Politics

Final Reading: Are we there yet?

Fun Photo Friday: U.S. Sen Patrick Leahy photographs Glenn Russell photographing someone else photographing Sen. Leahy photographing Russell in the cafeteria at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

As I, your devoted Statehouse scribe, pen this newsletter, I am sitting by a window with the sun streaming through, watching Montpelierites enjoy a balmy 53 degree spring afternoon.

As much as I enjoy lurking around the Capitol halls and visiting my best pal Chef Bryant in the caf, I admit I am excited for the legislative session to wind down. And it looks like I’m not alone: Chiefs of staff for both the House and Senate said Friday that lawmakers are aiming to wrap up their work by May 6.

There are some early signs: The Senate’s morning committees are set to tie up their loose ends and cease regular meetings as soon as next week, in order to make room in the schedule for budget conference committees.

And of course, there’s the budget, versions of which have passed both the House and Senate and are now heading into conference. Earlier this week, Senate Appropriations chair Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, was asked at a news conference whether the Legislature’s progress on the state’s $8 billion budget was running ahead of schedule, and she answered affirmatively. 

Some more tea leaves to decipher: On Friday morning, Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, tweeted that her office is “powered by show tunes” these days, specifically Barbara Streisand, “in the final weeks of the legislative session.”

Don’t tease me!

I’ll end this optimistic post with a plea to our dedicated public servants: Please don’t ruin this for everyone, OK?

— Sarah Mearhoff


IN THE KNOW

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden wants another crack at S.285. The bill emerged from the Senate with a concrete mandate to give the Green Mountain Care Board the power to determine hospital budgets. But members of the House Committee on Health rewrote the bill

The House committee’s version is a set of guidelines and suggestions for advancing Vermont’s all-payer model. The bill now directs the Agency of Human Services and the care board to work together on a new proposal that may, but not necessarily, include the budget-setting authority the board wanted.

S.285 is headed for reconciliation, and Lyons said she’d like to see a version that reflects the original intent of the bill.

“My inclination is to strengthen the bill so that the work can go forward and actually do something and not just report back,” she said on Friday. “We’ve had enough reporting in this area.”

— Liora Engel-Smith

Good news: your online shopping habit is keeping the Education Fund strong. The latest numbers are in, and receipts for the state’s General Fund, Transportation Fund and Education Fund in March were a combined $239.9 million — or 8.9% — above upwardly revised monthly consensus expectations. 

Corporate taxes and meals and rooms taxes are mostly to thank for the General Fund’s healthy bottom line. On the Education Fund side of the ledger, household consumption — particularly with e-commerce — continues to buoy the fund.

“Combined revenues in March more than made up for the slight dip in February and, despite

all the uncertainty in the economy and in world affairs, Vermont enters the final quarter of the fiscal year in good shape from a revenue standpoint,” Secretary of Administration Kristin Clouser said in a statement.

— Lola Duffort


ON THE MOVE

The Senate on Friday greenlit the Legislature’s annual transportation bill, H.736, by a 29-0 vote. The bill is set to leverage the federal government’s historic allocations to Vermont, investing millions into the state’s infrastructure, public transit, roads and bridges, plus incentives for Vermonters to go electric.

Among the bill’s major supporters is apparently Balint’s son, who, she told her colleagues on the floor, “​​is so obsessed with the state of our bridges in this state” (smart kid).

“Every day, he gives me the report on where he's been traveling on the way home from school, and under what bridges and what conditions they're in,” she said. “And so I'm going to be able to say to him today, ‘Yes, we passed some good laws today, and they are going to repair those bridges you are so concerned about.’”

The Senate sped through all stages of the bill’s passage on Friday. Next it’s off to the House for concurrence, then its final destination: Gov. Phil Scott’s desk.

— Sarah Mearhoff

What started as a bill that would have banished the legal defense of qualified immunity for police officers in Vermont has been gutted. Now, the bill only authorizes a study of the issue.

In the weeks since it left the Senate’s grasp, the House cut out even the Zullo language, then sent it back to the Senate for concurrence. On Friday, the Senate approved the changes and tacked on an amendment via voice vote.

If the Senate’s first version was watered-down, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, told his colleagues on the floor Friday, this latest iteration is “flooded.”

— Sarah Mearhoff


Masks are once again required in Statehouse committee rooms after the CDC on Thursday designated Washington County as having “high” Covid-19 community levels. The designation will carry over until the CDC map is updated again next Thursday. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

COVID CORNER

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed Washington County back on the list of counties with “high” Covid-19 community levels on Thursday. Bennington County made the list as well.

Washington County had been in the high category in mid-March, prompting the Washington Central Unified Union School District to briefly reinstate masking in schools despite a state recommendation to end mask mandates.

The CDC said seven other counties — Essex, Orleans, Franklin, Grand Isle, Chittenden, Orange and Windsor — had “medium” levels of Covid-19, while the rest of Vermont was rated as “low.” 

Read more here.

— ​​Erin Petenko


WHAT WE’RE READING

While Vermont hunters search for turkeys, scientists prowl for ticks (VTDigger)

Vermont Conversation: New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer on how dark money fuels right-wing extremism (VTDigger)
Vermont prosecutors rarely have secured hate crime convictions. A recent legislative change might make it easier (VPR)

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is a political reporter for VTDigger, covering Vermont state government, the congressional delegation and elections. She previously covered education for Digger, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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