2020 Legislative Session (August - September)
Allocate $586,000 for GWSA (H.969). Passed 100-42 on September 11, 2020. After passing the GWSA, the House voted to fund the 22-person Climate Council and 3 support staff with $586,000 for 1 year. The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) mandates that Vermont meet strict carbon emission reduction targets, beginning with 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. The Climate Council is composed of 22 state government officials and citizen experts who will adopt a “Vermont Climate Action Plan.” This plan would offer guidance to the Agency of Natural Resources, which would be empowered to create and implement new rules for achieving the emission targets. If any citizen (or special interest group) believes the Agency is not adopting rules quickly enough to meet the mandates, they may take the state to court, with the taxpayers potentially responsible for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. No cost analysis was made of what the impact of meeting these new mandates might be, nor any disclosure of what rules might be in the “action plan.” Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Morris - YESOverride Gov Veto of GWSA (H.688). Passed 103-47 on September 17, 2020. Rather than spending $586,000 for funding 1 year, this bill allocates $900,000 for maintaining the Climate Council and supplying 3 support staff for 2 fiscal years. Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Morris - YESNew Deadly Force Standards for Police (S.119). Passed 106-37 on September 22, 2020. Narrows the current justifiable homicide statute so that an officer would only be “guiltless” for homicide if they are “promot(ing) and protect(ing) the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” Officers must consider language barriers, medical conditions and other factors before deciding to use force. For officers not under an “imminent threat,” choke holds would no longer be permissible for subduing a suspect. The overall criteria for force will be based on “a reasonable officer in the same situation.” Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Morris - NO
2020 Legislative Session (January - June)
Pay Increase for Legislators (H.961, Donahue Division of Hooper Amendment). Passed 82-61 on June 25, 2020. Those voting YES supported tying legislators’ future cost of living increases to the rate of increase allocated to constitutional officers beginning in July 2021. The net result of this would be a modest, annual, automatic pay increase for legislators. Those voting NO argued that it was inappropriate for legislators to support a pay increase for themselves when a public health and economic crisis has left many of their constituents with lost income, and state revenue downgrades will likely require future cuts in government services. Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Morris - YES
Prohibit “Ballot Harvesting” in the 2020 Election (S.348, Myers Amendment). Failed 50-95 on June 10, 2020. Ballot harvesting” is a controversial practice in which campaign operatives and/or activists collect ballots from voters that has resulted in improper influence over voters, fraudulent filling out of ballots, and destruction of ballots. The key language in the Myers amendment to prohibit ballot harvesting reads, “An early voter absentee ballot may be returned only by the voter; the justices of the peace who delivered the ballot, if applicable; or an authorized family member or caregiver acting in the voter’s behalf,” as well as defining criminal penalties if violated and mandates a civil investigation if there is reason to suspect this kind of fraud is occurring.” Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Morris - NO
Legalize a Taxed and Regulated Marijuana Marketplace (S.54). Passed 90-54 on February 26, 2020. S.54 would create a regulatory framework for the sale and taxation of recreational marijuana, implement a 20% tax on sale of marijuana (a 14% excise tax plus the existing 6% sales tax), and establish a Cannabis Control Board responsible for regulation and licensing and establishes a license for current medical dispensaries to start selling marijuana in 2022. The bill directs the board to prioritize Vermont businesses owned by women and minorities as it considers license applications.
Morris - NO
Allow Time for Public Input on Act 250 Reform (H.926, Bock Motion). Failed 45-96 on February 28, 2020. Reforming Vermont’s 50 year old comprehensive land use law is immensely complicated and impacts many facets of business, recreational, and daily life. The Bock Motion came in response to an flurry of constituent questions and comments, and called for a one-business-day delay on the vote so that legislators have an opportunity to speak with and hear from constituents regarding proposed changes over the Town Meeting Day break.
Morris - NO
Override Veto of Minimum Wage Increase (S.23, Veto Override). Passed 100-49 (2/3 required to override) on February 25, 2020. S.23 would raise the state minimum hourly wage from the current mark $10.96 to $12.55 by 2022, with increases tied to inflation afterward. The Governor vetoed this bill because, “Fiscal analysis projects job losses, decreases to employee hours, and increased costs of goods and services, which will offset the intended positive benefits for workers; These harmful impacts will be felt more significantly in rural parts of the state, worsening economic inequity between counties; and there will be an overall negative impact on economic growth.”
Morris - YES
Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688). Passed 105-37 on February 26, 2020. The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) mandates that Vermont meet strict carbon emission reduction targets, beginning with 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. The bill would create a Climate Council, for paying $900,000 to 22 state government officials and citizen experts who will adopt a “Vermont Climate Action Plan.” This plan would offer guidance to the Agency of Natural Resources, which would be empowered to create and implement new rules for achieving the emission targets. If any citizen (or special interest group) believes the Agency is not adopting rules quickly enough to meet the mandates, they may take the state to court, with the taxpayers potentially responsible for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. No cost analysis was made of what the impact of meeting these new mandates might be, nor any disclosure of what rules might be in the “action plan.” The legislature is not required to vote on the plan or the rules before they are put into effect.
Morris - YES
Require Legislative Approval of GWSA Plans/Rules (H.688, Donahue Amendment). Failed 44-99 on February 20, 2020. The Donahue Amendment to the Global Warming Solutions Act would ensure legislative review and approval of any plans/rules proposed by the newly formed Climate Council and the Agency of Natural Resources before such plans/rules could be put into effect because it is the Legislature’s responsibility to serve as the final judge for any plan that will so materially affect the people of Vermont.
Morris - NO
Override Gubernatorial Veto of Paid Family Leave (H.107). Failed 99-51 (2/3 required to override) on February 5, 2020. The Paid Family Leave Bill would establish a new payroll tax on employees of 0.2% on income up to $137,000 (total $30 million annually) in order to fund a government-mandated insurance program allowing employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child, or 8 weeks for family care. If the volume of people claiming the benefit exceeds the revenue raised at this tax rate, the tax rate will automatically increase to meet demand. Employees can elect to pay an additional 0.38% of their wages to obtain medical leave of 6 weeks maximum. While all Vermont employees would have their wages taxed, only employees who work at least 675 hours annually (13 hours a week) for a single employer would be eligible to receive the paid leave or to opt-in to the medical leave. The Governor vetoed H.107 stating, “My administration’s approach is voluntary for employers and employees. It can be accomplished more efficiently, affordably and quickly, without a $29 million payroll tax that Vermont workers simply should not be burdened with, and without putting the risk of underfunding on taxpayers.”