Gov. Phil Scott made it clear at an hour-long press conference Tuesday that he really, really doesn’t like the Senate Natural Resources Committee’s proposed changes to S.100, the Senate’s sweeping housing bill.
But he stopped short of threatening a veto, telling reporters that the bill still “has a long ways to go.”
“We can work with the Legislature on this. I think it's too early for me to threaten a veto on this,” Scott said. “I think that we need to make sure that we give legislators the ability to make changes.”
Still, the governor brought out the big guns for Tuesday’s presser, with backup from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, a representative of 11 Vermont regional planning commissions and a local developer, all of whom joined Scott in denouncing the committee’s move to pare down Act 250 reforms. (For the uninitiated: Act 250 is Vermont’s half-century-old land use law enacted in hopes of preserving the Green Mountain State’s pristine landscape, but ultimately having made new home construction a bear.)
Tuesday marked a noticeable vibe shift from earlier this month, when the Senate Economic Development Committee approved a version of S.100 that included beefy Act 250 reforms. It was a bill that, by Scott’s account, “we can all get behind.”
“Everyone was singing Kumbaya,” he said. Not so on Tuesday.
“We desperately need to make it easier to build homes in our state in the places that need it most. Many of the decades-old regulations we have in Vermont, at both the state and municipal level, were literally designed to have the opposite effect,” Scott said. “They were written at a time when Vermont was growing too fast and the goal was to stop building. Well, they were successful, given a majority of Vermont's housing stock was built before 1960. But now it’s 2023.”
— Sarah Mearhoff
IN THE KNOW
State and national youth health advocates want this to be the year that Vermont joins Massachusetts and California in banning the retail sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.
A Senate bill, S.18, would do that. This is the third legislative session in a row in which Health and Welfare Committee Chair Ginny Lyons and other supporters have tried to push the ban through.
“Right now, if you walk into any school, you are pretty much walking into an epidemic environment where kids are vaping flavors and then becoming the next generation of addicted adults,” Lyons said last week before her committee voted 3-2 along party lines to move the bill, with Democrats in support.
A hearing in the Senate Finance Committee with representatives from retail sellers is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, followed by a possible vote.
— Kristen Fountain
The Vermont Senate could soon vote on a series of reforms to the county sheriff system following a spate of scandals in departments around the state.
The Senate Government Operations Committee signed off last week on the bill, S.17, which has expanded in scope since it was introduced in January. It has since been sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee; from there, it would head to the floor.
The latest version notably seeks to reform how sheriffs personally profit from their department contracts. Under current law, sheriffs have the option of charging an overhead fee of up to 5% of a contract’s value, then adding that amount or a fraction of it to their own salaries. The rest is rolled into their department’s budget.
The legislation would still allow sheriffs’ departments to collect a 5% administration fee, but the money could no longer be used to augment a sheriff’s pay.
ON THE MOVE
Gov. Phil Scott will allow a wide-ranging spending package that extends emergency housing in hotels for unhoused Vermonters to pass into law without his signature, his office announced Monday.
The bill, H.145, sets almost $19 million aside to keep those currently in hotels there until May 31. After that, eligibility will narrow to people fleeing domestic violence, families with children, those aged 60 and over, pregnant people, people with disabilities, and certain households that recently lost their housing.
Though a veto was not widely expected, Scott’s decision to allow the spending deal to pass into law was not a given. House and Senate budget writers basically funded all of his proposals, but Scott had criticized lawmakers for wanting to spend more than initially contemplated by the administration.
— Lola Duffort
With one notable voice of opposition, the Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to S.36, which makes changes to the Vermont Rules of Criminal Procedure to address the rise in attacks and threats against health care workers.
“We took dozens of gut-wrenching testimonies from Vermont doctors and nurses who increasingly are being punched, kicked, spit on and bitten,” said Sen. David Weeks, R-Rutland, recommending the bill on behalf of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee.
Normally, a law enforcement officer must personally witness a misdemeanor level offense to be able to arrest someone for it, rather than write a citation. But there are already exceptions, including one when the misdemeanor involves domestic assault.
This bill would add offenses that involve assaulting or criminally threatening a health care worker in a health care facility to the list of exceptions, as well as a narrow kind of disorderly conduct: “engaging in fighting or in violent, tumultuous, or threatening behavior” that interferes with providing health care services in a health care facility.
It’s the latter change that gave pause to Sen. Tanya Vyhovsky, P/D-Chittenden Central, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill originated, and the measure’s lone “no” vote.
Though generally supportive of the bill’s intentions, Vyhovsky wrote in an email that disorderly conduct, even as narrowly defined, is “a very arbitrary and open to bias charge.” Its addition could keep people from seeking care for fear of arrest and might particularly impact people with dementia or a mental illness, she said.
— Kristen Fountain
Also today, the House unanimously approved H.171, which significantly overhauls the regulations surrounding the protection of vulnerable adults in Vermont.
In presenting the bill, Rep. Daniel Noyes, D-Wolcott, explained that the original framework for Vermont Adult Protective Services was implemented in 1979 when the majority of individuals with disabilities received care in institutions.
The changes would give the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living caseworkers an alternate path for addressing abuse or neglect. Currently, the only option is an investigation that would result in placement on the Adult Abuse Registry, an outcome that has little relevance for non-professional caregivers.
The bill also requires that victims and their needs and goals be put at the center of any response. “In the original statute, victims have no review or appeal rights,” Noyes told his colleagues. “In fact, alleged perpetrators and even reporters were afforded more rights than the victims.”
— Kristen Fountain
At least one state senator is questioning whether this year’s miscellaneous motor vehicle bill would give the state Agency of Transportation too long of a leash.
The bill, S.99, greenlights upgrades to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ systems and policies that are part of an ongoing “modernization project.”
One provision allows the DMV to “make reasonable changes” to its processes with only the approval of the Joint Transportation Oversight Committee — a group of six lawmakers, from both the House and Senate, who are responsible for overseeing transportation issues while the Legislature is not in session.
But on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Addison, said she did not support allowing the DMV to change its systems and policies without the full Legislature present, arguing that could set “a really troubling precedent” for other state agencies.
“I find that really problematic,” Hardy told her colleagues, going on to be the lone senator to vote against the bill when it received preliminary approval Tuesday.
— Shaun Robinson
ON THE FIFTH FLOOR
Earlier this month, Scott paid a visit to Boston’s elusive, exclusive Clover Club, which caters to Irishmen — and yes, I do mean IrishMEN. The club is allegedly for men only.
You’ll be shocked to hear the club has pretty much zero digital footprint, so to describe the club, I’ll refer you to a Beacon Hill Times column, circa 2009: “Who knew there was a Clover Club, filled with powerful and prestigious men who gather for dinner, poker, speakers, skits and other guy activities and don’t allow women into their ranks?”
Scott confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that he delivered a keynote address at a club gathering earlier this month, prompted by an invite from an involved, unnamed Vermonter. When I asked him about the appearance, he quipped, “I didn’t see you there.” I reminded the gov that I apparently wouldn’t have been allowed inside.
“With the remarks that I gave, I talked a lot about respect and civility and trying to treat people better and some of the problems of the world and the polarization we're seeing in politics and so forth,” Scott said. “So from my perspective, getting that message out to anyone who wants to listen is important these days.”
Back in 2009, Massachusetts’ former-Gov. Deval Patrick took some heat for snubbing a club invite after discovering its exclusion of women.
A dogged reporter, I asked the most Irish person I know, state Rep. and Man About Town Conor Casey: Is the Clover Club indeed still for men only? He confirmed that his pal, Boston-area Eric Maguire — who sounds like an authoritative source on this to me — “seems sure” that it is.
Asked if such gender exclusive social gatherings are kosher in the year 2023, Scott said, “I don’t think they would start anything like that today. It's kind of a tradition.” He pointed to Barre’s Mutuo, an Italian-American social club that has historically only allowed male membership. By the looks of its board of directors, that appears to remain the case.
“It's just part of the tradition. I know a lot of the wives of members of that who say, ‘Good. Thank you. Take him for a night,’” Scott said. “I don't think anything like that would happen these days and I respect their tradition.”
— Sarah Mearhoff
WHAT WE’RE READING
Equity organizations and lawmakers call on Legislature to strengthen school mascot law (VTDigger)
‘Just unfathomable’: Cat rescue community mourns loss of fatal fire victim (VTDigger)
What ‘heat’ means to a pig farmer (Vermont Public)
Vermont lawmakers to vote on public retirement measure (WCAX)
Vermont nonprofit founded by ice cream magnate Ben Cohen opposes U.S. support for Ukraine (VTDigger)
Betsy Pratt, former owner of Mad River Glen ski area, dies at 95 (VTDigger)
Vermont Afghans celebrate Nowruz, hope for a sweet future (VTDigger)
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