Brattleboro charter amendment veto override?
It’s been weeks since
H.361 has seen any action, so let me refresh your drink.
Our story begins in 2019, when Brattleboro residents voted by a more than 2-1 ratio to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections and serve as Town Meeting representatives.
As a Dillon’s Rule state, Vermont requires municipalities to get the Legislature’s blessing in order to make any such charter amendments. And so H.361 was born and
approved this year overwhelmingly, 102-42 in the House and 20-9 in the Senate.
Off the bill went to Gov. Dad’s desk, where he vetoed it, citing concerns of “a patchwork of core election laws and policies that are different from town to town.” He also said lawmakers could not have it both ways, lowering the voting age but raising it when it comes to sentencing of young adults who commit crimes.
“They have argued this approach is justified because these offenders are not mature enough to contemplate the full range of risks and impacts of their actions,” Scott wrote in February.
Not all hope was lost for the civically engaged teens of Brattleboro. Both the House and Senate had passed H.361 by a large enough margin to override Scott’s veto — and
that’s exactly what the House did on March 11 by a 102-47 vote.
Insert the “Jeopardy” theme music. A veto override vote for H.361 has been sitting idly on the Senate’s action calendar since March 17. Day in and day out, senators gloss right over it as they check off (or don’t!) the other items on their to-do list.
Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint — famously of Brattleboro — remains mum. Her office declined to comment on the status of the vote Wednesday afternoon.
In an email Wednesday afternoon, Elizabeth McLoughlin of the Brattleboro Selectboard said she was happy to see the House vote, and still hopes the Senate will override Scott’s veto.
“I hope for two things: 1. I hope that the youth of Brattleboro are respected to have this limited participation in Town Government, and 2. I hope that the Senate and the whole of State Government give Brattleboro the authority to act in the manner that our citizens want,” McLoughlin wrote. “This respectful self-determination is very important to us.”
And so, the wait continues.
— Sarah Mearhoff
IN THE KNOW
Vermonters who carry private health insurance can expect their
premiums to rise, but not right away. That’s because state regulators denied a midyear request for a hefty service charge raise from Rutland Regional Medical Center.
Rutland asked the Green Mountain Care Board for a 9% increase to cover a projected $7.5 million deficit in the current fiscal year. But regulators denied the request, telling executives from Vermont’s second-largest hospital the request could hurt self-insured small businesses almost immediately.
By denying Rutland’s request, the board essentially pushed the prospect of ballooning health care costs to next year’s budget cycle. Later in that same meeting, board members voted to allow hospitals to set growth targets of up to 8.6% over the next two years. The board usually allows hospitals to grow by up to 3.5% a year. The move almost certainly would ratchet up health insurance premiums in the foreseeable future.
The University of Vermont Health Network, the largest hospital operator in Vermont, also came before the board Wednesday with a midyear price increase request. The board is expected to vote on that request as early as next week.
Read more here.
— Liora Engel-Smith
ON THE MOVE
The Senate took an initial vote to allow
freestanding birth centers in Vermont. The bill in question, S.204, which would establish a birth center licensure process, caused some… tensions, shall we say, in the medical community.
In her bill presentation on the Senate floor, Sen. Ruth Hardy compared the drafting of the bill to “a sort of long, painful delivery.”
Freestanding birth centers need to have a symbiotic relationship with hospitals, Hardy said. If a delivery becomes complicated, the birth center needs to be able to transfer a patient quickly. The vast majority of birth centers are located within 30 minutes of a hospital, Hardy said.
But birth centers also would compete with hospitals for the relatively small number of births that happen in Vermont each year — about 5,200 in 2018, the last year of available
A birthing center in southern Vermont likely would serve five to six families a month, according to testimony from a nurse-midwife submitted to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Supporters of the bill argued this small number wouldn’t really impact hospitals’ maternity services. The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Vermont’s hospital lobby, disagreed.
There was also some conflict over whether prospective birth centers would need to pass the state’s certificate of need process — aka, a rigorous review by the Green Mountain Care Board — prior to opening, which some argued is onerous and costly. The bill, as approved on Wednesday, kept the certificate of need requirement, giving hospitals a win, at least for now. But it also tells the Green Mountain Care Board to study whether the requirement is necessary, and provide a report next year.
— Riley Robinson
Senators have offered a compromise to Gov. Phil Scott on a
registry of home contractors — an issue that has been holding up a bill, S.226, intended to create more housing.
Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, chair of the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee, offered
an amendment to the housing bill — to require contractors to register only for contracts of more than $10,000, but establishing a job in the Attorney General’s Office that would assist with consumer complaints on home renovation contracts of less than $10,000.
The amendment would budget $200,000 for the job in the fiscal year that starts on July 1.
Otherwise, the bill eliminates requirements for developers to get both state and municipal permits to connect new homes to water and sewer services, encourages land–use rules that allow denser housing, encourages adding accessory dwelling units at existing homes, and includes the governor’s plan to build hundreds of housing units for middle-class homeowners, including grants to builders when
it costs more to build a home than it will appraise for.
The bill moved along by the Senate on Wednesday also would provide $15 million in subsidies for middle-income homebuyers between the time it passes and June 30, 2023, something the governor has also proposed.
Read more here.
— Fred Thys
Speaking of the Senate, it also
passed a few bills on third reading, by voice vote, including:
S.281, which prohibits hunting coyotes with dogs.
H.447, to amend the Springfield town charter. It would grant Springfield some additional powers and eliminate a few town offices, including Weigher of Coal and Fence Viewer. (Oh, Vermont.)
— Riley Robinson
They grow up so fast. The
Legislature’s reapportionment bill, H.722, has overcome all of its legislative hurdles and is now on its way to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk for his signature.
The bill establishes
both the House and Senate’s district maps, and therefore the political playing field of Vermont, for the next decade. The House concurred with the Senate’s amendments to the bill on Wednesday by voice vote.
As chair of the House Government Operations Committee, Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, led the redistricting process on the House side and was downright joyous when presenting the final product to her colleagues on Wednesday.
“You can’t see that I’m smiling behind this mask but I really am because today marks the day that we are able to finally push this tremendous undertaking across the finish line,” she said.
— Sarah Mearhoff
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
The four Democratic candidates vying to represent Vermont in the U.S. House have all taken the same pledge: no money from corporate political action committees, known as PACs.
The promise — made by the campaigns of state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale and former congressional aide Sianay Chase Clifford — is meant to signal grassroots bonafides in a primary race confined mostly to the left lane.
But while the candidates say they won’t take money from PACs representing big business, at least one is receiving significant support from some of the lobbyists who represent their interests in Washington.
Read more here.
— Lola Duffort
Welcome back to our regularly scheduled Endorsement Roundup. Today, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s congressional bid won the endorsement of the American Association for Justice, an organization of trial lawyers.
The association’s CEO Linda Lipsen said in Wednesday’s statement that with her background in the judicial branch, “Molly has been a leader in the Vermont legal community and will be an excellent member of Congress.”
“We know that in Washington, Molly will fight to protect civil rights, defend our Constitution, and strengthen our civil justice system. We’re proud to endorse her candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives,” Lipsen concluded.
— Sarah Mearhoff
WHAT’S FOR LUNCH
Cafeteria connoisseurs can look forward to chicken curry with roasted cumin rice on Thursday, or they can opt for a chicken quesadilla, OR a Cobb salad wrap. The options are unlimited.
More than halfway through this legislative session, I think Chef Bryant is warming up to me. We had a meandering conversation today about trendy food ingredients, and he offered this sage advice: “Food is like fashion; it has trends.” Do with that what you will.
— Sarah Mearhoff
WHAT’S ON TAP
9 a.m. — House Health Care and Senate Health and Welfare, in a joint meeting, will hear from the executive branch on the Health Services Wait Times Report.
9 a.m. — House Government Operations and House Corrections and Institutions, in another joint meeting, will hear hear from corrections officers about corrections recruitment and retention.
9:15 a.m. — House Human Services will take testimony on S.74, which would amend Vermont’s medical aid in dying law.
WHAT WE’RE READING
A Vermont school district reimposed a mask mandate. The state’s top education official urged it not to. (VTDigger)
USDA finalizes ‘origin of livestock’ rule to close an organic loophole and level playing field for farmers (VTDigger)
Vermont’s Pandemic Modeler Is Returning to His Financial Regulation Duties (Seven Days)
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