the Governor will exercise his veto power on any of the bills that pass. If a veto occurs, lawmakers will briefly return in June to vote on whether to support or overturn the Governor’s veto. Historically, vetoes are seldom used. In the 2017-2018 session, the Governor vetoed 13 bills. We should know in the next week or two whether a veto session will take place.
With a variety of bills in play, we invite you to join our next community coffee meeting. We will meet at Nest Coffee & Bakery from 8:30 – 10:00am on Saturday, June 1. Representatives from the Village and Town have been attending these meetings to get feedback from neighbors. This meeting will include a wrap up of the 2019 session. Please join us and let us know where you stand on the issues.
As things wind down, I’ll be publishing an end of session report to recap this year’s legislative session. You can find updates on the blog on my website, www.vtdylan.com, and on Front Porch Forum. I will be attending local meetings and want to connect with neighbors. Please email me at email@example.com if you have any meetings you’d like me to attend, or topics you’d like to discuss. I’m always happy to chat.
We live in a great community – it’s an honor to Represent Essex Junction in the Vermont House. Please keep in touch and say hello as we cross paths around town!