Rep. MIKE YANTACHKA
The plan was to finish the legislative session by Saturday, May 18, even working close to midnight again as we did the last couple of years. Alas, it was not to be. By Friday afternoon there were still about a dozen Committees of Conference working to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of bills, including the budget, transportation and tax bills. Speaker Mitzi Johnson recessed the House until the following Wednesday to allow the conference committees to finish their work in the interim.
Dozens of bills completed their ping-pong journeys through both the House and the Senate this week. Several bills engendered considerable debate on the House floor before the final vote including bills increasing the minimum wage (S.23), requiring a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases (S.169), and requiring businesses to cover medical monitoring for persons exposed to releases of toxic chemicals (S.37).
After a brief negotiation with the Senate in a Committee of Conference, the broadband expansion bill (H.513) received final approval as well.
This week was also marked by an interruption of the debate on S.37 by climate crisis protestors. The House was startled when several protestors in the balcony started speaking loudly about the failure of the legislature to do more about the climate crisis, unfurled a banner, and tossed hundreds of index card messages into the chamber. Speaker Johnson gaveled the House to Order and asked the Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol police to remove the protestors to restore order. When that didn’t stop the protestors, she ordered the legislators to leave the floor. All but two members complied.
While I don’t condone the actions of the protestors, I understand their frustration. For all the ominous science-based reports on what we are doing to the global climate, all the peaceful marches and lobbying by students and activists including the march from Middlebury to Montpelier, the legislature took only small steps to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The $1.5 million electric vehicle incentive program has been cut to $1 million. The two-cent increase of the heating fuel tax to raise $4.6 million for weatherization of Vermont’s old housing stock has been replaced by the Senate with a transfer of one-time money from Efficiency Vermont surplus funds. In the Senate version, the number of low-income families benefiting will be the same as the House version for the next fiscal year, about 1,300, but falls back to the current number, about 850, for future years. Efficiency Vermont will continue to help moderate-income families with weatherization assistance.
However, if we are going to transition from fossil fuels to cleaner electricity in both the transportation and heating sectors of our economy in the next decade, we’ll need to make an investment to accelerate adoption of those technologies. This can be done in a way that grows jobs, reduces use of fossil fuels and saves Vermonters money. What we’ve done this year does not accomplish this in a sustainable way. Our Climate Solutions Caucus made up of concerned Representatives and Senators will be meeting between now and January to define a strategy to move forward in 2020. Last year, the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that we have 12 years to reverse the buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to prevent a rise of 2 degrees-C (4 degrees-F) in global temperatures. We must act as soon as possible with our regional partners to do our part for the sake of our children, grandchildren, and future generations.
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