Final Reading: Lawmakers adjourn after delivering final bills to governor

Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, bangs the gavel as the Senate adjourns on May 29, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The final special Covid-19 budget session edition compiled by Kit Norton and Xander Landen.


The House and Senate adjourned Friday without scheduling a veto session.

That means that if the governor decides to strike down any legislation in the coming days, it will be dead, and lawmakers have no opportunity to reverse the governor’s veto pen in an override vote.

There are several bills that Scott may kill in the coming days. It is unlikely that he will sign S.119, one of the two police reform measures the Legislature passed Friday.

The Scott administration has also expressed reservations about the scaled-down Act 250 bill. And while the governor has signaled support for legislation sitting on his desk that would create a legal marketplace for marijuana, he hasn’t committed to signing it.

But the governor suggested Friday that he would be able to support the budget bill that’s heading to his desk.

“So far, so good. They have brought forward a lot of the initiatives that I had asked to be included.  There are some that didn’t get funded that I wanted, but that’s normal, that’s what we do every year, not everyone gets everything that they want,” the governor said midday Friday, noting that the legislation was still in flux. -XL


— After the Senate passed the budget bill Friday afternoon, the governor appeared on the virtual Senate floor via Zoom to address legislators. But Scott faced some technical difficulties — for about a minute his screen was frozen. And when he screen unfroze, he said that he couldn’t hear the senators or lieutenant governor speak.“I wish we'd had this technology back a long time ago, when I could mute all of you,” Scott said. “I would have no pushback at all.” - XL

— The House signed off on S.119, q proposal that outlines when and how Vermont police are justified in using deadly force. On Thursday, the Senate had approved the lower chamber’s version of the bill, but made a slight change, moving out the effective date from January 2021 to July 2021.

The change was made to give the Department of Public Safety more time to bring its police training protocols in line with the bill.

The House approved the bill, which it had originally passed on Tuesday, without debate Friday and sent it to the governor where its fate is uncertain. - KN

— The Senate approved another police reform measure Thursday,  S.124 — which updates and expands police training protocol.

That bill, which the House passed earlier in the week, includes a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology by police until approved by the General Assembly and requires the Vermont Criminal Justice Council to craft a statewide policy for the use of body cameras in the upcoming months.

If the legislation is enacted, Vermont would join only a handful of states and municipalities — including California and Somerville, Massachusetts — that prohibit police from using facial recognition technology.

Until an updated body camera policy is presented to the Legislature, the bill mandates that law enforcement agencies must use the justice council’s 2016 policy.

The legislation also ties compliance with race data collection of traffic stops by law enforcement agencies, as well as reporting incidents of death or serious bodily injury, to grant funding for police departments. - KN

— The House voted 93-57 to agree with the Senate on an abridged bill aimed at reforming Act 250, the state’s 50-year-old land use law.

Last week, the Democratic-controlled Senate approved the modest 10-page version of H.926 — cut down from a bill more than four times that size, which the lower chamber had passed in late February on a 88-52 vote.

After months of discussion in the Senate, interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, senators decided to narrow the focus to best management practices for trails and outdoor recreation, and to begin to address forest fragmentation and development patterns that break up natural habitat.

The bill now establishes new forest block and connecting habitat subcriteria in Act 250, with the goal of avoiding fragmentation of forests and reducing the breakup of any connecting habitat by development.

The trails section of the bill stipulates that trails and “interested parties” in creating trails can continue to operate through the end of December 2021 without an Act 250 review.

House Democrats shot down two Republican amendments to the proposal Friday.

“We have done so much work to find a compromise here and to lose it right at the end would be really disappointing after all of the hard work that’s been done,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington.

“I can reassure members that next year if I’m back in this position, Act 250 is something that is definitely going to be a priority and I think we have a lot more work to do,” she added.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, but the administration has already signaled the governor is unlikely to sign the proposal.

Earlier in the day on Friday, Scott said he was concerned about the meager Act 250 bill and that it leaves out key updates that are needed to the land use law. - KN

 Senate leader Tim Ashe said that while the Legislature’s focus has been on Covid-19 in the last six months, the Senate’s  accomplishments over the last few years have been “substantial.” He pointed to legislation the Senate has passed to increase the minimum wage, reform policing, secure long term funding for clean water initiatives and protect abortion rights in the state.“While we rightly focus on covid right now and the impacts it's having from a public health and an economic point of view, we have really a great body of work that we can point to in just the last few years. That's a real tribute to the people in the room,” Ashe said.

Ashe's remarks came as he exits the Senate and the Statehouse after 12 years, the last four as Senate pro tem. - XL

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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