Vermont’s governor has signed a number of bills into law over the past week and a half, including measures on energy efficiency, the minimum wage and tasers.
The bill-signing bonanza by Governor Peter Shumlin over the past week and a half has included approval of the state transportation bill containing one of the largest infrastructure investments in state history. On Wednesday, a bill designed to determine if state programs are working as intended was signed into law. The governor also signed an energy efficiency measure that promotes clean heating technologies and adds incentives for the use of cold climate heat and geothermal pump technology.
On Tuesday, Shumlin put pen to paper requiring additional police training before taser use. He also signed the Vermont Chemical Reform Bill, which allows state health officials to regulate or ban toxic materials in children’s products. On Monday, the governor approved, despite his initial reservations, an increase in the state's minimum wage in steps to $10.50 by 2018. On Thursday, he signed a ban on the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving.
Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis says it’s not unusual to see a flood of bills following the end of the biennium session. “The legislature often does more work in the last two weeks of the two year biennium than the previous part of the session combined. So there were lots of bills that were passed in the final two weeks. And it takes about a month or six weeks after the legislature adjourns for those bills to be put into final legal language, for the legal staff in the governor’s office to review them for any issues and then send them on to his desk for his signature. So what we see this year is typical of the period about a month to a month and a half after the end of the second year of the session.”
Davis believes three of the recently signed bills will have the most influence on Vermonters. “The first is the increase in the minimum wage. It will be a series of staged increases over the next four years. There are a fair number of Vermonters whose wages are either at the minimum wage or only slightly above the minimum wage who will see an increase in their wages as a result of this bill. The second one would be the bill prohibiting the use of a handheld electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. And then the final bill is the state’s transportation program. The state has an aggressive program of highway maintenance, repair and paving planned for the next year.”
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group focused its efforts on successful passage of the energy efficiency and toxic chemicals bills. Executive Director Paul Burns is not surprised the governor has a plethora of bills to consider signing. “I think you’re seeing a lot of pretty popular policies being signed into law in this state. Whether you’re looking at issues like a higher minimum wage, Vermont’s one of the early states to bump up the minimum wage. And I think there’s been a number of other policies like protecting kids from toxic chemicals in products, promoting renewable energy development in the state. These are things that are pretty easy for the governor and legislators to embrace and ultimately to let their constituents know that they’ve done.”
Governor Shumlin has also approved the state budget and capital spending bill.