No time for lollygagging in the Statehouse this year

We’re back in the Statehouse, and unlike last year, which started with a lot of ceremonies and traditions, trainings and figuring out where to get a turkey sandwich, we got right down to business. With a veto override under our belts already, a fairly grim State of the State address from the governor, and some bills up for a vote this week, we’re making the most of the time left in the biennium over here in the House of Representatives.

(For those who aren’t sure what a biennium is: We serve two years per term in the House and Senate. A two-year period is called a biennium.)

At the end of the 2023 session, Gov. Scott vetoed what’s known as the Bottle Bill, which increases the types of beverage containers that are eligible for a 5-cent deposit, and adds a 15-cent deposit for wine bottles (okay, that’s good to know), which we hope will incentivize people to recycle and redeem these containers.

Opponents to the bill are concerned that it will increase costs for consumers when they pay for trash and recycling services, thinking it will decrease the amount those services get from recycling deposits. The Senate still has to vote for the override, and it’s not a sure thing. Our senator Thomas Chittenden opposes the bill and has indicated he won’t vote for it. We’ll see in the coming weeks.

Yellow Mustard in Montpelier makes an excellent turkey sandwich, as does the Statehouse cafeteria.
Over the next couple weeks in the House, we’ll see a vote on an overdose prevention-center bill. It will establish two sites where drug use can occur without legal penalties. I know, this seems illogical and dangerous and enabling to some people. But the hard facts are that drug use is steadily increasing in Vermont; the pervasive presence of fentanyl has led to historically high overdose deaths; and we have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable. This includes people who suffer from addictions. Data also shows that social contact and support often results in drug users pursuing recovery, so for me, increased recovery rates and decreased overdose deaths is a win.

In his State of the State address, the governor mentioned several times that property taxes “would” increase if this or that happened, and that we “could” see our taxes go up a “possible” 18 percent. While I admire his commitment to that number, I don’t think we should be scaring people with figures that aren’t borne out in reality and that are based on a worst-case scenario. I’ve written about it before so I’ll leave it at that, but I do hear from people a lot about their concerns that they won’t be able to stay in their homes, that they will have to leave Charlotte or Hinesburg or Vermont, and that their families will suffer if our taxes increase by that amount.

These fears are real, and they’re valid, and I assure you, I’ve got my eye on the money. I’m not on a committee that deals with budgets or taxes directly, but almost every bill that comes through this room is going to cost something, and I’m keenly conscious of the need to make sure that we’re not creating an unreasonable demand to pay for everything at the expense of taxpayers’ ability to care for their families.

In my committee, we’re delving into once again fine-tuning cannabis laws this week. If anyone wants to check in with me about it, we’re hearing from the Cannabis Control Board and some others on Friday, so let me know and if we get even anywhere close to a topic that concerns you, I can ask some questions.

Finally, I’ve had multiple inquiries about my position on the Charlotte town manager or town administrator question. While I’m really leaning into this role of sharing my opinion about everything with everyone, I feel like I can’t share my point of view on that question. Should the town vote to move to a town manager, I will have to present a town charter to my committee, the Senate Government Operations Committee, and it will eventually go to the House and Senate as a whole. I think my responsibility in this case is to stay neutral so I can best represent you all in the legislature if the need arises.

Please be in touch by phone or text at 917-887-8231 any time, or email me. If you’re going to be in Montpelier or the Statehouse, please let me know and we can say hi or I can help you get set up with a tour or visit to the chambers.