The legislative session is over, but the work continues

You all may recall that I was the lead sponsor on an animal welfare bill, H.626, for most of the session. I actually got involved with it at the end of last session, so I put in about a year; I worked with a lot of other people, though, some who have been working on this concept for two decades.

It got stuck in the House appropriations committee and almost died, and then it was revived by a rule suspension a couple weeks later, which was exciting, but by the time it made its way through the various Senate committees who needed to hear it, I thought we were going to run out of time. I am not, it turns out, the woman of steel I thought I was — I have to admit I was definitely emotionally invested in the situation.

And then on the final day of the session, after back and forth for months and nervously picking off all of my nail polish and eating my emotions for a week in the form of Cheez-Its and chocolate chip cookies in the snack pile in Room 10, it made it through. So now the governor has to sign it (fingers crossed, it’s a really good bill) and then it’s done.

This is one bill out of a zillion. It wasn’t the most high-stakes in the building, it wasn’t the biggest priority for my caucus or anyone else’s caucus, and it still had a roller-coaster journey. This is the nature, apparently, of making laws, and of the last few weeks of a biennium.

We did pass a yield bill that makes an honest attempt to lower taxes, so the average property tax raise (this is average, not ours, just average around the state) will be about 13 percent. Ours will probably be a little lower, because once the common level of appraisal is figured out, we should come in under average. I do realize that this is still not okay. I think over the next couple years, hopefully by 2026, we will have a solid plan in place to address all the things that got us here in the first place.

We did find $25 million in the general fund budget to buy down property taxes for this year, which helped; we’ve done this in previous years, too. I think it was necessary this year to address the fact that all the Vermonters shouldn’t be paying for a mess that we created, but the reality is that we are paying for it, just in a lot of other ways. I hope to continue being part of this conversation with you all as we move forward, and will bring your thoughts and concerns to the people who are making these decisions.

We passed a budget that will come in not too much higher than the governor’s proposed budget; I’m assuming he’s going to veto the budget as well as the yield bill, and we’re due back in Montpelier mid-June for a veto session. I believe we have the votes needed (two thirds of both chambers) to override them, but it’s never a done deal until it happens.

H687 was the Act 250 bill that morphed into an Act 250/housing bill, which actually makes sense if you consider how intertwined development and conservation are — or at least should be. The bill seems a little frightening to us in our sort-of rural communities in Chittenden County with all the talk of developing in town and city centers. But the development zones created by this bill are only applicable if a town decides to create those zoning districts, and that’s a question Charlotte and Hinesburg will get to answer on their own. No one is forcing a town to add housing units or change their zoning or get municipal water and sewer; these are options if we want them, but it’s not mandatory.

It seems like within the greater context of the conversations both towns are currently having regarding development and village centers, this will provide both some reassurance for those who are worried about development in important environmental zones and allow an easier path for development in areas where it’s allowed. This seems to strike a good balance. I know here in Charlotte, some aren’t too keen on more housing, but those working on our Town Plan will have further guidance. Don’t worry — we’re not going to have an apartment complex springing up in the East Village.

I don’t mean this lightly: it was an honor and a privilege to serve in Montpelier representing all of you, and I’m so grateful that you put your trust in me. Thank you.

If anyone wants me to write about a specific bill or issue or something else that came out of the legislature this biennium, I’d love to hear from you at 917-887-8231.