We’re in the final weeks of this legislative session, and that involves lots of votes on the House floor, as well as a lot of waiting for conference committees to work out differences between the Senate and House versions of bills.
• Forced school merger delay: H.39, the bill that would allow a one-year delay for school districts facing forced mergers ordered by the State Board of Education, was passed by both the House and Senate, but with some significant differences.
As has been reported in the news, the conference committee has been unable to work out the differences and the process has stalled, at least for now as I write this. The schools in all four towns in the Lamoille-Washington House district are faced with three separate forced merger orders. Although some school directors I have heard from would rather not have a delay and would like to get on with it and end the local controversies, others feel strongly that they need more time to do it right.
I am frustrated by the lack of progress in the conference committee process and hope that some acceptable compromise can be reached before the session ends.
• Minimum wage: The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee has finished its work on S.23, the bill raising the minimum wage, which passed the Senate earlier this session. The committee is proposing changes in the bill that address some of the pressures that raising the minimum wage would have on the state budget. There is still review needed by other committees, but as I said in a previous report, I do intend to vote for the bill when it reached the House floor.
• Constitutional amendment regarding reproductive rights: In early April, the Senate passed a resolution (PR.5) on a 28-2 vote that would amend the Vermont Constitution to guarantee reproductive rights and to protect current rights regarding abortion. The House Human Services Committee has voted to recommend adoption of PR.5, so this will be coming to the House floor soon. If the House votes in favor, the amendment process requires that both the Senate and House vote on the resolution again in the next biennium (2021-22), after which, assuming approval, it goes to Vermont’s voters. The earliest this proposed amendment would take effect would be Election Day in 2022.
• Energy and Technology Committee, broadband and climate change: Broadband expansion to unserved and underserved parts of Vermont was the major focus of our committee’s work in the first half of the session, and the House approved our committee’s bill, H.513, overwhelmingly. It is now in the Senate, and I hope it will see final passage this year.
As I have noted in earlier reports, internet is basically unregulated at the federal level, and federal law also prohibits states from regulating it. The theory is that “the market” and competing types of providers will bring high-speed service to everyone. That obviously does not work in rural areas, and it is unfortunate that the federal government won’t, and that the state of Vermont can’t, require that every Vermonter have access to broadband. Our bill would keep making real but incremental progress however, in getting service to the last mile.
The bill that would do the most to address climate change, in my opinion, is H.462, the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act. Our committee has taken some testimony on it. In summary, it would take the ambitious carbon reduction “goals” the Legislature established some time ago, and instead say that they are requirements and state government needs to take specific actions, including establishing rules and regulations, to actually meet those requirements.
This bill will need some in-depth study and discussion, as it has implications for state government and all Vermonters individually. But we are not coming close to meeting those goals, and I do believe we have an obligation to take meaningful and measurable steps to change our sources of energy and how much energy we use. I support the basic concept of the bill and hope to see the Legislature act on it in the second year of the biennium.
Contact me with comments, concerns and questions, or to receive these reports by email. Email: email@example.com; mail: 139 West Hill Road, Worcester, VT 05682.
Rep. Avram Patt, a Democrat from Worcester, also represents Morristown, Elmore and Woodbury in the Vermont House of Representatives.