Wednesday marks the beginning of the 2019 legislative session. Here's a look at what issues are likely to come up for discussion in the Vermont Legislature during the coming months.
Some of the issues expected to crop up this year may be familiar from years past, but there is also a new dynamic in the Statehouse this session — the new House makeup has Democrats and Progressives holding a veto-proof supermajority that could override Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
Still, with 40 new House legislators joining the chamber, there are a number of unknowns heading into the session about what members will support and how they may pursue their individual legislative agendas.
1. Paid family leave, and 2. A $15 minimum wage
Both of these initiatives passed in the Legislature last year, but were vetoed by Scott. Expect them to be taken up again this session, and we'll see if things play out differently this year considering that new veto-proof Democratic majority.
3. Clean water funding.
How to pay to clean up Vermont's waterways is a perrennial source of conversation in Montpelier. The governor and lawmakers have set aside about $50 million over each of the past two years, but much of that money is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year. It remains to be seen how they may choose to replace that funding.
4. Act 46
There are pending lawsuits where schools districts are challenging the state on forced mergers. It's a big question as to how lawmakers may respond to this education situation.
5. Establishing a retail cannabis market
Last session saw the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana. This session, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe has said he's willing to look at a fast-track bill to tax-and-regulate marijuana — however House Speaker Mitzi Johnson has voiced concerns about implementing a retail system at this time.
6. Abortion rights
With recent changes to the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, there's been speculation nationally over the future of abortion rights. In Vermont, that has prompted discussion among lawmakers over the possibility of adding an abortion-rights amendment to the state constitution.
- Wednesday, Jan. 9 — Legislative kickoff! It's day one of the 2019 session and also when lawmakers get sworn in. Vermont Edition broadcasts live from the Statehouse during the noon hour.
- Thursday, Jan. 10 — Gov. Phil Scott will issue his inaugural address, planned for 1:30 p.m. VPR will have live coverage of this speech.
- Thursday, Jan. 24 — Gov. Phil Scott will deliver his budget address, planned for 2 p.m. VPR will have live coverage of this speech. Proposals laid out in Scott's previous budget addresses have caused some friction with Democratic lawmakers, so it will be interesting to see what the tone will be this year and if the focus is on collaboration across party lines.