Vermont Legislature to focus on housing, workforce, climate

The new Vermont Legislature is scheduled to begin work Wednesday and is expected to focus its...
The new Vermont Legislature is scheduled to begin work Wednesday and is expected to focus its attention on workforce development and alleviating the state's housing shortage. - File photo(WCAX)
Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 9:13 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The new Vermont Legislature, which is scheduled to begin work Wednesday, is expected to focus its attention on continuing to confront the state’s housing shortage, workforce development and climate change, said the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski, of Burlington, said she spent a lot of time during this year’s election cycle traveling around Vermont talking with voters to see what was on their minds.

“We ran on our accomplishments of last session, working on affordable housing, helping with child care and making it more affordable. We did a lot of work around workforce development and climate,” Krowinski said in an interview. “And so running on those issues was a real test to see if Vermonters liked what we were doing and supported, working on those issues. And the huge, resounding answer was yes.”

As part of that lawmakers worked to alleviate those issues with help from more than $1 billion in federal money from the American Rescue Plan to address those challenges, as well as economic development, water and sewer infrastructure and expanding broadband internet access into Vermont’s most underserved areas.

When lawmakers return on Wednesday, the Democratic party will have a veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate.

The 150-member House will have 104 Democrats, five Progressives, three independents and 38 Republicans. In the 30-member Senate, there will be 22 Democrats, one Progressive and seven Republicans. A two-thirds vote is needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

On Thursday, moderate Republican Gov. Phil Scott will be sworn in for a fourth term. While state voters gave the Democrats clear control of both chambers, they also voted for Scott with nearly 70% of the vote.

Over the years, Democratic lawmakers and Scott have clashed over priorities and the governor has vetoed a number of high-priority items, including a bill designed to move the state away from the use of fossil fuels to a reform of the state’s development control law.

In some cases, lawmakers were able to override the governor’s vetoes. Last year, lawmakers overrode vetoes of a pension reform bill and a separate piece of legislation designed to keep firearms out of hospitals and extending the waiting period for the purchase of firearms.

While the overwhelming Democratic advantages wouldn’t guarantee the Legislature could override gubernatorial vetoes, both sides are saying they hope to be able to work together to avoid veto showdowns.

In a statement, Scott said the results of the November election show Vermonters want balance.

“They want us to put partisanship aside and focus on delivering results,” Scott said. “I know there is often a lot of attention given to vetoes or areas of disagreement, but in truth, the vast majority of our work is collaborative and bipartisan.”

Krowinski said she hoped that the Democratic supermajority would make the governor more open to working with lawmakers to avoid veto showdowns.

“Over the years, we always are inviting him [to discuss the issues] and some of the time we don’t get his feedback until the very last minute,” she said. “What I am extending to him is an invitation to be at the table from day one to work together to find a solution.”

Both the governor and Krowinski say they share the same overriding goal of solving the challenges facing Vermont and the state’s residents.

Republican State Sen. Randy Brock, the leader of the seven members of the GOP in the Senate, said members of his party share the same goals on a number of issues, including alleviating the housing shortage and ensuring the broadband rollout goes as smoothly as possible.

“Honestly it’s going to be a difficult session in many ways because of the lack of a sufficient minority to be able to sustain gubernatorial vetoes,” he said.

“Our goal, of course, is to join with moderates of the other party and work on legislation that will be mutually beneficial to everyone,” Brock said.