Leonine: Budget Adjustment, Family Leave, PCBs, Legislator steps down

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS

Leonine Public Affairs Policy committees in the House worked diligently this week to finalize their spending recommendations for the FY2023 Budget Adjustment Act (BAA). Each committee sent a letter to the House Appropriations committee outlining their BAA priorities. Many of these recommendations are in response to Governor Phil Scott’s proposals. Some are new proposals offered by policy committees in the House.

As of this writing on Friday afternoon, the House Appropriations committee is nearing initial approval of their version of the BAA. The goal is to hold a straw poll at some point today and vote the bill out of committee early next week. This would set up a floor debate in the House later next week, and final passage in the House by the end of the week.

The relatively quick speed at which the BAA is moving is an interesting contrast to the tempo elsewhere in the legislature. With historic turnover in both the House and Senate many legislative committees have spent the better part of the first four weeks acclimating to their areas of jurisdiction, holding introductory hearings with administration officials and stakeholders from the private sector and getting updates on legislative reports that were commissioned last year.

Once the BAA passes the House, it heads to the Senate Appropriations committee. Next week the work will begin in earnest in the House on the FY2024 budget.

PAID FAMILY LEAVE & CHILD CARE

The interaction between two major policy priorities for Democratic leadership in the legislature remains unclear as the session approaches February. Universal paid family leave and universal child care are both top priorities for Democrats and Progressives in the statehouse. While both of these policies appear to be popular in the legislature, raising the revenue to pay for either of them presents challenges, and even more so when done together. Republican Governor Phil Scott has signaled that he will not support any plan that raises taxes. Discussion on these issues is expected to heat up as the session continues.

PCBs

On Wednesday, the Senate Education committee heard from the state directors for U.S. Senators Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders about the status of federal funding for schools impacted by toxic chemical compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Vermont Senate Education Vice-Chair Martine Gulick (D-Chittenden Central) kicked off the discussion by giving the committee an overview of the history of PCBs in her local school district. The former Burlington High School campus shut down in August 2020 after crews found high levels of PCBs in several buildings. Rebecca Ellis from Welch’s office and Kathryn Van Haste from Sanders’ office gave their overview of congressional work to secure PCB funding for schools across the state. There had been funding to help schools in an early draft of the federal infrastructure bill, but the final version didn’t include it. It’s clear that Vermont elected officials at the local, state and federal levels recognize that this is a crisis of epic proportions, not just in Burlington or in Vermont, but across the country. Vermont Senate Education Chair Brian Campion (D-Bennington) ended the meeting with a request that the federal delegation work with their counterparts in other New England states to speak with one voice and secure much needed funding for school districts that are still struggling in the aftermath of this toxic chemical.

Rep. Donnally Announces Departure

Second-term Representative Kate Donnally (D-Hyde Park) announced on Thursday that she would be stepping down, effective today (Friday). She made the announcement in a column she regularly pens for the News & Citizen. In it she said: “Another truth is that this work became an impossible juggling act. One of the strengths that I brought to this role was the many hats that I wear in my life. Ironically, the Legislature, as it is currently designed, does not allow you to sustainably wear a multitude of hats. It asks you to forgo money, stability of schedule, accessibility to family and more with little regard to the mental, emotional, and familial toll that these demands require.” This is a common sentiment among many lawmakers who say that raising legislative pay would diversify the pool of Vermonters who would be willing and able to serve. Governor Scott will appoint a new member to fill this vacancy in the coming weeks, traditionally picking someone from a list of candidates put forward by the local political party affiliated with the outgoing lawmaker.

Leonine Public Affairs' Government Affairs Team
Clare Buckley Nick Sherman Chuck Storrow Dylan Zwicky Maggie Lenz

Leonine Public Affairs, 1 Blanchard Court, Montpelier, VT 05602

Source: Leonine Public Affairs, Montpelier, Legislative Report Week 3. Jan 20 2023. leoninepublicaffairs.com.

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