Leonine: Lawmakers move important bills, wait and see for Scott


The House and Senate worked feverishly this week to meet Friday’s crossover deadline for money bills. Long floor sessions, committees scrambling to vote on bills and the narrowing of legislation slated to pass in 2023 gave week 11 a hint of the high octane home stretch of the legislative session. Spring-like weather and longer days added to the late session feel and Democratic priorities picked up steam as high profile legislation such as paid family and medical leave and a gun violence prevention bill hit the floor.

The week started with speculation as to whether Governor Phil Scott would sign H.145, the FY2023 Budget Adjustment Act. By Monday evening the governor’s office announced he had allowed H.145 to become law without his signature. Governor Scott had concerns about the spending levels in the bill, which exceeded his budget adjustment proposal but he ultimately decided to let the bill become law.

H.145 was an early salvo in the budget battles that are expected to define the legislative session. Democratic supermajorities that control the House and Senate are under pressure to pass a legislative agenda that has long been deemed just out of reach due to the governor’s veto pen. But now, with the two-thirds of the chamber needed to override the governor, Democrats are facing the opportunities and pitfalls that come with the bigger-ticket and more expensive items on their priority list.

Paid family and medical leave, universal childcare, universal school meals, environmental reform and gun safety legislation are all slated to advance. Paid family and medical leave and universal childcare in particular are expected to be the highest profile points of contention between the governor and legislature. Unlike partisan disagreements elsewhere in the nation, the governor and legislature both generally agree the State needs to invest in paid leave and childcare. They disagree on the structure of the programs and how to pay for them.

Democrats seem keenly aware they cannot take their supermajorities for granted, and have been meticulous in their approach to the timing and messaging around the major initiatives that are now coming to the floor. While outnumbered, the Republicans are looking to amplify concern over Democratic spending proposals - particularly those that raise taxes. They emphasize inflation and an uncertain economic outlook in an effort to give Democrats pause in hopes of peeling off potential override votes.

At a high level, week 11 gave anyone interested in Vermont politics the first taste of what is likely to be a contentious and high stakes 2023 legislative endgame. Next week the FY2024 budget and other major spending bills will be on the House floor while the Senate clears the remainder of their crossover bills. After that, the endgame begins.

On Tuesday a new Democratic House Member, Representative Melanie Carpenter, D-Hyde Park, was sworn in to replace former Representative Kate Donnally. Governor Scott appointed Carpenter to the Lamoille-2 House seat. She has been assigned to the vacancy on the House Healthcare Committee.


The House Appropriations Committee is expected to take a straw vote to give preliminary approval to the FY2024 budget bill on Friday afternoon. Earlier on Friday, the committee approved incorporating the items on this spreadsheet into the bill. The workforce development bill, H.484, that the House Commerce & Economic Development Committee advanced last week, will be amended slightly and also dropped into the budget bill. The House Appropriations Committee spent weeks pouring over testimony and crunching numbers to get to this point. The plan is that staff will draft the bill over the weekend. On Monday the committee will approve budget language along with any final tweaks to the numbers before voting on the final budget bill. The House is expected to hold a caucus of the whole on the budget bill next Wednesday. The bill will be up for action on the House floor next Thursday and Friday.


On Thursday the Vermont House gave final approval to H.230, a suicide prevention bill that would create a 72-hour waiting period for purchasing firearms, and require safe storage of firearms in certain instances. Multiple amendments to the bill offered by Republican House Members failed by a wide margin, and the bill finally passed on a voice vote. Governor Scott has indicated his intention to veto this bill. Whether or not the Democratic supermajority in the House can override his veto remains a question, although the margin of failure for the Republican amendments does indicate a strong position for House Democrats if they decide to override a potential veto on this bill.


A House Education committee bill to assist schools impacted by toxic chemical compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, met the crossover deadline and will soon head to the Senate for their consideration. H.486 would pause Vermont’s PCB testing program for six-months as the state sets up a program to administer aid to districts who are forced to undertake expensive remediation and construction due to PCB contamination.


On Thursday night, after nearly three hours of debate, the Vermont House approved H.66, a bill that would create a Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program administered by the Office of the Vermont Treasurer. H.66 would reimburse individuals 90 percent of their salary for up to 12 weeks of paid leave for multiple circumstances including when they or a family member fall ill or give birth to or adopt a child. The proposal also includes up to two weeks of bereavement leave. The program would be funded by a 0.55 percent payroll tax on wages, with employers required to cover at least 50 percent of the tax.

VermontBiz.com stories this week

House approves universal school meals bill
Senate passes bill to end cash bail for nonviolent misdemeanors
House passes family leave bill H.66, Scott sticks to own plan
House passes suicide prevention bill H230 to increase gun safety
Vermont House passes Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection bill (H126)
Senate passes S73 to help firefighters with workers comp cancer claims
Governor lets budget adjustment bill become law despite reservations

Source: Leonine Public Affairs, Montpelier, Legislative Report Week 11. March 17, 2023. leoninepublicaffairs.com.

Through a special arrangement with Leonine, Vermont Business Magazine republishes Leonine's legislative report on vermontbiz.com.