Special Session Update — May 30

A special legislative session was convened last week upon the request of the Governor. In requesting the special session, the Governor signaled he would veto the budget and education finance bill, citing a failure to use one-time money to buy down property tax rates. The House met for a brief session on the 23rd. Because it was the start of a new session, parliamentary procedures had to be completed prior to any action. No bills were passed.

A very limited number of bills have been introduced for consideration in the special session — just 14 House bills were authored and introduced. The Speaker and Pro Tem agreed that the only bills that would be considered during the special session would be those that were agreed upon by Conferees of the House and Senate in the 2018 “normal” session. Thus, this limited subset of bills represent consensus positions that have already been vetted by both legislative chambers.

On Wednesday, May 30, the House met for the second day of the special session to begin taking up bills, including H.13, the State budget bill. The budget was moved out of the Appropriations Committee on a unanimous, nonpartisan vote. The strong vote appeared to signal that legislators of all parties were willing to craft a budget that was essentially identical to the one passed just weeks ago in the “normal” session. Indeed, H.13 achieved a unanimous committee vote by advancing all of the budget, with the exception of $35 million dollars that the Governor and legislative leaders have not been able to reach consensus on. In other words, we appeared poised to pass a budget, ensuring there would be no fiscal cliff on June 30, when the State fiscal year ends.

The House suspended rules and passed the following bills:

  • H.7 — An act relating to creating the Department of Liquor and Lottery and the Board of Liquor and Lottery
    • I voted yes to pass this bill, which authorizes the streamlining of the government entities that oversee liquor and lottery sales in the state. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote.
  • H.8 — An act relating to boards and commissions
    • I voted yes to pass this bill, which updated a variety of board and commission responsibilities, duties, and governance. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote.
  • S.2 — An act relating to regulating finance leases for credit card terminals
    • I voted yes to pass this bill, which proposed a number of consumer protection measures to clarify the responsibilities of lessors and lessees of  credit card terminals. The bill passed on a mixed voice vote.
  • S.3 — An act relating to sexual exploitation of students
    • I voted yes to pass this bill, which will update the processes by which we confront and address potential sexual abuse of students. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote.
  • H.9 — An act relating to the fair repair of consumer electronic devices
    • I voted yes to pass this bill, which proposes to create a task force to study the repair of consumer electronics, which have become increasingly difficult and costly to repair. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote.
  • H.10 — An act relating to transportation network companies
    • I voted yes to pass this bill, which proposes to require background checks, vehicle insurance, as proposed by NCOIL, and authorize a study to examine how traditional vehicle services and emerging companies, like Uber, fit into Vermont’s transportation infrastructure. The bill passed on a mixed voice vote.
  • S.1 — An act relating to co-payment limits for chiropractic care and physical therapy
    • I voted yes to pass this bill, which would direct the Agency of Human Services to create a process to bring chiropractic care copayment up to par with, or greater than, primary care copays. The bill passed on a mixed voice vote.

Finally, to expedite our work and conclude the special session, the House took up a motion to suspend the rules and pass bills through all stages of passage. All of the above bills received unanimous, nonpartisan rules suspensions to pass the bills and immediately advance them to the Senate. The House then took up a rules suspension to allow the House to take up H.13, the budget bill. Unlike the other bills, which the House united around in the interest of completing our work, a block of members refused to suspend the rules — the motion, which requires 2/3 of those present to succeed, failed on a vote of 82-52.

Functionally, this procedural outcome merely delays consideration of the budget until Friday, June 1. I believe that pushing our final budget negotiations into June, when they could have been largely resolved in May, is problematic. Vermont is known for its nonpartisan financial management. In recent years, we have seen more and more bluster around our revenue forecasting and budget projection process. Partisanship shouldn’t foreclose Democratic, Republican, Progressive, and Independent elected officials’ abilities to work together to reach consensus. To draw things out in a highstakes game of chicken is not the Vermont way. 

The House adjourned for the day, with a plan to return Friday. I am hopeful we end the standoff and finish the work our neighbors elected us to do.