You Know, It Was a Pretty Great Session Except For That One Horrible Thing.

In fairness to legislative Democrats, at least for a moment, they did accomplish quite a lot this session. They went much farther than they have before in standing up to Gov. Phil Scott and daring him to [obligatory journalism phrase] wield his veto pen over and over again. In that sense, they lived up to the promise made to voters that, if given a bigger supermajority, they would enact a progressive agenda over the governor’s objections.

Too bad they pulled up short on the most urgent humanitarian imperative of 2023. And too bad that their many legitimate accomplishments will be overshadowed by their willingness to unshelter some 2,500 Vermonters.

It’s as though they got a custom-tailored tuxedo and got all spiffed up and then, just as they were heading out the door, they shit their pants.

And then went to the prom anyway, thinking that no one would notice the stink and the stain.

But wait, this post was supposed to be “in fairness to legislative Democrats.” Okay, then. Let’s look at what they accomplished.

The Legislature passed the Affordable Heat Act, a pretty solid piece of work by its standards, and had little trouble overriding Gov. Phil Scott’s veto. Which gets a crucial piece of climate action into state law and serves as proof of concept for future override attempts.

The “Home” Bill, S.100, could have been stronger but was, again by legislative standards, a good step forward. The governor might veto this because it didn’t do as much to reform Act 250 as he wanted, but we shall see.

After a brisk game of House/Senate chicken, the House blinked and assented to the Senate’s revenue plan for a robust child care package. That had to be a huge relief to the entire industry, which has been teetering on the brink of financial calamity. It was certainly a relief, not to mention a pleasant surprise, to those who’ve grown accustomed to see good legislation be killed by inter-chamber differences.

The Legislature also extended the free school meals program for all students in the state.

The governor will face a decision on a gun safety bill designed to reduce suicides by firearm with a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases, an expanded red-flag provision and a requirement that guns be locked in households with children.

Scott did not have a problem signing the shield law, which protects Vermont health care workers who provide reproductive and gender-affirming care to patients from other states’ restrictive laws.

The Legislature has tried and failed for years to expand the Bottle Bill to include non-carbonated beverages, and they finally did the trick this year. It’s a relatively small thing, but it’s a notable success in a policy area littered with failures.

Lawmakers paid no heed to a rising tide of snarky coverage on S.39, which will increase legislators’ pay and benefits with an eye toward making service more financially doable for more people.

And yeah, the Legislature adopted a budget that directly confronts the governor’s refusal to consider additional taxes or fees. That’s a step they’ve been loath to take until now.

It really is an impressive list of accomplishments. They acted with determination and with confidence in their ability to beat the governor on override votes.

Which makes their failure on emergency housing even more of a puzzlement. Why was protecting our most vulnerable the issue that suddenly made lawmakers scurry under their desks for fear of a veto? I mean, they’re willing to commit $120 million on child care, $30 million on school meals, and pass a state budget with a 13% hike in general fund spending. They approved 20% hikes in DMV fees. They spent $850,000 to extend free bus service for another year. And on and on and on.

But the thought of $32 million to keep the motel voucher program going and accelerate the addition of permanent housing? A bridge too far.

So the Democrats come before us wearing a really sharp outfit. Fine fabrics, perfect tailoring, the latest fashion. It’s a beautiful thing.

Except for the shit stain.


3 thoughts on “You Know, It Was a Pretty Great Session Except For That One Horrible Thing.

  1. deebat

    Your work on homelessness was much needed and appreciated, but keeping the door open for biomass – a dirtier source of fuel than coal – immediately disqualifies the Affordable Heat Act from being considered a “solid piece of work.”

  2. Lee Russ

    One other failure: refusal to even discuss H.156 (“An act relating to incremental implementation of Green Mountain Care”), despite the fact that it had a whopping 59 sponsors. Even if the House Health committee had reason to oppose the bill, how do they justify the refusal to even debate it? Cowardice? Arrogance?

  3. Ellen Oxfeld

    I just want to say something about what you characterize as the “snarky coverage” on S39. No one who wrote these columns said that legislators should not receive a pay raise and health care. But, what people are complaining about is that legislators passed health care for themselves quickly and meanwhile two bills which would provide health care for all Vermonters sit on the walls of their respective committees and have never even had a hearing!

    Where is the space for hearing testimony from the 42% of Vermonters who are under-insured? The legislators talked about their own woes getting health care. They must surely realize that their constituents face the same problems and these are the constituents they are elected to represent. And, by the way, H156, which would phase in universal health care starting with universal primary care, has 59 co-sponsors.

    So, to be fair. The complaints about S39 never questioned the legitimacy of improving compensation for legislators. But, to do so without uttering a word about moving forward on health care for their constituents, without even taking bills off the wall which could get this process going, certainly justifies what you call the “snarky” coverage.


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