It’s been more than a month since I returned to the Statehouse to serve my second term in the House of Representatives. It was great to get back where the place was abuzz with activity – greeting colleagues, discussing issues, and settling in for a busy 2019 session.
One of the first things I noticed were a lot of new faces in the House chamber. Out of the 150 House members, 40 were newly elected. Although the Democrats were the majority party in the House for the past two years, now they hold a veto-proof majority, as does the Senate. So, what does this mean for the 2019 session?
This brings a new balance of power between the Republican governor and the Democratically controlled House and Senate. Also, the Legislature should see more of a willingness to collaborate plus a more conciliatory tone from Gov. Scott and his administration.
Gov. Scott issued 11 vetoes in last year’s session. We anticipate that many of these vetoed issues will rise again in the new session, including $15 minimum wage and paid family leave. The governor has already introduced a version of paid family leave in response to the expected House version.
January brought opening speeches from the leadership of the House and Senate and from Gov. Scott, setting the stage for the 2019 session.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe both focused on the state’s struggling rural economy and a collective effort to address the economic challenges of the “other Vermont” or those who are “struggling to care for themselves and support their families.” In his Inaugural address, Scott emphasized growing the state economy and workforce and the need to update and “modernize” Act 250 to relieve pressure on downtown development while continuing to protect the environment.
The governor’s budget address presented a budget of $6.1 billion for the next fiscal year. In past budgets, the governor had insisted on no new taxes or fees. However, this year, he has proposed $10 million in new taxes and $8 million in new fees, a 2 percent increase. Scott called for more money to boost our declining workforce, fund the clean up of Lake Champlain, and expand access to broadband. Investing in early childcare and funding the pension debt obligations are other key spending items.
Other initiatives that are generating interest include taxation and regulation of marijuana and e-cigarettes, state reproductive rights, and universal publicly financed health care.
I am glad to be serving again on the Agriculture and Forestry committee. We will be closely monitoring the impact that potential legislative changes may have on our dairy farms and on opportunities arising from a rapidly growing hemp industry here in Vermont.
Before I sign off, I’m honored to announce that Jessica Joy Lipton Pierce was chosen to serve as a Legislative Page from among 88 applicants from around the state. Jessica is in eighth grade and lives in Chester. She is very much involved in our local community and interested in politics and government. Congratulations, Jessica!
I welcome your questions, opinions, thoughts, or concerns on these and any legislative issues. You can contact me at email@example.com or feel free to call me at home Saturday through Monday at 802-875-2222. Always look forward to hearing from you.
Rep. Tom Bock