Statehouse Preparations Continue
Sunday, November 21, 2021
by: Matt Musgrave

Section: Legislative Update

We are a little over a month away from the return of the Vermont Legislature to the statehouse (or some hybrid form) for the 2022 session. Todays headlines shout out about a rare return to the statehouse today, Monday 11/22. 

Vermont has been experiencing record numbers of COVID positive tests over the past few weeks which is likely caused by the Delta variant. Legislators all over the state have been asking Governor Phil Scott to reinstate an emergency order for COVID so the can reinstate a face cover mandate. Based on the data, Scott has refused to return to a state of emergency but left the door open for legislators to craft policy that would allow cities and towns to pass ordinances requiring the use of face coverings which would last until April of 2022. The House Rules Committee last week resolved that they would reconvene and have orchestrated a method to pass legislation giving authority to towns within 24-48 hours to be sent to the Governor for signature, veto, or allow to become law. 

The House Rules Committee has also sought to make a decision for how the statehouse will be used in 2022 during COVID. The statehouse has many different sized committee rooms. There is an ongoing joke about Senate Agriculture Committees room actually having been a closet. Leaders on both sides of the statehouse have been negotiating room changes. People like your lobbying team will be disappointed to no longer have access to the coat room as it will become a committee room, the legislative meeting rooms commonly loaned out for advocacy groups have now become committee rooms and yes even Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint is rumored to have offered up her office as a committee room. Other discussions about the 2022 session include who will attend in person. Will the public, press and advocates all return in person or will we have an invitation only situation and still observe via YouTube as we did in 2021. Over the next few weeks we will know more about the statehouse and have been promoting some return to normalcy so good bills can be crafted OR pass only the "must pass" bills and get out until stakeholders, the public and advocates can again meet in person.

There are still several study committee groups including climate change, work zone safety and unemployment insurance. The unemployment insurance task force has been meeting regularly to contemplate the agencies mainframe system overhaul and how to redirect $100 million to unemployed individuals over the next 10 years as crafted in 2021 but rebuffed by the Federal government. So far the committee seems resolved to not make any significant changes to the unemployment system, but are weighing all options. Some of the easiest ways to "get out" the additional UI benefits would be to make the benefits higher across the board, or add weeks to the qualification period. Other more challenging conversations of making special funds and creating new "inputs" meaning taxes have drawn the attention of AGC/VT and other business groups who would surely oppose any new sources of revenue AKA taxes.

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