Vt. lawmakers begin part 2 of unusual session

Published: Aug. 25, 2020 at 6:14 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers have returned to work to tackle the state budget and continue work on other coronavirus-related relief bills.

It was back to work for lawmakers Tuesday at the virtual statehouse in this very unusual second half of the session. “The budget, CRF [Coronavirus Relief Fund], and getting our economy back on track,” said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.

As lawmakers pour over the governor’s $1.6 billion spending plan, school funding is emerging as a top concern. The governor’s budget doesn’t contain any provisions for schools for personal protective equipment and school modifications. Scott says his first-quarter budget had about $50 million and federal cash has been pumped into school districts already.

"Obviously there could be more. I've heard that Congressional action could include more dollars, which could be much needed, but at this time we've created a budget that works," Scott said.

Also on the agenda is getting the final $200 million of CARES Act funds out the door. It's unclear if Congress will provide more aid, so the governor wants to spend upwards of $130 million on unemployment benefits, grants, tourism, and direct stimulus payments to support local businesses.

Democrats and Republicans are waiting for more details on how a $50 million proposal to shop local through gift cards would work, but they stressed the need for the money to stay in Vermont.

"If we were to put that pot of money in play, we want to make sure it goes into play in Vermont, not online purchases for Amazon or for any other online companies, but that the money stays in Vermont," said Rep. Michael Marcotte/R-Newport.

With four months to go before the end of the year, Democrats agree with the governor that now is the time to spend the remaining money. "I think it was prudent of us to hold onto that in June, so we could now take it and focus that CRF money on sectors of the economy and needs of Vermonters that have not been met," Johnson said.

Lawmakers are also looking to pass bills giving child care operations flexibility, and find a long-term funding solution for the Vermont State College System.

The Legislature is also still debating a bill creating a taxed and regulated market for marijuana, but a conference committee is still at odds over several key provisions like seatbelt requirements. Speaker Johnson says she believes the bill will pass this session, but it’s another matter on whether the governor will veto it.

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