Despite a flurry of activity and work remaining on a number of bills, the Vermont Legislature is targeting adjournment by the end of this week.
A number of measures are being considered as House and Senate leaders push to adjourn by Saturday. Since Monday, Vermont legislators have debated or acted on bills that include whether teachers should negotiate their health care plans with the state rather than local school districts; marijuana legalization; paid family leave and the creation of an ethics commission. Most will be carried over to the second half of the biennium in January.
Middlebury College Political Science Professor Emeritus Eric Davis says this crunch of legislative action is not unusual. “As in almost any legislative body, whether it’s the Vermont legislature, the United States Congress or legislatures all over the world, the big bills tend to be put off until the very end of the session. So what we’re seeing this week is not at all atypical. We’ve seen it many times before sometime between late April and mid-May.”
House Minority Leader Republican Don Turner says it is challenging when a number of bills come through at the same time as those that must be passed. “The budget is a must pass. The transportation bill is a must pass. The capital bill is a must pass bill. The economic development bills those are from our perspective must pass bills. The other one that’s been talked about a lot in the last couple weeks is teachers’ health care benefits. That is a very important piece for our caucus and the governor. It’s reported to be about $26 million in savings. So we’re working diligently to get that passed forward.”
Vermont Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Paul Burns expects a number of measures will not be finalized before adjournment. He is surprised there was not more substantive legislative action this session. “Given what’s happening in Washington DC and the real threats to what we would consider Vermonters’ well being, our health, our environment, many of our values, I expected more activity on the part of Vermont legislators to kind of push back.”
The Vermont Legislature usually targets a mid-May adjournment. Eric Davis expects legislators to leave late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, about a week earlier than usual. “What’s encouraging adjournment by this weekend is that would give the Legislature the budgetary resources to come back for a special session for one week in the fall should that prove necessary in terms of responding to federal policy changes either involving budgetary matters, health care or other issues.”
Minority Leader Turner also expects adjournment this weekend. “This is not unusual to finish in this time period. It’s particularly important this year though in light of some changes that might be coming down from D.C. So it’s important to have that money left in the budget to take another week late in the fall after the federal government has done their budgeting.”
While they have previous experience in the Vermont legislature, the governor, lieutenant governor, House Speaker and Senate Pro Tem are all serving their first terms in their respective offices this session.