During the campaign, Donahue was the primary public voice of the anti-abortion movement seeking to defeat Article 22, the reproductive rights amendment. It struck me as a bit risky. After all, Donahue has long been a respected presence, known for her capacity for hard work and her tenacious activism on mental health issues. She’s served on two committees — Human Services and Health Care — that touch on those issues, which was a recognition of her skills and expertise. She was even elevated to vice chair of Health Care, a notable achievement for a member of the minority caucus.
But now she finds herself shuffled back to Human Services and stripped of committee leadership. And she’s crying foul. She believes the change is a simple matter of political retaliation for her strong opposition to Article 22.
Maybe she’s right. I don’t know. But if she is right, so what?
There is much to be said about Gov. Phil Scott suddenly pulling a voluntary paid family leave program. For instance, that he has never ever pushed this issue at all unless the Legislature is actively considering a universal program. This isn’t a principled position, it’s an artifice meant to draw votes away from the Dem/Prog caucuses.
But something else, something subtler but equally discomfiting, is on my mind at the moment.
There are signs that the House-Senate tensions of past years are flaring back up again. If so, key legislation could fail because of differences between the two chambers, real or imaginary. If that happens, they’ll be disappointing the voters who elected record numbers of Dems expecting them to get stuff done.
This tension was minimized if not eliminated in the current biennium, thanks to the efforts of House Speaker Jill Krowinski and outgoing Pro Tem Becca Balint. It’d be a shame if Balint’s departure triggers a return of the bad old days.
The usual sniping between House and Senate is most often expressed in senators’ apparently innate sense of superiority. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen senators speak of state representatives as if they’re misbehaving kids on a school bus, and treat House legislation as if it’s toilet paper stuck to their shoes.
The most prominent example of the House-Senate tension has been the twin battles over paid family leave and raising the minimum wage. The House has preferred the former, the Senate the latter. The result: No paid leave program and woefully inadequate movement on minimum wage. On two occasions the Legislature has passed watered-down versions of a paid leave program and Scott has vetoed them. The inter-chamber differences have done much to frustrate progress toward enacting a strong paid leave program over Scott’s objections.
And now, here we are again with an apparent House-Senate rift on paid family leave.
I’ve got a post sitting on the backburner called “We Have No Idea How Well State Government Performs.” The thesis is that Vermont’s government is woefully deficient in checks and balances. The Legislature is too slammed to do any green eyeshade stuff. The executive branch provides the bulk of the available information. The Joint Fiscal Office does some useful things and so does the auditor, but their reach is limited.
So we’ll probably never know who’s responsible for the monumental screwup with the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP). It’s out of money, folks. Rental assistance will diminish in a month and disappear entirely for thousands of households before the onset of winter. Oh, and utility assistance will end before the calendar turns to 2023.
According to the administration’s own numbers, 3,015 recipients will see their rental benefits end on September 30. Another 5,400 will get reduced benefits through the end of November, and then nothing.
The explanations on offer are threadbare, sheepish and inadequate. There are broad hints of administrative malfeasance.
This ought to be a scandal. Will it be? Based on past performance, probably not.
Gov. Phil Scott sent a letter to Legislative leaders on Thursday that was a tour de force of passive aggressiveness. In it, he said he was signing H.720 despite “a significant error” (italics his). What’s more, he alleged that this was just one of a series of unacceptably typo-ridden bills that has him questioning the Legislature’s basic competence.
As usual with his periodic coruscations of outrage, it’s overstated, mean-spirited and misses the point.
Funny thing for Mr. Nice Guy to be doing over and over again.
Scott felt compelled to express his displeasure despite the fact that the Legislature had already acknowledged the error and promised to fix it in 2023, via a well-established process to correct a bill that didn’t quite hit the bullseye.
The letter is pure condescension through and through. After slamming the Legislature over H.720, he goes on to infer that there were a bunch of bills with typos and mistakes. He doesn’t enumerate them, of course; I interpret that to mean it’s a pretty short list with picayune problems.
Scott concludes by expressing his hope that the 2023 Legislature “will resolve to have a better managed process with greater attention to detail.”
It looks like 2022 will be The Year of Turnover. Not only in statewide offices, but also in the Legislature. Earlier today I wrote a post about the House losing five committee chairs; since then, I’ve learned of three more. Plus one more Senate chair. And other prominent figures as well.
The departing chairs: Carolyn Partridge of House Agriculture, Maxine Grad of Judiciary, Tim Briglin of House Energy and Technology, and Michael Sirotkin of Senate Economic Development.
Let’s take the House first. Even if there are no more retirements, nearly half of all House committees will have new chairs come January. Partridge will have served 24 years in the House and 12 as chair of Agriculture (the committee’s name has changed multiple times but always included Ag). Grad has 12 years in the House, eight as Judiciary chair. Briglin has been in the House for eight years and chaired E&T for four.
Add that to our previous toll of lost experience, and you get 92 years of departing chair tenure and 153 years in the House. The former figure is the one I’m focused on here; if you add all the House departures, you’ll get a much, much higher number for the latter.
Note: Second item has a significant update. Press WILL be admitted to Winooski/Enosburg soccer game.
Oh, you thought you were done with this, did you? Yeah, my awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sector have been on sabbatical lately — it’s been harder to see the funny this fall, mostly due to the ongoing pandemic. But here we are again! On the docket: Noblesse oblige at the homelessness protest, barring the media from a soccer match, an especially stupid Covid rationalization from Team Scott, and Bennington Justice rears its ugly head.
We have multiple awardees for the It Was Quite Literally The Least We Could Do Award. The recipients include Gov. Phil Scott, House Speaker Jill Krowinski, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Brenda Siegel and Josh Lisenby, advocates for restoring the full emergency housing program, held what VTDigger helpfully called “a small rally” on Monday at the site of their Statehouse protest/campout. Apparently Siegel and Lisenby have cooties or something, because neither Krowinski nor Ballnt attended in person and Scott continues to resist meeting with them.
The Speaker and Pro Tem did issue a statement for Siegel to read, in which they endorsed full restoration of the program. Which is interesting since, as the governor points out on every occasion, they agreed to the springtime deal restricting the program. Nice of them to belatedly come down on the side of compassion. And while Scott could really use a spark of humanity, he refuses to meet with the advocates. But hey, as VTDigger put it, “they were granted an interview on Monday with Sean Brown, the commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.” Wow. “Granted an interview.” How noblesse oblige of them.
Brown reportedly said the administration would consider reopening the full program when/if (climate change, y’know) the weather gets really cold. Which tells you the administration sees this first and foremost as a PR problem. They want to be as stingy as possible, but they could do without pictures of freezing protesters or homeless people with hypothermia.
Gov. Phil Scott has many admirable traits, as well as many politically advantageous ones. But the hackles rise whenever he accuses his opponents of playing politics. He did it again at his press briefing on August 24, shortly after House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint called for stronger action against Covid-19.
“I think it’s unfortunate to play politics at this point in time,” he said in response to a question about the Democratic leaders’ statements. “I think one of the reasons our pandemic response has been the best in the nation is that we never politicized our response, as other states and other ambitious leaders have done throughout the country.”
“Other ambitious leaders,” eh? Got any particular House or Senate leaders in mind there?
It’s bullshit, in a word. He casts himself as the sole champion of pure reason in a grubby little world of political hackery. In fact, Scott has been a politician far longer than Krowinski or Balint. Longer than the two of them combined. Legislating and policymaking are inherently political enterprises. If you’re in that sandbox, you are playing politics.
His definition of “playing politics” appears to be “disagreeing with me.” If you’re on board with his Covid policy, you’re dutifully following the science and the data. If you differ, well, you’re being (ugh) political.
So tell me, are the 91 Health Department employees who just wrote a letter expressing their “deep concern” over the state’s “lack of adequate COVID-19 prevention guidance” playing politics? Are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has called for universal masking in school buildings and recommended masking in all indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status? Is the American Academy of Pediatricians, which calls for school mask mandates and vaccination of all eligible persons? Is the World Health Organization, which recommends not only universal indoor masking but avoiding indoor spaces, especially crowded ones, whenever possible?
That’s a hell of a lot of non-politicians who, by Scott’s definition, are playing politics.
I wish he’d cut the “playing politics” innuendo. It’s unnecessary. It’s the very definition of political.
What’s wrong with a simple “Reasonable people may disagree, but I believe my policy is right”?
The stage is set. The players are in the wings. On Wednesday morning, the Legislature will return — virtually — for a brief veto override session. All three of Gov. Phil Scott’s 2021 vetoes are on the agenda. The action, for those of us who believe a YouTube screen full of tiny politicians’ faces constitutes “action,” gets underway in the House and Senate simultaneously, at 10:00 a.m.
The House will be first to take up Scott’s vetoes of H. 177 and H.227, the charter changes for Montpelier and Winooski respectively to allow noncitizen residents to vote in local elections only. Meanwhile, the Senate will take up S.107, which would raise the minimum age for public release of information about the arrest and charge of an offender.
This all seems perfectly normal. But in reality, it’s not.
While the Republican governor has set a new record for vetoes with 23, the Democratic Legislature has been loath to even attempt overrides. Scott has vetoed 20 bills from 2017 through 2020; only two of them have been overridden. In the vast majority of Scott’s other 18 vetoes, the Legislature didn’t even try.
So, attempting overrides on three vetoes in a single year is unprecedented during the Scott administration, and I’m guessing unprecedented in Vermont history.
It was a little like Old Home Week. Eleven of the 30 state Senators, none wearing a mask, gathered on the steps of the Statehouse Wednesday morning for a… live, in person PRESS CONFERENCE. Wowee.
Everyone was happy to be back together, and even happy to see a gaggle of reporters hoping to glean some actual news out of the occasion.
The cause for the gathering was a mutual wankfest recap of the Senate’s legislative record in the past session. Hearty congratulations all around, and seldom was heard a discouraging word. I’m sure the assembled solons would love for me to recap their lengthy list of accomplishments, but, well, not my job.
They did manage to make some news amidst all the mutual back-slapping. “We’ll be back for a veto session,” said Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, ending all doubt on that score. She said the House and Senate are likely to try to override all three (and counting) of Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes. Also, if time allows, the Legislature may try to pass a few bills that came just short of the finish line before adjournment. Balint didn’t offer any particulars; she was due to meet with House Speaker Jill Krowinski Wednesday afternoon to plan the session, which would probably happen later this month.
I’m glad to see that the Kumbaya stuff has its limits. Legislative leadership made a point of trying to maintain a good relationship with Gov. Phil Scott during the session, and that’s fine. It’s even better that they know there’s a time for the Kumbaya to end. And Scott struck the first blow with his three questionable vetoes. Good to see leadership respond appropriately. If they can actually override all three, they’ll be sending a strong message to the fifth floor.
Other news came courtesy of Senate Institutions Committee chair Sen. Joe Benning. He talked of preparations for reopening the Statehouse for the 2022 session.
This obligatory session-ender by VTDigger’s Xander Landen was so sticky-sweet that it should have had a warning label for diabetics. Everybody’s just getting along so well. Kind words all around, regardless of party.
Gov. Phil Scott, who has so far issued only one veto — an historic low for him — praised House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint: “It’s been a good dialogue, good discussion, very open, and they adhere to their word and everything’s been working fine.”
Balint said that she and Krowinski made progress on “establishing healthier patterns” in working with Scott, and she’s feeling “optimistic” about carrying the Kumbaya over to a 2022 session that will involve some touchy issues. Sen. Phil Baruth noted “historic” levels of tripartisan cooperation.
(There’s also a love-in involving Scott, Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. At his Tuesday presser, Scott all but endorsed Leahy for re-election in 2022, and Welch recently credited Scott with doing an “absolutely tremendous job” on Covid-19.)
Scott, Balint and Krowinski are right to feel satisfied. They avoided the intra- and inter-party battles of the past, and dealt with a number of issues successfully. And they had to do it remotely, which was tough on everyone.
But they also ducked some tough issues. Balint and Krowinski made a conscious effort to avoid sending Scott bills he was likely to veto. That might be a good short-term strategy for the pandemic session, but it’s the kind of thing that has made the Democratic majorities seem toothless throughout Scott’s governorship.
So, a good collegial session in 2021 probably won’t carry over to next year unless legislative leadership is willing to set aside a whole bunch of issues. And for strictly political reasons, that will be harder to do in an election year than in this extraordinary session.