What Vt. lawmakers got done and what could still be ahead in veto session

Published: May. 15, 2023 at 5:55 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - That’s a wrap on Vermont’s legislative session. The first year of the biennium ended Friday night, marked by dozens of new lawmakers and a new Democratic supermajority, and saw the passage of many Democratic priorities and record spending. But their work is far from over.

So what crossed the finish line? Massive reforms in child care, housing and home heating to name a few. The new Democratic supermajority saw clashes with the Republican governor and even some Democrats.

It was a productive legislative session in a wide range of issues, coming to a head with an $8.5 billion budget, funding new priorities in housing, climate change mitigation and child care subsidies.

“If you’re a parent out there, help is on the way. It was the House and Senate together that did that,” said Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Vt. Senate President Pro Tem.

The budget and its 13% increase in overall spending is almost certain to face a veto from Gov. Phil Scott.

“If we are taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another, it’s not making anything more affordable,” said Scott, R-Vermont.

In his closing remarks to lawmakers, Scott warned about the economic burden on people living on the economic edge.

“With high inflation and looming economic storm clouds on the horizon, Vermonters are nervous and are already overburdened enough,” the governor said.

An agreement on the issues but a disagreement on the solution.

“Governor Scott and Democrats in the Legislature each interpreted last year’s elections differently,” said Chris Graff, a longtime bureau chief with The Associated Press.

Graff says there were also splits within the Democratic supermajority and the priorities of the House and the Senate.

“Even though there’s a general thing about, ‘Oh, we have supermajorities in the House and Senate.’ Yes, but you have the House and Senate, and they have their own ideas,” he said.

A number of bills could face vetoes: a 72-hour waiting period on gun purchases, a bill to conserve up to half of Vermont’s land, the Transportation Bill which raises fees at the DMV, universal school meals and youth voting in Brattleboro are just some of the bills the governor has criticized.

There also remains a looming question about housing the homeless. Seventeen Democratic and Progressive lawmakers voted against the budget, objecting to the end of the voucher program which will put a couple of thousand people on the street.

Democratic budget writers say $10 million in new caseworkers paired with millions in housing and Medicaid reimbursement rates will transition Vermonters out of poverty.

“We believe in the essential balance between the long-term sustainability of Vermont and the citizens that these investments need to be made,” said Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes.

Dozens of bills, including the state budget, are on the way to Governor Scott.

In about a month, lawmakers will reconvene at the Statehouse for a veto session.

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