Taking quick breather before Legislature’s session ends

It’s town meeting, so the Legislature is off for the week. This is a good time for me to answer emails and phone calls. I try really hard to get back to people right away, but sometimes things fall through the cracks and for that I apologize. I’m going to spend the week making sure I’m all caught up.

I’m writing this the day before election day, so I don’t know how the school budget vote came out, so there’s nothing new or different happening on that front at the moment.

Last week, we passed the Budget Adjustment Act, also known as the BAA. This is the midfiscal-year bill that adjusts and balances the current budget, also known as the Big Bill, which is the last thing we pass at the end of the session in May.

The Budget Adjustment Act takes into account any unexpected circumstances over the past six months and also adjusts for money that wasn’t needed where we anticipated it would be. This year, a huge chunk of money (yes, that’s an official budgeting term) went to aid for communities affected by last year’s flooding: $23.5 million from the state general fund and $30 million required in matching funds to receive money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Last year, the Big Bill faced some resistance from lawmakers who were concerned about the state ending a motel and hotel program that provided housing for unhoused Vermonters. This time around, the Budget Adjustment Act includes an $80-per-night cap on payments to motel and hotel owners from the state. This will manage the expenses of the program and alleviate issues that arose last year from some owners charging more than they should have, and the state just paying those rates because they didn’t really have other options.

Though we’re off this week, there’s still a lot of work to be done behind the scenes. The two weeks we’re back lead up to crossover, which is the date on which all bills need to be out of their chamber — voted out of either the House or Senate — and sent over to the other. If a bill doesn’t make it out of a committee and onto the floor by then, it’s dead. (Unless it’s a committee bill, which is created by an entire committee and not just one person or group of people, or a town charter, which can be sent through at any time.)

This year is the second year of the biennium, which means that any bills that don’t make it through will have to be reintroduced in the next biennium. Some bills take years, and multiple bienniums, to pass, and some are reintroduced many times and never go any further.

One bill we’re anticipating from the Senate, S.55, tackles the future of open meeting laws and how town meetings will be held in the future. During COVID, exceptions were made to open meeting law requirements, particularly the ones relating to mandating a physical location of a meeting, because, if you remember, we weren’t allowed to go anywhere near each other. We extended those exceptions last year, but those temporary rules expire in July.

Charlotte has held an Australian ballot vote since those temporary laws were created. This year, again, there is no physical town meeting. Fun fact: Charlotte can’t hold an Australian ballot vote to decide if we want to switch from a town meeting voting format to Australian ballot voting format — the vote has to be held in the manner in which the town usually votes, which in Charlotte’s case is through a town meeting. So, there will be at least one more town meeting in our future. I’m sure the coming year will be full of debates and conversations about how to preserve this beloved tradition while getting the maximum number of voters to the ballot.

A hot topic in the Senate bill is whether towns should be required to hold hybrid meetings. I think it’s worked wonderfully in Charlotte. So many people can log in who normally wouldn’t have been able to due to health concerns, kids’ bedtimes, work or time constraints and many other reasons. It’s really increased participation and engagement, which is terrific. The hesitation to require it by law is that some towns don’t have reliable broadband access (we’re working on that, too) and that it will require towns to spend money they might not have. I hope that no matter how it turns out, we keep holding hybrid meetings.

Feel free to be in touch any time at 917-887-8231 or email. I’ll hold another constituent meeting in Charlotte in the near future and hope to head over to Hinesburg soon as well.