Yesterday will go down as a case study in how legislative realpolitik works — or how Democratic supermajorities shoot themselves in the foot. Choose your own adventure.
In two separate venues yesterday, majority Democrats negotiated against themselves instead of flexing their political muscle. And the real losers were the thousands of Vermonters experiencing or facing homelessness.
In the early afternoon, the House Human Services Committee approved a memo to House Appropriations spelling out its underwhelming version of a plan to try to avoid an explosion in homelessness. A few hours later, a House-Senate conference committee approved the 2023 Budget Adjustment Act, with House members agreeing with the Senate version that cut $3 million from the emergency motel voucher program. The program would continue through the end of June, but with reduced eligibility after the end of May. More than 750 households would lose their eligibility a month early.
The conference committee move was a master class in keeping away from prying eyes. The House named its three members last week; the Senate followed suit on Monday. The very next day, the committee met with effectively no advance notice and quickly approved a “compromise” that favored the Senate on every area of disagreement. The meeting was over in less than 25 minutes. And only afterward was there any public disclosure of what the committee had approved.
This is all according to procedure, mind you. Conference committees don’t have to give advance warning of meetings. They often fit in their business when the opportunity arises. But usually their meetings include at least some debate. In this case, there was little to none. The deal was done behind closed doors.
This may be within the rules, but the lack of transparency is galling. As was the committee’s acceptance of the Scott administration’s assertion that cutting eligibility is actually the charitable thing to do. The argument goes that there isn’t enough capacity in the program so we should focus the available space on those in the direst straits. Some would say there’s a difference between sticking to the state’s roster of motel units and making a real effort to expand the pool, but I quibble.
House Human Services shared an unfortunate process with the conference committee. As far as I can tell, the proposed memo to Appropriations wasn’t posted online before it was approved by Human Services — and still hasn’t been, as of this writing.Continue reading