The Vermont General Assembly adjourned the 2019 session in stages as the House and Senate, both with Democratic majorities, were unable to resolve their differences on two major proposals. At issue were proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and a plan to provide paid family and medical leave to Vermonters. Despite broad agreement among Democrats to approve both measures, final agreement proved to be elusive. As time ran out, Speaker Mitzi Johnson gaveled the House adjourned on Friday, May 24. Senate President Tim Ashe hoped the House would return to the Capitol to work out the differences, but the House was not persuaded. The Senate finally adjourned on May 29, unable to engage the House. Legislative leaders agreed to bring up both proposals in the next legislative session.
The big bill
Lawmakers passed a $6.1 billion budget for FY20. Budget writers focused much of their efforts on social services for low-income Vermonters. Included in the budget was a $7.4 million increase for childcare. The bulk of the increase will fund childcare subsidies for low-income families and raise reimbursement rates for providers. Funding will be provided for scholarships for childcare workers and childcare degree programs at technical colleges. This is intended to address a shortage of childcare workers in the state.
Among other highlights, lawmakers passed:
- An increase of $2.5 million to the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) prompted VSC’s Board of Trustees to reduce an increase in tuition from 3% to 1%
- An amendment to the state constitution to protect abortion rights as well as a bill to codify abortion rights in state statute. (Statewide voter approval of both measures is required to guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion.)
- A 24-hour waiting period for purchasing a handgun
- A lead-testing program for drinking water supplies at schools and childcare facilities
- A ban on single-use plastic grocery bagsand styrofoam carryout containers and a requirement that restaurants and other establishments provide plastic straws only by customer request
- An increase in the minimum age to purchase tobacco products was raised to 21 years, up from the current 18
- An expansion of last year’s remote worker incentive program to attract more families to Vermont, providing them with up to $10,000 for moving expenses, office space rentals and broadband hookups.
- Support for $4.6 million for electric vehicles
- Support for $1.5 million in improvements to broadband
- A law taking 6% of the rooms and meals tax revenue from the general fund to a dedicated fund for clean water.
Carolyn Morwick directs government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures. Visit here for summaries of the legislative sessions in other New England states.