Vermont virtual legislative session to adjourn Friday

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) With little fanfare or evidence of activity at the Statehouse, Friday will mark the last day of Vermont's first online legislative session, although lawmakers will be back in a few weeks to revisit the budget and COVID-19 response efforts.

Lawmakers have been working overtime to pass bills, allocate federal CARES Act funds, and a approve a partial $3.3 billion budget plan. They're taking it one quarter at a time because no one knows the true financial impact of the pandemic on state coffers.
State economists will take the next few weeks to study the impact of COVID-19 before lawmakers complete the FY21 budget.

Lawmakers are also putting the finishing touches on getting $1.25 billion in CARES Act cash out the door. They're moving the last of some $600 million of health care relief, small business grants, hazard pay, and farm relief.

Other policy priorities are also getting attention. The Senate Thursday approved the Global Warming Solutions Act by a vote of 22 to 6. The measure forces the state to meet strict carbon emission reduction targets or face legal consequences. Governor Scott says he's still concerned with the potential financial impact on the state, but admits that with Democrats holding a supermajority, his veto pen can only go so far.

"We have to play the cards we're dealt, but it doesn't prevent me from taking action or vetoing something that I don't think is in the best interest of Vermont. I'll continue to do that if I think it's necessary, but I have to accept reality at the same time," Scott said Friday.

Lawmakers Friday evening were still debating several key bills including one that would make body cameras mandatory for state police and would ban the use of chokeholds.

Lawmakers on Thursday also passed a controversial provision that raises their pay. It would link pay increases to other statewide office holders such as the governor or secretary of state. Opponents says this isn't the time to do it, especially in the middle of a pandemic when thousands of people are still unemployed. But supporters say it's long overdue and that many younger lawmakers are barely staying afloat with the $700 weekly stipend they receive.