The Vermont General Assembly reconvened on Tuesday, January 4th to start the 2022 legislative session. This was not a normal start to a session as the world is still caught in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. In weeks prior the rules committees had been meeting to decide how to move forward with strong COVID protocols and whether they would meet in person. Ultimatly they put in some protocols for employees and legislators including masking, vaccination and regular testing. The general public will be expected to wear masks in the state house and rooms will have limited capacity. The committees also decided to move towards beginning the session remotely meeting over Zoom while the peak of the Omicron variant moves through which has brought caseloads up as high as 2200 in one day. The Senate had already moved last year to begin the first week of the session virtually so they were able to vote virtually on the motion to continue virtually. The House did not put in place a virtual requirement so they had to assemble in person on the first Tuesday to vote themselves the ability to work remotely through January 18.
Over 120 new bill have been introduced in the first week. Many of the bills deal with human service issues which were a result of the pandemic. A statewide mask mandate has been introduced and will be taken up immediately. Several environmental and development bills have been introduced including changes to the governance of Act 250. Many bills were written to deal with inclusion and diversity issues.
A bill to deal with carbon emissions has been introduced with over 50 pages of rule changes and new policy. The bill seeks to expand the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) program at the state, provide grants for electric cars and bikes, create requirements for large employers to provide charging stations for cars, and a "feebate" program that will charge a "efficiency fee" for cars with unfavorable miles per gallon and a rebate for cars with no or favorable fuel usage. The bill is one of the main programs recommended by the Vermont Climate Council which has been created by the Global Warming Solutions act to implement emissions reductions required by the act.
The legislature immediately moved forward with a bill that would allow municipalities including school districts to have board and commission meetings remotely through 2022 to mitigate exposure to COVID. The bill also requires a mail in voting system for town meeting day and other elections. The bill was widely supported by all parties and is expected to pass with some amendments prior to reaching the Governors desk.
Governor Phil Scott gave his "State of the State" address. The Governor outlined his main priority for 2022 and that is workforce development. This has been a main theme of Scott and he recognized this by quoting himself, "Five years ago, I said, “when you are in a hole, stop digging.” My friends, today I am happy to report: We are out of that hole, and we are sitting on a pile of bricks, mortar, lumber, and steel. So, let’s grab hold, and start building.". AGC/VT will work closely with the Governor and the legislature to get those workforce programs out the door and we will focus on our industries needs specifically.
Other meetings at the state house include training new legislators, introductions to staff, presentations of reports to committees and bill introductions and walk throughs. Opening week usually feels like a school reunion with legislators, advocates and state workers coming together to begin the hard work supporting Vermont. In the remote setting we are in now that excitement is lost and legislators seem eager to get back in to the building as soon as it is safe.