It’s Crossover Day! Rejoice!
For the non-wonks, today is the day policy bills are required* to make it out of their committee of origin, if they’re to continue on their meandering path through the Legislature.
There are plenty of *caveats to that, of course. Money bills get more time. And, in politics, the phrase “rules are rules” tends to mean that the rules can be bent.
But whatever survives crossover carnage shapes the rest of the session, so we’re taking stock: what’s in and what’s out.
Several judiciary bills are still in play: The House Judiciary Committee has approved bills on records sealing (H.534) and civil forfeiture (H.533). On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted out S.178, which would allow for supermajority verdicts in civil trials, instead of unanimous ones. In another buzzer-beater vote, S.254, a bill on qualified immunity, made it through — though it’s a watered-down version of what it once was.
Several environmental bills have survived, from the clean heat standard (H.715) to restrictions on coyote hounding (S.281) and leghold traps (S.201) to the environmental justice bill (S.148). An omnibus housing package (S.226) is on its way to the floor, and so is a bill to divest state pensions from fossil fuels (S.251).
So what’s on the cutting room floor?
In the House Education Committee, a bill that would allow parents of public school students to opt their kids out of standardized tests (H.547) has not budged since its introduction in early February. On the Senate side, legislation to add student and faculty representation to the boards of the University of Vermont and the Vermont State Colleges System (S.248), raise the required age of school attendance (S.249) and improve schools’ Holocaust education (S.189) also appear stalled.
Education Committee chair Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, said he hopes to fold some, if not all, of the Senate legislation into other existing bills.
Despite a long list of sponsors, drug decriminalization (H.644) remains in purgatory. A bill to ban no-knock warrants (S.228) seems to have run aground, as did an effort to retrofit the Windsor prison into a juvenile detention facility (S.245).
A bill that would lower the legal threshold to win a discrimination suit (H.329) lost steam, as did H.399, which would have required courts to consider child care responsibilities in criminal sentencing.
As of Friday afternoon, the Senate Government Operations Committee had voted the most bills — 13 — out of committee this session. Is there some kind of trophy for that?
The Senate Institutions Committee thus far has only voted out a joint resolution — womp womp. Both the House Corrections and Institutions Committee and the House Transportation Committee have yet to vote out any bills, but the transportation (money) bills are expected in the coming days.
— Riley Robinson, Lola Duffort, Sarah Mearhoff and Peter D’Auria
ON THE MOVE
The Vermont House on Friday narrowly overrode Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of H.361, a measure that allows Brattleboro to amend its charter so that 16- and 17-years-olds can vote in local elections.
The chamber’s 99-member coalition of Democrats and Progressives was joined by one Republican and two Independents to pass the measure by a vote of 102-47. One hundred votes are necessary to meet the two-thirds threshold required to override a gubernatorial veto in the House.
Municipal charter changes must get the approval of Montpelier before being enacted. Brattleboro’s residents voted by a 2-1 margin on Town Meeting Day in 2019 to lower the voting age.
— Lola Duffort
But before doing so, the body mounted a symbolic display of opposition by voting to override Scott’s veto, even though the House is unlikely to follow suit.
— Ethan Weinstein
On Friday afternoon, the Senate Committee on Education voted unanimously to advance S.162, a small package of legislation focused on educators.
If signed into law, the bill would clear up rules about when teachers can appeal suspensions and would allow them to testify before lawmakers without fear of reprisal.
But in its earlier drafts, S.162 sharply divided teachers and school administrators.
In Vermont, teachers can be barred from teaching for an entire school year if they try to accept a job at a different school after signing a contract. Earlier versions of the bill would have given teachers a two-month window to look for jobs — even while under contract elsewhere.
That provision pitted the state teachers union against school administrators, who said it would exacerbate teacher shortages, especially at rural and low-income schools.
Lawmakers had asked administrators and teachers to hash out a compromise, according to teachers union spokesperson Darren Allen. When they failed to do so, the provision was stripped from the bill.
“We weren’t able to come to that agreement,” Allen said.
— Peter D’Auria
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved S.204, a bill to allow for freestanding birth centers in Vermont.
Proponents of the bill argue that birth centers offer a safe and cost-effective way to deliver babies outside of the hospital. Birth centers also could offer a local option for parents in communities where hospitals no longer deliver babies, as in the case of Springfield Hospital, advocates say. Normally run by nurse midwives, freestanding birth centers can handle uncomplicated births in relatively healthy moms. At-risk babies and parents typically get referred to a hospital.
Opponents of the bill argue that freestanding birth centers aren’t necessary in Vermont, a state with relatively few births. They’ve also said that diverting patients from local hospitals would only take patients away from existing labor and delivery units. If enough parents opt for birth center deliveries, hospital-based OB units would close.
The committee sided with advocates, but asked the Green Mountain Care Board to study the need and licensure path for freestanding centers.
— Liora Engel-Smith
K-12 schools are struggling to find and keep staff. House lawmakers on Friday gave preliminary approval to a measure that would allow retired educators back into the classroom for up to one year without giving up their pensions. The cost to the pension system is expected to be “negligible at best,” Rep. Robin Scheu, D-Middlebury, told her colleagues on the floor.
H.572 passed on a voice vote.
— Lola Duffort
The House has passed a bill that would require the manufacturers of household products with hazardous chemicals in them to help pay for their proper disposal on to the Senate. The vote on third reading for H.115 was 80 to 35.
But it received some opposition from Republicans, who argued the legislation was getting out ahead of itself.
“I keep hearing that we’re going to develop a list of products that this bill is going to be affected by — and we don’t have fees yet established for this bill. I am very concerned that we’re putting the cart before the horse,” said House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney. “I need to know exactly what we’re talking about. What household products?”
These concerns are shared by Gov. Phil Scott, according to press secretary Jason Maulucci, who said the governor will “want to make sure that there is a clear, common-sense definition of what is considered household hazardous waste.”
— Lola Duffort
The Senate approved a flurry of bills Friday morning, each by voice vote:
- S.139, which would prohibit school mascots that stereotype a race, gender or sexual orientation;
- S.173, an act related to Statehouse artwork;
- S.206, an act related to planning for the care and treatment of patients with cognitive impairments;
- S.283, which makes miscellaneous changes to education laws; and
- H.701, which establishes licensing fees for cannabis growers.
The Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against consumers based on genetic information.
The body also gave preliminary approval to a bill to regulate small-scale cannabis growing. Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, said the intent was to “give the benefits and rights that we give to agriculture, to cannabis producers,” without getting the Agency of Agriculture in trouble with federal drug laws.
The bill would allow farmers to use 1,000 square feet of existing farmland to grow cannabis, while still being exempt from local zoning laws and sales tax. Pearson said he hopes small-scale cannabis cultivation could be a diversification strategy for farms, and incentivize younger generations to work in agriculture.
— Riley Robinson
While you were sleeping, the U.S. Senate passed Congress’s 2022 appropriations omnibus bill, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature — just in time to avoid a government shutdown.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in his capacity as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was a driving force behind the $1.5 trillion mammoth’s negotiations. His outsize influence also helped Vermont score another mound of federal dollars in earmarks — more than $200 million, to be exact.
“As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee I made sure that Vermonters have had a center seat at the table in writing this bill,” he said in a Friday statement. “From providing resources to grow ‘made in Vermont’ ideas like the farm to school program, to supporting our rural village and downtown spaces, and everything in between, this bill reflects Vermont priorities and ideas and values.”
One thing that’s not in the omnibus spending bill? An extension of the federal waiver that paid for free school meals for all. State lawmakers are now stuck with the vexing question of whether to pony up $24 to $40 million a year to keep the popular program in place.
— Sarah Mearhoff and Lola Duffort
WHAT’S FOR LUNCH
All right, listen up, cafeteria aficionados (including but not limited to my editor): My fellow Statehouse scribes and I are well aware that you’re really, really into our hot scoops from the cafeteria. We also know that you’re really, really disappointed when we don’t deliver.
I sauntered over to the ol’ caf today to chat with my best bud Chef Bryant, who no doubt looks forward to his VTDigger visits on the daily. What I found was a man up to his ears in lunch orders, artfully assembling someone’s tomato wrap (just get the sandwich, OK?) with a line of hungry Capitol ghouls in queue.
One of the other cooks informed me that, like many employers as of late, the cafeteria team has been a victim of the current labor shortage.
I didn’t want Sliced Mearhoff on next week’s menu, so I declined to bug Chef Bryant with my inquiry. Sorry, dear reader. Check back on this space next week.
— Sarah Mearhoff
[Editor’s note: If we don’t get better cafeteria intel next week there will definitely be Sliced Mearhoff on the menu.]
WHAT WE’RE READING
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