After the flurry of crossover activity there is usually a lull in legislative excitement as committees work through the bills they’ve been sent from the opposite chamber. Week 14 began with warm spring weather and a relative calm in the statehouse as lawmakers returned to Montpelier. The quiet start to the week turned out to be the calm before the storm though. As the Senate Appropriations committee discussed big-ticket Democratic priorities on Tuesday afternoon, it became clear the Senate does not seem inclined to support the House’s funding mechanism for the paid family medical leave insurance program. The showdown between the House and Senate over their competing priorities of childcare and paid family and medical leave has likely just begun.
Meanwhile, tensions rose in the House as a bi-partisian coalition of members raised concerns that S.100, the housing bill, does not provide enough regulatory reform to spur the level of housing development needed to address the well established housing crisis. The House General Affairs and Housing committee advanced S.100 on a vote of 8-4. The core debate on the bill centers around Act 250, Vermont’s land-use law which is viewed by the development community as an outdated policy in need of reform. The majority of the debate in this committee though was about process, not policy. The main point of contention concerned the House General Affairs and Housing committee being instructed by leadership to leave all Act 250 work to the House Environment and Energy committee, where the bill heads to next. The committee followed the directive of leadership, but not before multiple members voiced their frustration over being prohibited from considering a proposal brought by Representative Caleb Elder
(D – Starksboro) that dealt with Act 250 provisions.
The House Environment and Energy committee voted 8-3 on Thursday to advance S.5, the Affordable Heat Act. The bill would require fossil fuel dealers to reduce thermal sector emissions in line with the Global Warming Solutions Act. S.5 heads to the House Appropriations committee and is expected to be on the House floor for a vote late next week. Governor Scott vetoed a similar piece of legislation (H.715) last year, and lawmakers failed by one vote to override the governor’s veto.
At his weekly press conference, Governor Scott laid down his own marker, expressing support for many of the policies currently being considered by the legislature, but making clear that he does not support the tax and fee increases included in the proposals.
Lawmakers are in the unenviable position of having to pass a bill to increase legislative pay. This week the Senate passed S.39, a bill that proposes to increase lawmakers’ pay and make lawmakers eligible for state employee benefits including health insurance. According to a memo prepared by the Joint Fiscal Office, rank and file members of the General Assembly make slightly more than $800 per week during the session with no benefits. The pay increases in S.39 are phased in over time and don’t start until 2025, after the next election and a new General Assembly is seated. The bill also creates a Legislative Service Working Group, consisting of six lawmakers, who are directed to report their findings by January 2024 on a number of issues including “whether changes should be made to the length or structure of the legislative session.” The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 19-10.