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The VT Statehouse Insider – Week 1

OFF TO THE RACES

The Vermont General Assembly convened on Wednesday for the 2023-2024 legislative biennium. For the first time since January 2020, the legislative session opened fully in-person, with families and friends accompanying newly elected lawmakers for the swearing-in ceremony. The House of Representatives elected Representative Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) as Speaker of the House for a second term. The Senate elected Senator Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden-Central) President pro-tem for his first term in that role.

The House experienced a significant turnover in membership from the previous biennium, with 49 new members and nine new committee chairs. The Senate also had significant turnover, with 10 new members and three new committee chairs.

Beyond the turnover in membership, the biggest news in the House this week was the shakeup of standing committees. In the House, the Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife committee was eliminated and the responsibility for these issues was incorporated into the Energy and Technology committee, which was renamed the Environment and Energy committee. With the elimination of a committee, other committees increased in membership. Jurisdiction for military affairs and liquor regulation was transferred from the former General, Housing and Military Affairs committee to the House Government Operations committee. The two committees have been renamed the General and Housing committee and Government Operations and Military Affairs committee respectively.

Additionally, House leadership simplified the jurisdiction for some committees, and duplicated jurisdiction across multiple committees (climate change mitigation) which prompted objections from members from both minority parties – Republican and Progressive. They argued the move would create confusion about where bills should be referred.

After a lengthy conversation among party leaders on the House floor, Speaker Krowinski announced the jurisdictional concerns would be addressed in the House Rules committee. This appeared to address the concerns from the minority parties and the resolution creating the new committee structure was adopted.

Please find the House resolution outlining the jurisdiction of the House standing committees below:
* Standing Committees Resolution

Please find a list of the House standing committee assignments below:
* 2023-2024 House Committee Assignments

On Thursday afternoon, the Senate Committee on Committees – which is made up of Senate President Phil Baruth, Senator Dick Mazza, and Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman – released committee assignments for the 2023-2024 session. Unlike the House, the Senate did not make changes to committee jurisdictions.

Please find a list of the Senate’s standing committee assignments below:
* 2023-2024 Senate Committee Assignments

 

STATEWIDE OFFICERS SWORN IN

On Thursday, Vermont’s six statewide elected officials were sworn in. Governor Phil Scott was sworn in for a fourth term. David Zuckerman was sworn in as Lt. Governor after a two year hiatus from last holding the position. State Auditor Doug Hoffer was sworn in to his 6th term in office. Attorney General Charity Clark, Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas and State Treasurer Mike Pieciak were all sworn in to serve in those offices for the first time.

 

GOVERNOR’S INAUGURAL ADDRESS

Governor Phil Scott delivered his fourth inaugural address to a joint session of the Vermont General Assembly. He opened by expressing his gratitude to former U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy for his decades of service to the state. The governor then went on to emphasize the needs of small, rural communities and the importance of paying “more attention to the individual needs of each community.”

Scott highlighted his desire for lawmakers to view all policy decisions through the lens of workforce and economic development and cited the need for “equal access to education, childcare, afterschool programs, quality healthcare, good jobs, and decent affordable housing.” He pointed to the unprecedented opportunity currently afforded to the state to address these issues, because of the recent influx of federal dollars due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as record state surpluses.

Scott touted recent investments in weatherization, emissions reduction, lowering energy bills and shoring up community infrastructure against flooding. He emphasized the need for the continued work of getting more Vermonters to transition to electric vehicles and modernize the electric grid as the heating and transportation sectors become increasingly electrified.

Scott tied in the affordable housing crisis with the need for act 250 reforms, using multiple real-world examples of affordable housing projects across the state that have been derailed due to Vermont’s law governing land-use development.

His comments on education included a call to devote “federal funds to afterschool and summer programs with a focus on trades training.” And helping “schools expand computer science, like cybersecurity and coding, and support scholarships in areas with critical workforce shortages.”

 

BUDGET ADJUSTMENT

The Scott administration proposed its FY2023 Budget Adjustment Act (BAA) on Friday. Like last year’s BAA, FY2023’s version is significantly larger than was common in the pre-pandemic years. This is in part due to increased federal resources from various stimulus and recovery packages, carry forward from FY2022 and increased Medicaid matching funds. The House Appropriations committee received a brief overview of the proposed FY2023 BAA on Friday afternoon. The proposal includes more than $339 million in appropriations, of which more than $100 million are one-time appropriations. Here is a link to the spreadsheet that was presented to the House Appropriations committee.