IN JAN. 30’S FINAL READING…
The problem with Gov. Phil Scott’s climate change philosophy, minimum wage bill passes the Senate, and the Statehouse evacuation — while very cold — ran smoothly.
THE TOP TAKE
As the Democratic/Progressive majorities in the House and Senate pursue ambitious climate action bills, Gov. Phil Scott has reiterated his opposition to dramatic new steps.
At a Thursday press conference — his first full presser since mid-December — Scott expressed a general unwillingness to accept major new initiatives on climate, including top legislative priorities like the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Transportation and Climate Initiative.
Instead, Scott focused on technological and market forces as the engines that will drive climate action. “Behavior is going to change. Competition, technology, everything’s going to change,” Scott said. “Within 20 years, most vehicles are going to be electric or hydrogen or something of that nature.”
Taking action now, he implied, could prove to be a waste of effort. Of course, his own initiatives could go the same way depending on how technology changes. If, in 20 years, most vehicles are hydrogen-powered, Vermont’s efforts to encourage EV-charging infrastructure will be a sunk cost.
Scott depicted the progress of climate action like a ski slope. Flat at first, then sloping gradually upward, then rising dramatically when social and technological changes hit. In that scenario, we can reach our long-term climate goals without significant short-term disruption.
There are two problems with that analysis. First, political leaders have been saying this for years and it hasn’t happened yet. And second, Scott ignores all the damage that continued emissions will cause before the slope heads upward. Environmental advocates would argue that we need to push the slope forward as much as possible.
Scott expressed particular opposition to a GWSA provision that would allow private citizens or groups to sue the state if it fails to meet its carbon emission goals. That, he said, could “take away resources from the climate initiatives themselves.”
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That may be. But as one reporter noted, it was a lawsuit by an environmental group plus a federal mandate that forced Vermont to take long-overdue action to clean up its waterways.
Scott acknowledged that the suit “jump-started the conversation,” but argued that a long deliberative process needed to happen in order to fashion the 20-year cleanup program Vermont has today. He prefers to pursue a similar course on climate, and feels no need to jump-start the process.
Scott’s position has a certain internal logic, but it rests on the assumption that we can afford to wait until new technology and market forces catch up to our climate challenges. Others would argue that that will be too little, too late. – John Walters
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
— The minimum wage bill passed the Senate in a veto-proof majority — 23 in favor, six against. Reflecting on the compromise bill hashed out in conference committee, Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, said it’s taken him four years to get minimum wage legislation to this point.
“Our lowest wage earners will be impacted. They will receive $121 million more in their paychecks,” Sirotkin said. “That’s important to people living at the edge.” – Grace Elletson
— University of Vermont Medical Center doctors in residence visited House Human Services to express their support for a bill that would allow contraceptives — including birth control — to be given to high school students, and another that would ban flavored tobacco products.
One statistic seemed to hit home with committee members: Vermont has the fourth highest rate of smoking among women who are pregnant. The hope among the physicians was that the flavored tobacco ban could help move Vermont down that ranking. – Grace Elletson
— Senate Education took testimony about a bill to require high schools to carry menstrual products in women’s and gender neutral bathrooms. Jeff Francis, executive director of the Superintendents Association, worried that it may be difficult to consistently restock the products.
Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, pushed back. “I can’t see there’s that much difference … I mean, we manage with toilet tissue,” he said. “School officials have known about this problem, they just don’t do anything about it because it has to do with women, not men.” – Grace Elletson
— Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition members visiting the Statehouse said money for their trust is often taken for other unrelated projects. Patricia Tedesco, a coordinator with the Vermont Center for Independent Living, said the coalition wants that to change.
The group is advocating to amend statutory language to ensure that dedicated money can only be used for housing and conservation work, allowing her organization “to get more folks off our waiting list of 50 names and help them remain in their homes to age in place.” – Grace Elletson
— A new report issued by Building Bright Futures shows that more children in Vermont are accessing mental health crisis services. In 2018, 227 students accessed these services. In 2019, that rose to 265.
The figures align with a rising need for children’s mental health services in the state since the 90’s. The report recommends adding funding to support services and making mobile response units available in communities to expand access to those services. – Grace Elletson
— Rebecca Kelley, the governor’s spokesperson, confirmed that Thursday’s “weekly” press conference with Gov. Phil Scott was the first full presser since mid-December, though he has been available to take questions from the reporters during a couple events.
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She pointed to Scott’s busy calendar for the inconsistency — holidays, big speeches, etc. — rather than any intentional effort to avoid the media. – John Walters
— The Statehouse evacuation test provided a mid afternoon adventure for some lawmakers. Those coming from the third floor committee rooms got to exit the building via the fire escape.
“Oooooh we get to take the fire escape!” someone yelled. State employees were ushered into the Pavilion, where they had to be officially accounted for. The ordeal lasted about 20 minutes. – Grace Elletson
Gov. Phil Scott held a press conference Thursday in his Statehouse office where he pushed a new workforce report and answered questions from reporters about recent news.
Grace Elletson caught up with VTDigger’s Xander Landen to hear what he thought was newsworthy in the conversation.
GE: What caught your interest from today’s press conference?
XL: Unsurprisingly, we saw the governor signal that he’s taking issue with some of the major priorities Democrats are taking up this year. The minimum wage bill would increase the minimum wage to $12.55 by 2022, but even though it’s a more modest increase, he’s still concerned that the rural economy can’t handle it. So I think he’s sending pretty clear signals, although he won’t say it outright, that he’s going to veto the bill.
GE: What else came up that caught your attention?
XL: He was also pretty resolute that a waiting period for firearm purchases is something that he won’t be able to support. It’s not really a surprise because he vetoed a 24-hour waiting period for handguns in 2019. But he’s once again saying that the state should let the gun restrictions put in place in 2018 have more time to play out before there are additional expansive measures put in place. And he also said that he’s unconvinced — when reporters brought up data showing that waiting periods can reduce suicide and homicide deaths — that a waiting period is right for Vermont.
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