Final Reading: Many bills made it across the crossover threshold. Some did not.

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Apr 14, 2023

Final Reading: Many bills made it across the crossover threshold. Some did not.

By Sarah Mearhoff Mar 17 2023March 19, 2023 Happy Crossover Day to those who

By Sarah Mearhoff

Mar 17 2023March 19, 2023

Happy Crossover Day to those who observe!

For those of you with real hobbies and interests outside of the golden dome, that means today is the (first) deadline for bills to clear at least one committee in one chamber of the Vermont Legislature. Those that don't — with a few notable exceptions, as described below — are unlikely to become law this session.

Before we run through which bills survived and which met their Crossover Day fate, let's review the standard disclaimers and caveats: For one thing, money bills get an extra week, because they’re special. For another, no bill is ever really, truly dead.

There are myriad ways lawmakers can resuscitate legislation that appears long gone. For example, they can tack measures on as amendments to separate bills, stretching the definition of germaneness to the outer limits of the human imagination. There's the tried-and-true method of just throwing it into a big ol’ omnibus bill. Who will notice, right? Or, in the first year of the biennium, lawmakers can always trot out the classic refrain, "That's a two-year conversation." Translation: "We’re putting this off ‘til next year."

So, with that out of the way, let's take a look at which bills are in, and which are out:

— Sarah Mearhoff, with much help from her treasured colleagues

There's soon to be a fresh face in the Statehouse halls. Knowing that Friday was sure to be a slow news day, Gov. Phil Scott's office announced the appointment of Hyde Park Democrat Melanie Carpenter to the House. Carpenter will assume the seat vacated by former Rep. Kate Donnally, a Democrat who resigned from her post in January.

According to a Friday press release, Carpenter owns and operates Zack Woods Herb Farm in Hyde Park, and previously worked as principal of Stowe Middle School from 2008 to 2013. Before that, she taught 7th and 8th grade and worked as a literacy specialist at Peoples Academy Middle School in Morrisville. Scott on Friday touted the "diverse perspective" he said she will bring to the Statehouse given her work as a farmer, small business owner and educator.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski's chief of staff, Conor Kennedy, told VTDigger on Friday that Carpenter will likely be sworn in Tuesday.

— Sarah Mearhoff

Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French will leave his job next month for a leadership role at an education nonprofit, state officials announced Friday.

French, who has led Vermont's Agency of Education since 2018, will take an unspecified "senior leadership role" at the Council of Chief State School Officers, an organization of state education officials.

"It has been an honor to serve as a member of Governor Scott's cabinet and his team," French said in a press release sent at noon on Friday. "It has been a privilege to serve as Secretary of Education for a Governor who is deeply committed to the future success of all of our students."

Deputy Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey will take over as interim secretary after French's departure, officials said.

Read more here.

— Peter D’Auria

The House Transportation Committee advanced the state's annual transportation bill on Friday afternoon — and it includes, among dozens of other provisions, funding that would keep Green Mountain Transit buses fare-free through the end of the year.

The bill directs the state Agency of Transportation to make a one-time, $1,000,000 appropriation to the Burlington-based transit agency for the 2024 fiscal year.

Rep. Sara Coffey, D-Guilford, who chairs the House transportation committee, said the allocation would be pulled from the agency's FY 2024 highway maintenance budget. Funding to continue fare-free service, which Green Mountain Transit has offered since the outset of the pandemic, was not part of the administration's initial 2024 transportation budget proposal.

Earlier this year, Green Mountain Transit's board of commissioners voted to reinstate fares on July 1, 2023. But officials from the public transit agency have since told lawmakers that they need more time to bring a modern, efficient fare collection system back online.

The bill also calls for Green Mountain Transit to develop a new "tiered-fare" system that would, at a minimum, offer free or reduced fares for low-income riders.

Coffey said the T-bill's next stop will be in the House Ways and Means Committee.

— Shaun Robinson

A bill that would end clergy exemptions for reporting child abuse and neglect appears dead as it failed to meet a key legislative deadline for passing out of a committee Friday.

The bill, S.16, had been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on the matter, including one that featured Vermont Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne, who testified in opposition to the legislation.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the committee's chair, said Thursday that due to "constitutional concerns" the bill was being shelved, at least for now, and therefore will not move out of committee.

"I’m going to be working with Legislative Counsel and others trying to work something out so when we take it back to make sure it is constitutional under the United States Constitution and the separation of church and state," Sears said.

He added that he would be looking at what laws other states have on the books or are looking to adopt.

"It’d be dead for this year but it wouldn't be dead for next year," he said of the legislation. "I want to make sure whatever we do is constitutionally protected."

Read more here.

— Alan Keays

The state Agency of Transportation blew past estimates it gave the Legislature for the costs and timelines of several recent major paving projects — and it hasn't been clear on the reasons why, according to a new report by state Auditor Doug Hoffer.

Paving is the largest program in the state's proposed transportation budget for the 2024 fiscal year, totalling about $142 million. The Legislature has approved nearly $600 million for paving projects between fiscal years 2019 and 2023, according to Hoffer.

But "despite these significant appropriations," the March 15 report found, the agency lacks "transparency and accountability" when it comes to tracking the cost and timeliness of its paving projects — especially in the early engineering phase.

Read more here.

— Shaun Robinson

Without much ceremony and with just minutes to spare, the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare on Friday advanced a child care bill that would make a historic investment in Vermont's ailing child care sector and create a new parental leave benefit.

A deep-pocketed advocacy push and the Covid-19 pandemic's impact on an already beleaguered sector combined to make child care a banner priority for Democrats in Montpelier this year.

The health and welfare committee's members advanced S.56 on a 3-2 vote, with Republicans opposed, on the final day of the Legislature's mid-session "crossover" week, when all policy bills must leave their committee of jurisdiction or die on the vine.

A full fiscal analysis for the bill, which has undergone several major revisions this week alone, is not yet available. But Nolan Langweil, an analyst with the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Office, told lawmakers Friday that preliminary estimates pegged the combined annual cost of paid leave and child care subsidies at about $190 million in 2025, which would be the first full year of operation. (Roughly 90% of that price tag would be attributable to child care.)

Read more here.

— Lola Duffort

H.31, a bill that addresses chemicals used to treat aquatic nuisances, has passed out of the House Environment and Energy Committee by the crossover deadline with some significant changes.

The original bill would have established a moratorium on any new permits that would allow application of pesticides or other chemicals, and it would have banned the use of any chemicals already allowed by the state under existing permits, with a few exceptions.

Lawmakers nixed the moratorium on Friday, but kept a study that would assess the environmental and public health impacts of chemical treatments compared to their usefulness.

— Emma Cotton

The House Human Services Committee pushed a bill forward on Friday with a variety of fairly uncontroversial provisions aimed at reducing opioid overdoses.

The bill, H.222, is a grab bag of different changes intended to improve access to harm reduction supplies, medication-assisted treatment and peer support. Among them:

— Kristen Fountain

The Vermont House will have a chance to weigh in on its own set of gun control measures next week, after a bill crafted in response to Vermont's high and rising suicide rate passed largely unchanged through a second committee's review on Friday. A separate bill with gun-related provisions is also on the move in the Senate.

The House bill, H.230, has three primary components: a new requirement for gun storage and accompanying criminal penalties in limited cases; a new route for family or household members to petition state courts for gun removal; and a new 72-hour gun purchase waiting period.

The House Judiciary Committee signed off on the legislation, which originated in the House Health Care Committee, on Friday morning with a 7-4 vote.

Read more here.

— Kristen Fountain

Charlotte Selectboard back to the drawing board after voters reject budget (VTDigger)

Vt. lawmakers consider allowing agricultural, domestic workers to collectively bargain (Vermont Public)

Vt. bill would ban 'forever chemicals' in menstrual products, textiles, turf (Vermont Public)

Clarification: This story has been edited to clarify an element of H.270.

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Melanie Carpenter Dan French transportation bill clergy exemptions for reporting child abuse and neglect Agency of Transportation child care bill chemicals used to treat aquatic nuisances reducing opioid overdoses gun control measures