Message from Montpelier: June 29

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The one-day veto session last week ended the first year of this legislative biennium. Of the 690 bills introduced, 99 passed both the House and Senate. Topics of the bills ranged from the depth that a person can be buried to improvements in mental health services. The veto session dealt primarily with the three bills that the governor had vetoed: marijuana legalization, the budget and education funding rates.

As required by the Vermont Constitution, the House conducted override votes for the two vetoed bills originating from the House. The overrides failed. Vermont, at that point, had no budget bill and no bill setting the homestead property tax rate. As a result, power to the Statehouse was cut, and the lights went out. Votes have consequences.

Forty-five minutes later, during a lengthy explanation of the compromise contained in a replacement budget bill, power returned. A falling tree limb had brought down an electric cable.

The veto of both the budget and education funding bills was tied to teacher health care negotiations. The governor wanted negotiations conducted by the administration, setting a statewide agreement. The House and Senate resisted. The compromise uses potential health care savings to reduce the new property taxes rates and keep health care negotiations at the local level. Here’s how:

The state knows how much each district can save if employee health benefits are negotiated according to the criteria proposed by the governor. So, the state is reducing education fund payments to each district by a portion of that amount. If the district does not save the money through employee negotiations, it must find the savings elsewhere. Because the state is paying out less than would otherwise be required, it can collect less from property owners. The base statewide homestead property tax rate is lowered slightly. How that plays out in local tax rates will vary. The impact on Colchester’s school budget will not be known until mid-August.

The Senate did not override the governor’s veto of its marijuana legalization bill. Instead it employed a well-used legislative sleight-of-hand by replaced an existing House bill with legalization language said to be agreeable to the governor and sent it back to the House. The House didn’t buy it. Marijuana legalization will have to wait.

Somehow, at nearly 7 p.m., the House found itself debating the science of climate change. You never know what will happen when 150 politicians get tired and hungry. At close to 8 p.m., we adjourned until January 2018. Few were real happy with the compromises, but everyone was happy to go home.

For details regarding the bills that passed, see the session wrap-up page at my website CT4VT.com.