Vermont’s legislative leadership has called off plans to reconvene this October due to substantial delays to President Biden’s federal infrastructure bill. The decision likely forecloses the possibility that the Legislature could seek to enact more stringent Covid-19 protocols this fall, as some Democrats have urged.
As the 2021 session wound down in May, lawmakers passed an adjournment resolution allowing the Legislature to return to the Statehouse in October in order to manage a flood of cash that was expected from the feds.
Now, though, the fate of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill remains in limbo ahead of a vote expected in the U.S. House next week. (An even larger $3.5 trillion spending plan is also on the rocks.)
“After monitoring the progress being made on the bill in Washington and the timeline for us, it’s clear that we do not need to come back in October,” said House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington.
Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, also expressed concern that reconvening with 180 members next month amid a surge of the Covid-19 Delta variant may be a “superspreader event waiting to happen.”
The continued wrangling over the infrastructure bill has further implications for the state, Krowinski said, as lawmakers are already spending federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act passed in March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If we knew we would be getting a certain amount of money for broadband or roads via [the infrastructure bill], we would be making different decisions about where we are putting ARPA money,” Krowinski said.
Balint said she would have hoped to use an October session to push through more stringent Covid-19 mitigation measures in the face of increasing infections in Vermont.
“Right now it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to not change what we’re doing given the amount of community spread,” Balint said.
She said it was urgent that the state adopt new Covid protocols and expressed frustration that legislators’ hands are tied outside of the formal legislative session.
But while Krowinski has joined Balint in criticizing Republican Gov. Phil Scott in recent weeks over his response to the pandemic, the speaker said her focus for an October session would be “strictly on the legislation happening at the federal level and whether we needed to take action to address some of the funding coming to this state.”
While the absence of federal infrastructure funds does not formally bar the Legislature from reconvening, Balint said, she feels going back without those funds would be dishonest given the terms of the adjournment resolution.
“It doesn’t instill faith in government, because then a legislature could just randomly pick dates to randomly come back in the building and do work that is not before each of the committees,” Balint said.
An adjournment resolution is the only authority the Legislature has to reconvene unless the governor were to call lawmakers back to session. But Krowinski and Balint said they aren’t holding their breath.
“I think that the governor is very happy to have us out of town,” Balint said.
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