Legislative session ends with House walking out on Senate

Additional money earmarked for vector control but not necessarily for mosquito districts

By RUSSELL JONES

The 2019 session of the biennium ended in a strange fashion for state representatives as the House adjourned before the Senate for the first time in four decades on Friday, May 24. Representative Butch Shaw, R-Pittsford, said this was one of the strangest endings he’s seen in his time as a state representative, but even so, good work was done throughout the session.

“We went in on Monday (May 13) expecting to adjourn on May 17, but we still didn’t have a budget,” the 10-year statehouse veteran said. “We went back on Wednesday, May 22, thinking we would pass the budget and go home, but the Senate was holding it for ransom.”

The issues between the House and Senate boiled down to two bills: paid family leave and minimum wage.

“The Speaker really favored a paid family leave bill,” Shaw said. “The House sent a bill that was about $80 million for paid family leave. It came back from the Senate around $27 million.”

The Senate and Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe were, as Shaw called it, holding the budget for ransom until the House passed the Senate’s versions of paid family leave and minimum wage. Speaker Mitzi Johnson delivered an ultimatum to the Senate on Friday, May 24.

“She gave them a letter that said, ‘Here’s five compromises we will accept,’” said Shaw. “I have to give the Speaker credit, she held firm.”

Of course, the House could not adjourn without passing a budget, a budget that was still firmly lodged in the hands of the Senate and Ashe. Shaw said that Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, came up with a “genius plan.”

“She took a (beverage) bill, a senate bill that they had passed and sent to us, and removed all the language from the bill,” Shaw said. “Then we put the budget in the bill, passed it and sent it to them. So, now they have two budgets.”

Shaw said the beverage bill had already been passed by the Senate and was approved by a House Committee of Conference so the Senate won’t be allowed to even amend it. House Speaker Johnson, with the House having passed a budget, called for adjournment and a voice vote, with one no, passed on Friday afternoon. Senators will be expected back on Wednesday, May 29, but house reps won’t be back until January.

Both chambers must adopt a joint resolution to adjourn, according to Vermont’s Constitution and the Senate did not accept the House’s joint adjournment resolution Friday, something Shaw said that no one he’s talked to can ever remember happening before, and it’s been at least 40 years since anything even similar happened.

GOOD WORK DONE

“Despite the strange ending,” Shaw said, “I think we got some good work done.”

Shaw touted the $160 million in funding the legislators found for issues regarding climate change and the permanent source of funding for river, stream and water quality in the state. The latter includes $7.5 million this year, building up to $12 million in future years to reach the goal of $50 million to protect the state’s rivers and streams.

He also said good work was done on lead contamination in schools, with the state providing $2.25 million for testing, saying there was also money per-tap available to schools to fix any contamination found.

One of the issues that kept Shaw busy this session was finding more funding for the BLSG mosquito district. The state provides $140,000 to fund larvicide treatments between the two state districts, the BLSG and Lemon Fair Districts.

The Lemon Fair district is around a fifth of the size of the BLSG district and, so far, the $70,000 has been sufficient for them. However, the BLSG has not been able to cover in its larger area with that amount. Shaw went to bat for the district in Montpelier to try to secure them more funding.

“I started by asking for another $140,000, which in a such a large budget, doesn’t sound like a huge ask, but there’s hundreds of people asking for money for different things.” Shaw said. “I testified three times to the appropriations committee.”

Shaw said nearing the end of the budget talks he thought all was lost and the districts would receive no extra funding before the Department of Agriculture told him they would allocate $50,000 for vector control (mosquitos, ticks, etc.), but not specifically for the BLSG.

“My job over the summer,” Shaw said, “is to make sure that money gets into the right hands.”

This is one-time funding and Shaw said he would have to start over next year to work on getting the district more funding.

“I’m grateful that we got the appropriation money, but it’s just the first piece,” Shaw said. “The second piece is getting a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Agency of Agriculture where the Agency of Ag would be the one point of contact for all permitting for the bug districts.”

Shaw said that would help cut down any problems in permitting like the one that led to the BLSG being sued last year for not properly filling out the permit application. He went on to say that he felt the Democrat super-majority was sensitive to the issues that the minority had brought up, and said the number of bills passed was about on par for the first year of the biennium. He is looking forward to the 2020 session in January and expects the House will take up the paid family leave and minimum wage bills. He also expects they will see movement on a retail marijuana bill.

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