More Vt. bills signed into law as lawmakers look back on session
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Some Vermont lawmakers are feeling proud over what they’re calling accomplishments made during the legislative session, and on Tuesday, Governor Phil Scott signed more bills into law.
Lawmakers say the past two years were defined by the pandemic and the immediate emergency response. In it, they were able to leverage federal funds for housing, the workforce, and tax relief.
“We are so proud of these investments in areas that are important to Vermont families,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham County.
The investments include a sweeping tax credit for parents with kids under five, $90 million in housing across the income spectrum, ethics rules for elected officials, investments in weatherization and electric vehicles, mental health support for kids, and grants for in-school and afterschool counseling support.
“So that our kids can recover from the very tragic needs they have as a result of the pandemic,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden County.
There were also big initiatives that never made it over the finish line including an expansion of the bottle bill, a $15 minimum wage hike, and the centerpiece of the state’s climate action plan -- the clean heat standard.
“It has great merit. It has the ability to help people control costs while also addressing the climate crisis which is already on us,” said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison County.
“There may have been ways that I may have done differently, but by and large, I think we came together and made a lot of progress,” said Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock, R-Franklin County.
Republicans agree investments made this session were historic, especially in Vermont’s business sector and workforce training. But Brock says not enough was done to grow the state’s population to address the workforce crisis. He wanted to see more investments in Vermont’s employee relocation program and more tax breaks for military retirees. “Imagine you’re out fishing on a pond and you have the best tackle and the best rod in the world, but there are no fish in the pond. You’re not going to catch anything. We need to catch more fish,” Brock said.
The end of the session will also bring a sea change of new leaders. A third of the Senate is also stepping back or is seeking higher office. Ninety years of combined experience and institutional knowledge won’t return.
“This change has enormous potential new people, new ideas, new energy,” said Sen. Cheryl Hooker, D/P-Rutland County.
The turnover in the Senate is in addition to dozens of lawmakers in the House that are also stepping back.
Right now, we don’t know what the dynamic in the Statehouse will look like. The August primaries will give us a better idea.
Gov. Phil Scott signed several bills into law Tuesday:
SCHOOL MASCOT BILL
Governor Scott signed off on a non-discriminatory school branding bill. It stops schools from using a name, symbol, or image that refers to a racial or ethnic group, individual, custom, or tradition.
Under the new law, the education secretary would create a model policy on mascots by august.
Then, school boards with questionable mascots would develop their own policies with branding that is in compliance with the state.
UNIVERSAL SCHOOL MEALS
Vermont parents won’t have to pack meals for students next year. The universal school meals bill will give kids free breakfast and lunch regardless of their parent’s income. It carves out $29 million to extend a federal program that allows free meals for all students, regardless of need, but it’s only a one-year extension.
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE BILL
The bill requires the state of Vermont and state agencies to incorporate environmental justice into their work. An advisory board will be created to advise the state on environmental issues. It also requires the creation of an environmental justice mapping tool.
CIVIL ARRESTS AT COURTHOUSES
The governor also signed a law prohibiting civil arrests at courthouses. The bill bans immigration officials from arresting undocumented Vermonters outside of or on their way to a courthouse.
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