Scott, lawmakers tussle over toxics; governor’s veto faces stiff challenge
NEW HAVEN — Local lawmakers are entering the home stretch of the 2018 legislative session, a period marked by frantic negotiations to salvage bills that will otherwise lie dormant until next January, or risk dying altogether.
Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, on Monday estimated the Legislature has around three weeks to complete this year’s work, barring a special session later this year to consider overrides of legislation that already has — or will be — vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. An override effort is already under way on Scott’s April 16 veto of bill S.103, a measure that would, among other things, give the state greater power in regulating products containing harmful chemicals — specifically ones particularly hazardous to children ages 12 years and younger.
The bill is, in part, a response to pollution of groundwater in southwestern Vermont by the industrial chemical PFOA.
“I vetoed S.103, in part, because of the changes the bill makes to Vermont’s already high standards around chemicals of high concern in children’s products,” he said in a veto statement. “These changes, in my opinion, have no practical impact to how my administration regulates these chemicals.”
Scott added he believes S.103 “creates duplicative committees that do not enhance our ability to hold bad actors accountable or directly address our ongoing response to the PFOA contamination.”
He also expressed concern the tighter regulations could hamper economic development efforts in Vermont.
The state Senate on April 19 voted 22-8 to override Scott’s veto. As the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday, the Vermont House voted 98-53 for a veto override, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed for the bill to survive and pass into law.
Local lawmakers on Monday expressed their feelings about the bill during a legislative breakfast at the New Haven Congregational Church.
“We looked at public health in the broadest sense,” Bray said of S.103. “If you don’t have clean air and clean water, you’re creating an environment that’s unhealthy for people in various ways. And one of those ways is exposure to toxic chemicals.”
Bray took issue with the way Scott has decided to oppose S.103. He said the governor has followed up his veto with a suggestion that the Legislature re-write it based on an executive order he has drafted.
“The legislative process is being blocked by a veto, plus an executive order, and that’s a strange dynamic we haven’t seen in Vermont before,” Bray said.
Local Republican lawmakers said Scott’s concerns about S.103 shouldn’t be construed as being callous to the health of children.
“I think it’s important that everyone here understand that the governor’s veto doesn’t mean kids are going to be subjected to wicked, bad things,” said Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol.
“There’s not anyone up there who doesn’t support having a good, safe environment for our children,” said Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven. “We just want to make sure we get it right.”
GOVERNOR & LAWMAKERS
Other discussion at Monday’s legislative breakfast touched on Gov. Scott’s relationship with the Legislature. Local Democratic lawmakers said Scott and his administration have passed up several opportunities this session to weigh in on bills during House and Senate committee hearings. This, they argue, has contributed to some of the legislative gridlock in both chambers as the session draws to a close.
Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, is chairman of the House Education Committee. He said the panel got a memo early during the session from the Scott administration outlining various “tax and cost saving principles.” But Sharpe said the administration has repeatedly rebuffed invitations to provide specific proposals for legislation to achieve its tax and cost saving goals.
“Tradition, in the years I’ve been up here, from both Republican and Democratic administration, is they come to the Legislature with proposals,” Sharpe said. “We haven’t gotten proposals on any of the ideas they put in this memo. They just insist those are ideas we ought to work on and then pass a bill the governor could decide whether to veto or not, I guess is the process this administration has in mind.”
Bray said that with the legislative clock ticking down, every meeting now has to yield results.
“One of the themes emerging during discussion about different bills is, if the administration has concerns about something, we need to know about them and understand the concerns and then come to a compromise,” he said. “I don’t think the Legislature is planning on strong-arming the administration, nor the other way around, but we need to have a productive working relationship.”
Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, pointed out that not all the communication between the executive and legislative branches has been bad. She said she’s had good luck in recent weeks getting email input from various secretaries and commissioners on human services matters — such as the oversight of nursing homes.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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