January 8, 2021
By Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop
The contrast between Vermont and Washington, D.C., politics has never been more pronounced than it was this week. In Vermont, we ushered in a new legislative session with a trio of women leaders with new ideas, energy, and a profound sense of serving the State of Vermont to develop thoughtful, balanced public policy. Lt. Governor Molly Gray, Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski, and President Pro Tem Becca Balint begin this unusual, COVID-marked session with a pledge to work with Governor Phil Scott and his Administration to get Vermont’s economy on a path to recovery. While these leaders are from different parties, the spirit of cooperation and willingness to collaborate has always been present under the Golden Dome in Montpelier. 

What we witnessed on Wednesday in our nation’s capital was not only the total opposite, but it was also an attempt to subvert our core democratic principles. While I’m hopeful that President-elect Biden can unite us, it will take strong will to heed that call. I am grateful that I live in Vermont and work in the Vermont State House, and this year, while I will miss walking through the corridors among inspiring artwork, the Hall of Inscriptions, and the Cedar Creek Room, I still will still be fortunate to work on public policy with many people who share the same values. 

These are elected officials, appointed members of the Administration, and advocates for diverse interests who believe in the rule of law, the deliberate process, and the consideration of differing perspectives, with the goal of finding common ground for the betterment of Vermont. I feel privileged to work with these people, and while we no doubt will have disagreements in policy, civility and respect is a shared belief.
Governor Phil Scott’s State of the State address touched on issues ranging from public health, to education, to the condition of Vermont’s economy. The Governor reflected on the unprecedented challenges caused by COVID-19, thanking Vermonters for their resilience in the face of the ongoing health crisis, while also pointing out the need to address challenges that existed in the state prior to the onset of the pandemic. The remarks prioritized addressing the current crisis while also highlighting forward-looking plans to improve the economic condition of rural Vermont, reform Act 250, provide additional relief for businesses, support the child care sector, protect employers from sharp unemployment insurance rate hikes, expand Tax Increment Financing (TIF), and retain and recruit workforce. The Vermont Chamber shares many of the above goals, and we look forward to working with the Administration to provide a bridge for businesses to a post-pandemic economy.  
The Legislature confirmed the 2021-2022 Session leadership class. The House officially chose Representative Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) as Speaker, and the Senate selected Senator Becca Balint (D-Brattleboro) as President Pro Tempore. Representative Emily Long (D-Newfane) was named House Majority leader, Representative Pattie McCoy (R-Poultney) Minority Leader, and Representative Selene Colburn (P-Burlington) Progressive Leader. The Senate’s caucus leadership team includes Senator Alison Clarkson (D-Woodstock) as Majority Leader and Senator Randy Brock (R-Swanton) as Minority Leader. In their inaugural remarks, both Speaker Krowinski and Senator Balint identified addressing the impacts of COVID-19 as their top priority, emphasizing the need for continued vigilance in combatting the disease, while also improving access to essential services like child care and broadband access. Lt. Governor Molly Gray was also sworn in, delivering remarks that largely echoed House and Senate leaders. The Vermont Chamber looks forward to continuing to work with legislative leadership to secure a strong economy, including by collaborating on our shared goals. 
The Speaker of the House announced committee assignments this week with only a few changes for committee chairs. This likely reflects her influence in her previous role as Majority Leader when she worked closely with all the House committee chairs, which may be why existing chairs remained largely in place. The lack of major reorganization in committee leadership in both the House and Senate suggests this will be a session that focuses on addressing the now familiar challenges related to COVID-19. During the tumultuous 2020 legislative session, the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development met with business owners on a weekly basis and was instrumental in shaping economic relief packages. The Vermont Chamber looks forward to continuing to work with this and other committees to ensure the business community’s concerns continue to be heard throughout the 2021 session. Our four-person lobbying team will be headlining introductions in the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development next week to set forth the business agenda.
Vermont is expecting $500 million in additional federal funding from the Economic Relief Stimulus Package passed in December by Congress. The House Ways & Means Committee received a briefing on the categories. Early estimates show the total impact of the relief portion of the bill could be $1.5 to $2.5 billion, but only about $750 million will need legislative action. The areas that include direct pass through include direct stimulus payments of $600, additional PPP funding, and Unemployment Insurance supplements. Of the state directed funding, $210 million will go toward vaccine funding, testing, tracing, and mitigation. Additional categories to receive funding include rental assistance, elementary, secondary, and higher education relief, substance abuse and mental health programming, and transportation funding. Further federal aid could include additional business grants and funding for state and local governments. 
As the pandemic alters how Vermonters work, the Legislature is impacted as well, and they will continue to work remotely in the 2021 session. In some ways, the remote framework can lead to greater transparency and access, yet it also means inventing new ways of communicating and lobbying. Your four-person lobbying team at the Vermont Chamber is ready for this continuing challenge and is deploying a dozen interns from UVM, Middlebury, and Norwich as part of our Legislative Monitoring Collaborative to ensure that we have the most current and accurate information. The Legislature is producing around 468 hours of video content each week. That’s a lot of policy viewing, and if you are interested in accessing these deliberations, click here for what you need to know.
With the first week of the session completed, we anticipate the Legislature to begin policy work in earnest next week with all 24 House and Senate standing committees meeting for full-day deliberations. While concrete agendas will not be posted until Monday, we anticipate committee chairs to organize introductory testimony from their committee staff, Administration officials who cover their issues of jurisdiction and advocates on other germane issues. Formal bill introductions along with continued training and additional committee organization will also occur next week.  
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In business since 1912, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce is a private, not-for-profit business organization with 1,500 members employing 45,000 people and representing all sectors of the state's economy. Our mission is to create an economic climate conducive to business growth and the preservation of the Vermont quality of life. Copyright ©2018 The Vermont Chamber of Commerce. All Rights Reserved.

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