It is only the second week of the 2019 legislative session but lawmakers, the administration and other statewide officials have already hit the ground running with a flurry of committee activity, press conferences and bill introductions. The first week or two of the legislative session is often light on political activity, particularly the first year of the biennium, with committees getting organized and receiving updates from the various agencies and departments they oversee. That is not the case this year as a sense of urgency on a number of issues and the political jockeying that accompanies this urgency is already in full swing. This is likely because many of the issues are holdovers from previous contentious political debates.
On Wednesday Governor Phil Scott held a joint press conference with neighboring Republican Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire to announce a voluntary bi-state paid family leave program. Paid family leave has long been a point of contention between Republican Governor Scott and Democratic leaders in the legislature, and Governor Scott’s announcement was an attempt to get out in front on the issue. Within 24 hours of the governor’s press conference Democratic leadership announced their opposition to the Governor’s proposal and said they would introduce legislation to implement a mandatory program.
Another issue that has generated a lot of public conversation in the statehouse is the forced mergers of school districts under Act 46. A group of tri-partisan House members held a press conference Thursday calling for a delay in the implementation of the forced mergers until multiple lawsuits brought by the affected districts are settled in the courts. More on this later.
The press conference on Act 46 was one of a flurry of media events on Thursday, which included an an announcement by Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan on multiple legal settlements with out-of-state companies that have netted Vermont about $3 million. In a separate press event legislative leadership provided an update on the effects of the federal government shutdown on the state.
The discussion around a retail market for cannabis continued as well, with the representatives of the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission providing the Senate Judiciary Committee with an overview of their report. A major issue that needs to be considered is what bordering states in New England are already doing. More on this later.
Finally, it is worth noting a bill was introduced that would change the state’s largest senatorial district. S.11 would limit senatorial districts to three members. The only district this would affect is Chittenden County, which currently includes six senators. The bill is co-sponsored by Senate President Pro-Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, Senator Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden and Senator Joe Benning, R-Caledonia. If this bill were to go into effect, it would impact the redistricting process that will occur during the 2020-2021 biennium.
To sum it up, if the first seven days of the 2019 legislature are any indication, it is going to be a busy year.