When the governor says no, it’s not the end of the argument.
Who says so? The Vermont Constitution, that’s who. Chapter II, section 11 says this: “If, upon such reconsideration, two-thirds of the members present of that House shall pass the bill, it shall, together with the objections, be sent to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two-thirds of the members present of that House, it shall become a law.”
They’ll never teach that stanza alongside Mary Ruefle, Chard deNiord, Louise Glück and Robert Frost in a Vermont poetry class. (Then again, the poetry of Vermont is all around us, isn’t it?)
But it’s music to the ears of a representative democracy, in which checks and balances play such an essential role.
Starting Wednesday, that process begins anew when the House and Senate convene, virtually, to consider whether to override three vetoes by Gov. Phil Scott and pass them into law.
At issue are a pair of city charter changes, in Winooski and Montpelier, that would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, and a bill that would bar the release of juvenile arrest records, including motor vehicle incidents resulting in serious injury or death, unless they are charged with a felony.
These were the record-tying 21st and record-breaking 22nd and 23rd vetoes of Scott’s career, breaking a record set by former Gov. Howard Dean during his 12 years in office.
On the charter changes, Scott said the proposal allowing for a town by town approach to non-citizen voting “creates inconsistency in election policy, as well as separate and unequal classes of residents potentially eligible to vote on local issues.” He sent back the juvenile records bill saying there’s still a gap between earlier legislative intent and “the combination of accountability, tools and services needed to ensure justice and give young offenders a second chance.”
They’re not the biggest vetoes of Scott’s career; the mandatory family and medical leave bill (sustained) and the Global Warming Solutions Act (overridden) qualify in that regard. But they’re vetoes all the same, and leadership intends to vote all three into law this week.
HOW IT WORKS
“A veto session is basically an extension of the legislative session,” House Speaker Jill Krowinski said. “The calendar looks like a continuation of where we left off when we adjourned in May.”
So much so that the first day of the override session will be a so-called token session — a gaveling in and out at 10 a.m. Wednesday — so that the bills can have 24 hours notice on the House and Senate calendars. Depending how things play out, the session could last into Friday or Saturday.
On a veto override, the chamber that originated the bill gets the first crack at it. So the proposed charter changes will start in the House, and the juvenile arrest records bill will start in the Senate. Whether House bills will cross over quickly upon passage is another question; as we learned with S.79 on the last day of the formal session, unless there’s a voice vote with no objection it takes a three-fourths majority to suspend the rules and message a bill “forthwith.”
Also: Override votes are taken by roll call, which provides a bit of drama if you’re scoring at home or want to know where your lawmaker stands.
DO THE MATH
As spelled out in the constitution, the threshold for passage is two-thirds of members present. So if all 150 House members are present, the requirement is 100 votes.
Usually, the Speaker does not vote, except to break ties. So if one of these bills gets to 99 votes and needs that 100th vote to pass, that’s where Krowinski will step in.
There’s something else to know about override votes: The previous votes on the bills offer general guidance but limited utility in predicting the outcome. Party loyalty does not become the be-all, end-all of such votes — as seen in the failed override on mandatory paid family leave in 2020 — but it can carry a stronger voice when lawmakers are deciding how to vote.
“At this point we’re continuing to work with members,” Krowinski said. “We don’t have a Democratic veto-proof majority so we have to form a coalition with Independents, Progressives and perhaps Republicans. So we’re working hard on that vote right now.”
In the House, Democrats have a majority of 92 members to 46 Republicans, seven Progressives and five Indepedents. So they need eight votes from outside the caucus to override a veto.
My two cents: Past high-profile votes (including overrides) show the House GOP caucus has been exceptionally disciplined when it comes to holding fast on party principles or backing Gov. Scott. I won’t be surprised if they again hold fast and vote “no” as a bloc, meaning additional votes for passage will have to come from the Progressive and Independent ranks.
That’s enough wiggle room for a successful override on all three bills in the House, but just enough.
The Senate is a different story. With just seven Republicans to 21 Democrats and two Progressives, successful override votes seem a foregone conclusion.
The interesting bit coming out of the Senate is how the body votes on S. 79, which proposes a rental unit registry and a state inspection system in addition to a pair of programs offering incentives for increasing the state’s housing stock. Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, said she is confident that the Senate will concur with the amendment that passed the House — but was not sent to the Senate under a rules suspension — on the final day of the formal session. From there, the Senate may send the bill to Scott’s desk, and it would be up to the governor to decide whether the will become law, or veto No. 24.
COMINGS AND GOINGS
Diane Snelling, who served as chair of the Natural Resources Board since 2016, is stepping down to pursue other opportunities, Gov. Phil Scott’s office announced Thursday. She’ll step down as of July 1.
It’s up to Scott to appoint a successor to Snelling, the daughter of the late Gov. Richard Snelling and the late Lieutenant Gov. Barbara Snelling. It’s a critical role: the Natural Resources Board is the independent entity that oversees the administration of Act 250, the state’s landmark land use planning law.
“I might be retiring from public service, but I will continue to be a strong advocate for the protection of the Vermont environment,” Snelling said. “I am proud of the many improvement initiatives we have undertaken in the last five years, and of the annual data that demonstrates that more than 72 percent of all Act 250 permit applications are processed in 60 days or less.
“I thank the Board, the staff, and the dedicated District Commission volunteers, for their commitment to Vermont and Act 250. It has been a pleasure working together.”
Those interested in the position can contact the Governor’s appointments office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott is also seeking a new member of the State Board of Education, as outgoing chair John Carroll, a former senator appointed in 2017 is stepping down. But the criteria for appointing members changed with the passage of S.115, a miscellaneous education bill signed into law by Scott on June 7.
The guiding language now says to the extent possible, members “shall represent the state’s geographic, gender, racial, and ethnic diversity.” It previously said board members should represent “geographically diverse areas of the state.”
The new member will be appointed by the Scott to fill the remainder of Carroll’s term and will be eligible for reappointment.
Interested? The application form can be found at https://governor.vermont.gov/boards-and-commissions/appointment-application.
THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS
What do you do with your life once you’ve been governor of Vermont? Howard Dean is a board member of the National Democratic Institute. Madeleine Kunin served as ambassador to Switzerland and has recently published a volume of poetry. With pandemic restrictions finally eased, Phil Scott recently resumed racing his No. 14 late model stock car at Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre.
Jim Douglas? He has a speaking role with the Opera Company of Middlebury, the state’s only professional opera, presenting a streamed video production of Leonard Bernstein’s operetta “Candide” through June 30.
The Opera Company of Middlebury produced Bernstein’s take on Voltaire’s spicy, scathing and hilarious French Enlightenment satire at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater. It’s being streamed through June 30, and you can find the trailer and a link for tickets at https://ocmvermont.org/show/candide/.
“When we were reading the script for the first time, the dry wit of the narrator reminded us of someone,” OCM’s artistic director Douglas Anderson said in a press release. “And then we realized that the character sounded just like Jim Douglas. No matter if he was speaking in the Statehouse or presiding over a ribbon cutting, Jim always got laughs.”
How did Douglas do? Jim Lowe, the Rutland Herald’s longtime arts editor, said this: “His deliciously wry narration alone is worth the price of admission.”