House Speaker Jill Krowinski and other House leaders announced their intention on Thursday to form a special committee to investigate the conduct of two Vermont elected officials. Democratic Franklin County State’s Attorney John Lavoie is facing allegations of harassment and discrimination in his office. Republican Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore is facing charges for assaulting a person in custody last year.
The impeachment process is very rare in Vermont, and the announcement that the House will move forward with an investigation adds an unexpected spin to the end of the 2023 legislative session. According to an analysis by House Clerk BetsyAnn Wrask, the last time the General Assembly conducted impeachment proceedings was in 1976, when the House impeached Washington County Sheriff Malcolm Mayo for multiple infractions, including allegedly falsifying records and assaulting someone in the Thrush Tavern in Montpelier. While the House impeached Mayo the Senate voted not to convict him. The last time an elected official was impeached and convicted in Vermont was in 1785. Documentation from previous impeachments can be found here.
The House is moving to implement the first step in the impeachment process, which is to pass a resolution creating a special committee to investigate allegations and make recommendations back to the House. HR.11 creates a Special Committee on Impeachment Inquiry to investigate the allegations against Lavoie and Grismore. Committee members (seven House members from at least two parties) are appointed by the House Speaker. If this resolution passes, the committee will be be seated for the duration of the 2023-2024 biennium. This committee would have subpoena power, which is very unique to committees in the state legislature. If the committee finds cause for impeachment, it would draft articles of impeachment to be considered by the full House.
In the event the House impeaches one or both elected officials, the Senate would hold a trial, and either convict or acquit them. A conviction would remove them from office.
On Friday morning the House Government Operations and Military Affairs committee held a joint hearing on HR.11 with the House Judiciary committee. At the time we are writing the House has not yet taken action on HR.11. They could do so during their afternoon session, or at any point between now and when the legislature adjourns.
PAID FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE AND CHILD CARE
This week a major Democratic priority was put on hold, at least until next session. House leadership announced on Thursday that their paid family and medical leave (PFML) initiative will not move forward this year. The Democratic majorities in the House and Senate have been grappling all session with how to move forward with two major initiatives – PFML and universal child care. The signal that PFML is on hold clears the way for the House to pass their version of the child care bill. The House Ways and Means committee continued work this week to put together their version of a funding package for the initiative, which includes progressively increasing all corporate income tax bracket rates and personal income tax brackets.
House Democratic leaders continue to indicate that they plan to take up and pass PFML during the 2024 legislative session.
Governor Phil Scott vetoed S.5 on Thursday. The bill would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the thermal sector. S.5 would require importers of fossil heating fuels into Vermont to reduce pollution over time, in line with Global Warming Solutions Act requirements. To do so, fossil fuel importers will have to deliver or pay for cleaner heat options — mostly for lower and middle income Vermonters — and especially with solutions that cut costs over time, like weatherization, heat pumps, and advanced wood heat. The governor has vocally opposed S.5 throughout the legislative session and vetoed similar legislation in 2022. His veto was sustained by one vote last year but faces a more difficult test in 2023 with Democrats holding supermajorities in both the House and Senate. Democratic leaders are expected to hold a veto override vote before the legislature adjourns for the year.