Leonine Public Affairs The Vermont legislature convened for the 2019 legislative session on Wednesday. The largest freshman class in more than half a century was sworn in. There are now effectively Democratic super-majorities in both the Senate and House. Democrats in the House now have the ability to override a gubernatorial veto with the help of either Progressive or Independent votes.
The question percolating in the State House is how this new dynamic will play out. Last year a budget disagreement between Republican Governor Phil Scott and Democratic legislative leaders extended the session by over a month to the end of June. While the governor ultimately allowed the budget to pass without his signature, he did veto 11 policy bills in 2018, tying the record for most ever. Those vetoes were sustained because Republicans held enough seats in the House to prevent a two-thirds override vote.
Now, the Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate have the ability to pursue their agenda without the governor’s support. It will be interesting to see how this affects the dynamic between the legislature and the governor. Will there be a more conciliatory approach by both sides? Or will lawmakers and the governor dig their heels in and if so will Democrats be able to whip up the votes to override?
For the most part the first week was ceremonial and organizational. Lawmakers received their committee assignments, statewide officials were sworn in and logistical issues like parking were addressed. There were two policy areas - both of which are likely to receive a lot of attention this year - that were considered in committee the first week. The Senate Judiciary Committee began the discussion around creating a retail market for cannabis and the Senate Education Committee began discussions on the continued implementation of the 2015 session’s controversial Act 46, which requires school districts to merge.
On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee discussed a draft of a retail cannabis regulation bill. The draft bill creates a retail cannabis market beginning in 2021 for adults over the age of 21. It also creates an independent commission called the Cannabis Control Board which would be charged with designing and implementing a program for licensing cannabis establishments. The bill allows for six types of licenses: cultivator, product manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, café, and testing laboratory. Additionally, the proposal moves the medical marijuana registry away from the Department of Public Safety and places it under the control of the Cannabis Control Board. It also creates a 10 percent excise tax on the retail sale of cannabis, a one percent local option tax on retail sales of cannabis, while exempting all cannabis and cannabis products from the six percent sales and use tax.
Source: Leonine Public Affairs, Montpelier, Legislative Report Week 1. January 11, 2019. leoninepublicaffairs.com. Through a special arrangement with Leonine, Vermont Business Magazine republishes Leonine's legislative report on vermontbiz.com.