Legislature funds homeless hotels, overrides Scott vetoes of budget, childcare, and teenage voting
By Guy Page
The Vermont Senate decided Tuesday morning to avoid veto override votes on two bills, including the controversial legislative pay and benefits increase. By contrast, the Vermont House overrode all five vetos on its agenda and also passed a bill continuing ‘homeless hotel’ funding.
The Senate had two possible veto overrides to consider: S.6, banning manipulative, deceitful police interrogation of minors, and S.39, a controversial pay and benefits increase for legislators.
S.39 would give the next and every future Legislature a steep raise, plus adjournment pay, plus State of Vermont employee-level health care benefits, plus several other benefits that, when toted up, equal almost $50,000 (estimated) per legislator.
Supporters say it will increase the racial and age diversity of the General Assembly. Opponents say legislating should remain a part-time public service, not a well-paid part-time or full-time job.
Senate President Phil Baruth (D-Central Chittenden County) didn’t tell Senate colleagues Tuesday why he wanted to return S.39 to the Government Operations Committee. It’s likely the bill’s supporters – Baruth included – were unable to persuade any additional senators to vote yes on a bill that never gathered 20 “yes” votes during regular session roll calls. Rather than hold an embarrassing vote upholding Scott’s veto, the bill was instead returned to its committee of origin.
When Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman asked the ‘return-to-committee’ question, only a few senators voted “nay.” One of them was Senator Tanya Vyhovsky (P-Chittenden).
Vyhovsky told her colleagues that serving in the Legislature has meant taking a pay cut from her social worker job, and that she lives “paycheck to paycheck.” “The barriers for service are astronomical, and for most Vermonters they are actually insurmountable,” Vyhovsky said. “I am deeply saddened that we can’t move forward.”
Baruth seconded her sentiment, and promised to get a pay hike passed – eventually. “It may be that it needs to be a slightly skinnier bill to get passage…either way we will come back to this issue until we get it right,” he said.
Scott vetoed S.6 because the State of Vermont is treating juveniles like adults in many other respects. Senate Judiciary will work on the bill off-session and have another version ready by January, Judiciary Chair Richard Sears said. He remains committed to the bill’s goals. “You shouldn’t lie to kids during an interrogation,” Sears said. “We need to pass a bill that all sides can live with.”
Before the vote, the Campaign for Vermont, a citizen advocacy group, suggested a non-legislative committee weigh the pros and cons of a pay and benefits hike. Shorter sessions and term limits also might legislative service more accessible, CFV President and former legislator and administration official Pat McDonald said.
“While we are all for making the Vermont legislature more accessible, legislators should not be voting themselves salary increases of this magnitude,” McDonald said. “Where else does someone get to set their own salary? This would be an appropriate use of an independent commission. Other options to increase diversity that should be considered include shortening or changing the structure of the legislative session to make it more flexible for people with outside employment. Additionally, term limits should be considered if compensations is raised to this degree.”
The House and Senate both overrode vetos on the following bills:
Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the $120 million childcare bill subsidizing childcare centers and pre-K school programs because, he said, it relies on a slippery-slope payroll tax and ignores a cheaper, voluntary plan set forth by his administration.
H. 494, the $8.5 billion state budget, 105-42. Democratic leadership feared 17 Progressives and Democrats might vote against the budget because it didn’t continue funding the ‘homeless hotel’ pandemic-era emergency housing program. However, before the veto override votes were held, the House amended a Senate adult services bill to restore ‘homeless hotel’ funding, albeit with eligibility restrictions. The bill directs the administration to find the funding from existing revenue.