By Guy Page
The leader of the new veto-proof supermajority Vermont House Democratic caucus predicts the Legislature will seek action on three bills Gov. Phil Scott has opposed: the $15 minimum wage and paid family leave (vetoed by Scott last year), and retail sales of marijuana (opposed by Scott pending Marijuana Commission report this month), Jack Thurston of New England Cable Network reported Nov. 7.
Thurston reports: “House majority leader Jill Krowinski, a Democrat representing Burlington, said she expects the wage issue to be back on the table next session, along with a bill that would guarantee workers access to paid leave from their jobs after family changes such as a new baby. Also sure to resurface, Krowinski predicted, are proposals to tax and regulate the retail sale of recreational marijuana.”
When a House Majority Leader says an issue is “sure to surface,” it’s not just a passive observation. It’s Krowinski’s job to identify and move through the House the bills she, other majority leaders, and the Democratic caucus wish to become law. Thurston also notes that with last Tuesday’s loss of the veto-sustaining Republican caucus, Scott admits his hand in shaping legislation is weakened:
When you have a supermajority, there are some things that are going to happen that I can’t prevent, so they’ll have to work to make their case,” Scott said of House Democrats in an interview with NECN affiliate NBC 5 News. “I’ll do whatever I can to find areas where we can work together.
Neither Republican governor nor lawmakers will have sufficient power to stop a determined push by the majority. Gun ownership rights may be further limited by the 2019 Legislature. Consider this bill introduced by Chair Maxine Grad of the activist House Judiciary Committee during the 2018 Special Session:
H.11, “to prohibit a person subject to a relief from abuse order from possessing a firearm or deadly weapon while the order is in effect.” If successful, H.11 would significantly expand the conditions for separating Vermonters from their lawfully-acquired guns, which began last session when S.221 created a court process by which people deemed an “extreme risk” to themselves or others could have their guns taken away.
Note that in its use of the word “shall,” H.11 seems to forbid any judicial discretion to not require relinquishment:
The court order shall require the defendant to relinquish all firearms and deadly weapons that are in the control, ownership, or possession of the defendant, or in the control, ownership, or possession of any other person on behalf of the defendant, for the duration of the protective order…..A law enforcement agency shall be immune from civil or criminal liability for any damage or deterioration of firearms removed, stored, or transported pursuant to this section.
Also, seizing guns from “any other person on behalf of the defendant” could create a real-world situation of police taking guns from people just because they are relatives and sympathetic friends of the subject of the order.
There was no time for H.11 to move through the brief Special Session. However, its introduction suggests serious intent by Chair Grad to build on gun control gains of 2018.
Vermonters opposed to job killing, pot-selling, and/or gun seizing legislation face an uphill battle trying to stop or even amend them. Yet citizens are obliged – in fact, privileged – to tell their legislators, friends, and local media of their opposition, warn of the real-life consequences of passing bad bills, and offer informed, constructive alternatives. Here are three other possible courses of action:
- Appeal to Republicans, Independents, and independent-minded members of the Majority to consider the needs of Vermont and their districts first and the desires of the House leadership second.
- Speak in favor of court challenges to Vermonters’ constitutional rights. And, with an eye towards 2020, they can:
- Organize locally and statewide to elect like-minded legislators.
The 19th century poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, “poets are the unacknowledged authors of all legislation.” We can’t all be as poetic as Shelley but we can persistently speak and write about how to make life better in our lives, our culture, and our state.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.