The legislative session went into overtime last week with expectations that we would be able to not only finish a number of must-pass legislation, like the budget and revenue bills, the transportation bill and the clean water funding bill, but also two bills that were on the high priority list for Democrats: paid family leave and increasing the minimum wage.
One thing that’s true of every legislative session I’ve experienced is that when it ends, we can look at a lot of legislative accomplishments as well as some significant disappointments.
The inability to pass paid family leave and a path to a $15 minimum wage, two separate issues that became linked as they moved between the House and Senate, came down to a failure to agree between the two chambers. Both bills stalled in conference committees as the Senate refused to move on the House-passed family leave bill unless the House agreed to the faster schedule of minimum wage increases in the Senate bill. Attempts to reach a compromise agreement failed on Friday after House Speaker Johnson offered to the Senate negotiators a menu of six possible solutions that the House could accept. Even with a decision on Friday, the House would have had to come back the next week because the Republican caucus would not agree to suspend rules to allow immediate action on those bills. Without a positive response from the Senate, Johnson asked the Senate to send the budget and revenue bills, which had been agreed to in conference, back to the House for consideration. The House passed those bills as amended, and she asked for a motion to adjourn. Both bills will remain in conference and can be worked on over the summer to be taken up in January.
To end on a positive note, here’s a recap of some of the important legislation that did pass this year.
Broadband expansion. H.513 increases funding for the Connectivity Initiative and authorizes communication union districts and municipalities to form partnerships with pole-owning utilities to build fiber-optic networks in rural areas.
Workforce development. H.533 promotes training opportunities for small businesses and adult workforce development, creates weatherization training programs, decreases barriers for new Americans to enter the workforce and creates a program to encourage members of the Armed Forces separating from active duty to relocate to Vermont.
Child care. Included in the budget is $7.4M for child care assistance for both families and providers.
Weatherization. H.63 creates an all-fuels efficiency program to target low- and moderate-income households for weatherization assistance.
Transportation efficiency. Transportation bills H.529 and S.149 create a $1.2M incentive program for electric vehicle purchases and assistance for Vermonters to fix vehicles that fail emissions tests, allocates $500,000 for state fleet EV purchases, and provides money for EV charging stations and Park & Ride expansion.
Clean water. S.96 funds $50M for the clean water initiative.
Plastic bags. S.113 bans merchants from providing plastic bags at points of sale and also bans Styrofoam containers, plastic straws and plastic stirrers.
Tobacco. S.86, H.47 and H.26 combine to raise the age of buying tobacco products to 21, tax e-cigarettes and accessories at the same rate as tobacco, and prohibit internet sales of e-cigarettes.
Toxic chemicals. S.49 sets limits on PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water and monitoring standards for public water supplies. S.55 requires a business responsible for a release of toxic chemicals to pay for medical monitoring of exposed individuals.
Lead in schools. S.40 provides funds to test and remediate lead in school drinking water fixtures.
These are some of the major pieces of legislation that will stimulate economic development, help Vermonters reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to the health of Vermont children and families.