The Vermont Statehouse Insider 2024 – Week 14


An unprecedented influx of visitors descended upon our state to chase what turned out to be some of the clearest views of the path of totality for the 2024 total solar eclipse. During a year in Vermont marked by catastrophic flooding, waning federal COVID-19 funds and giant property tax hikes, the boon to local businesses as well as state coffers seemed like a cosmic gift. Nearly every sector felt the reverberations of the event, with early Agency of Transportation estimates projecting 60,000 vehicles and 160,000 visitors entered the state leading up to the eclipse. But the reverberations weren’t positive for everyone. As hotels prepared for the influx, room rates were pushed significantly higher and some of those previously housed under the motel voucher program were forced to leave their rooms to make space for high-paying guests.

The total economic impact from the eclipse is not available yet, but Treasurer Mike Pieciak estimated that the event could bring between $12-50 million to thew state. At his weekly press conference on Wednesday, Governor Phil Scott praised the extensive planning efforts that allowed for the massive influx of travelers to take place without significant issues. This once in a lifetime occurrence is expected to have a long-lasting positive impact on Vermont’s brand nationally.

After such a moving event, you could almost feel the strain of everyone in the statehouse coming back down to earth on Tuesday. In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee worked tirelessly this week to finalize the FY2025 budget. This work continues with a real sense of scarcity as difficult decision after difficult decision is weighed. Affordable housing, emergency housing, public safety and flood relief are just a few competing needs this session.

On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee’s two-day-old proposal to reduce local control over school budgets faced swift opposition from various public education associations, leading to its quick withdrawal. The proposal would have centralized funding decisions by introducing base “educational opportunity payments”. The proposal and overwhelming opposition to it underscores the complexities and contentious nature of education reform in Vermont.

Vermont’s political landscape was changed by the retirement announcement of moderate Democratic Senator Richard “Dick” Mazza (D-Colchester) due to health reasons. The current “Dean of the Senate” has served a distinguished 39-year tenure. Mazza’s departure signals a significant shift, with Governor Scott now tasked with appointing his replacement. This change comes at a critical time as the Senate prepares to vote on key appointments and bills, potentially impacting the balance of power and the direction of legislative priorities in Vermont.

Following Senator Dick Mazza’s retirement announcement, Senator Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) stepped forward to run for the significant role of the third member on the Vermont Senate Committee on Committees. Mazza held this influential position since 1997, overseeing crucial committee assignments and chair selections. His departure marks a substantial shift in the Senate’s dynamics. The timeline for electing his replacement on the committee is tight, with nominations due by April 12, a Democratic caucus vote on April 16, and a formal Senate vote set for April 23. As of the writing of this newsletter, no other Senator has stepped forward to run for this seat.



This week the Senate decided not to override Governor Scott’s veto of S.18, a bill that would have banned the sale of flavored tobacco products and e-liquids in Vermont. 11 senators voted against the bill when it passed the Senate earlier this year so Senate leaders did not have the two-thirds vote needed to override the veto. This week the Senate recommitted the bill to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which effectively killed the bill for the biennium. Advocates for the bill argued that flavored tobacco and vapes are marketed to and more likely to be used by children. In his veto message the governor said, “I too feel we have an obligation to protect our children, but it must be balanced in such a way that we honor the rights and freedoms of adults to make decisions about their individual lives.” The governor pointed out that Vermont had just legalized cannabis, including edibles and other flavored products, and the state also allowed flavored alcohol products to be sold. “I’ve found people lose faith in government when policies have these types of inconsistencies, because they contradict common sense,” according to the governor’s veto message.



Rumor has it that the veto override session will be set for June 17 and 18. No formal announcement has been made, but it’s likely to come any day now. Stay tuned!