HERE WE GO!
Legislators returned to the Vermont statehouse on Wednesday, January 3 to kick off the 2024 legislative session. The second year of the biennium is always a fast start, but 2024 felt particularly busy out of the gate. This is because legislators and the Governor Phil Scott are eager to address critical issues like flood recovery – and because tensions between the Republican governor and the Democratic supermajority continue to simmer.
Governor Scott delivered his eighth State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature on Thursday. In his speech, the governor highlighted what he views as the top issues facing Vermont: public safety, affordability and housing. He drew parallels with the current challenges Vermonters are facing as a result of the 2023 flood events and the state’s recovery from the flood of 1927. The governor addressed demographic changes in Vermont, including declines in school and working-age populations and an increase in older Vermonters, noting that these shifts have impacted education costs, tax revenues and healthcare demands. The governor addressed rising crime rates and the challenges with repeat offenders, emphasizing the need to rethink some justice reform efforts adopted by the legislature in recent years. He also stressed fiscal discipline, especially in light of declining COVID-19 federal funds, and emphasized the magnitude of Vermont’s housing crisis, calling for new housing units and regulatory reforms to spur development. Woven in throughout his address were criticisms of the Democratic supermajority in the legislature, attributing many of the state’s challenges to their policies.
Democratic leaders in the legislature reacted critically to the governor’s State of the State address. They rebuked Governor Scott’s framing, particularly his implication that the state’s issues were mainly due to the legislature rather than his administration. Democratic leadership also found the governor’s portrayal of the state’s fiscal situation overly dire, while acknowledging there are real budget challenges ahead.
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.
On the first day back, Vermont House members, led by Representatives Peter Anthony (D-Barre City), Conor Casey (D-Montpelier), Kate McCann (D-Montpelier) and Jonathan Williams (D-Barre City) rallied dozens of Vermonters at the statehouse steps in support of a new $85 million omnibus flood relief bill they have introduced. This legislation comes as a response to the severe floods that hit the state last July, and then again in December, causing extensive damage to businesses and displacement of residents.
The bill aims to provide substantial financial assistance for businesses and families who are still rebuilding, and to replenish city and town budgets severely impacted by the floods. Emphasizing the importance of the bill, Representative Casey highlighted the dire need for funding, stating that the cost of inaction would be far greater. The legislation not only focuses on immediate recovery needs but also stresses the importance of flood prevention measures to safeguard against future disasters.
The revelation that Vermont’s schools will require an estimated minimum of $6.3 billion for construction and renovation over the next 21 years was presented by the Agency of Education to the House Committee on Education. Committee chair Peter Conlon (D-Cornwall) indicated that addressing school construction needs will be a top priority. A report from the school construction aid task force is expected by February 1, offering recommendations for prioritizing and funding these crucial projects.