Vt. Senate adjourns with unfinished business

Published: May. 29, 2019 at 5:31 PM EDT
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The 2019 legislative session ended with a whimper Wednesday after the Senate returned briefly to the Statehouse to officially adjourn. But the super-majority status Democrats enjoy in both chambers wasn't enough to tackle their top two priorities -- raising the minimum wage and creating a paid family and medical leave program.

It only took a few minutes to make it official. "The ayes have it and we are adjourned pursuant to the provisions of JRH6," said Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County, gaveling the Senate to adjournment.

Most senators were in the chamber Wednesday. That's after a failed effort by Ashe to pressure House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, into bringing House lawmakers back to keep working on paid leave and minimum wage after they adjourned Friday.

"I'm happy to be a punching bag or suffer any abuse when I know the Senate has done what it believes is right -- and what I believe is right -- and I think we have so much to stand on right now and be very proud of," Ashe said.

Democrats campaigned last year and won additional seats on the promise of higher wages and paid leave. But it all fell apart in the final days of the session as House and Senate negotiators worked feverishly on deals.

"I think it's more a matter of personality and style from what I can tell," said Dave Gram, a 34-year veteran Statehouse reporter and WDEV radio host. He says the Democrats' failure to achieve their main policy goals will be hard to explain. "It looks like, frankly, I think from just the public outside looking in, a bit of a face plant. But it is something that isn't really all that shocking for people who have been around the building a while."

After two years of learning how the other operates, Gram says the speaker may have had enough. "In some ways I think the speaker may have been putting down a marker for next year to say that in future years, you know, let's not make games out of this, let's just do our business and go home. That seems to be her approach," he said.

In his closing remarks to the Senate Wednesday Gov. Phil Scott sought to remind lawmakers of the many bills they did pass that he approves of. "I know the past week has been tough for some, but we all know, from time to time stuff like this happens. What we must not do is let the last week define the entire session," he said.

Both the House and Senate seem optimistic that they'll return in January, quickly resolve their differences and send bills to the governor. Whether or not the governor will sign them remains a mystery.