Gov. Phil Scott speaks at his weekly press conference on April 25, 2019. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott seems to be taking a new approach with lawmakers in Montpelier this session.

Last year, he told legislators months in advance which pieces of legislation he could support, and which would likely earn a veto.

This year, the governor is playing his hand closer to the vest. While the governor has been clear when he supports legislation — or where he sees compromise is possible — he has yet to threaten to break out his veto pen.

On some of the biggest issues of the session, he has remained more quiet, yet to formally announce his position. But he has suggested, generally, what lawmakers would need to do to win his signature on key bills.

Here is where we know the governor stands on some of the biggest policy proposals this year.

Paid Family Leave

The governor has said he will only support a paid family leave program in Vermont if employees or employers pay into it voluntarily. This means he would likely oppose H.107, the paid family leave program passed by the House last month, which would require employees or employers to pay a mandatory payroll tax to fund it. That’s unless the Senate makes major changes to the plan in the coming weeks.

Scott is still pitching his own paid family leave plan to lawmakers, which would harness the pool of Vermont and New Hampshire’s state employees to bring down the costs for Vermont employers to offer the benefit to workers voluntarily.

The governor says that even workers whose employers don’t offer the leave benefit would be able to buy into his plan and still pay a similar premium.

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He also says his plan still leaves open the option of expanding the program to a mandatory system later on.

“It gives us an opportunity to see how it works and we can use the same infrastructure in the future no matter what anyone does whether it’s mandatory or continues to be voluntary, but without a payroll tax,” Scott said Thursday.

But Scott’s plan has received a cool reception from Democratic lawmakers, who want the program to be accessible to all working Vermonters, and say that requiring universal participation makes it more affordable.

$15 minimum wage

Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, left, confers with Rep. David Yacovone, D-Morrisville, as they sit in the Senate seats in the House chamber at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Before the legislative session ends next month, the Legislature is expected to once again pass a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years.

If the minimum wage bill, S. 23, reached the governor’s desk as the same policy it was last year, the governor’s chief of staff Jason Gibbs said lawmakers “can expect a similar outcome.” Scott vetoed the bill last year.

Scott and his staff have not detailed what changes would be needed to earn his support. And lawmakers have not said if they would be willing to meet Scott in the middle with a more moderate minimum wage proposal.

Last week, lawmakers on a key House panel rejected a proposal to roll out the minimum wage increase over seven, instead of only five years. Some believed a longer phase-in period could have have encouraged the governor — and lawmakers concerned about how the wage increase would impact small business — to support the bill.

A taxed and regulated market for marijuana

Scott has been clear since the beginning of the legislative session: he will support a bill to legalize cannabis sales if lawmakers make major investments in roadside safety, and drug use prevention programs for children.

On the roadside safety front, the governor announced last week that he would not support the bill unless lawmakers approved saliva testing for law enforcement officers. Many Democrats have opposed the tests, because while they can determine whether someone has the presence of marijuana, or other substances, in their system, they lack a standard to detect whether someone is actually impaired.

But some key Democratic supporters of S.54 have signaled they would be willing to back saliva tests, if police are required to obtain warrants before they can administer them. Scott said Thursday that he would be open to the idea, but stopped short of saying that it would win his support.

“I’m not sure about the warrant part. I’m saying, I’m willing to listen,” he said.

Scott also said he wants the legislation to require municipalities to vote to “opt in” if they want to host dispensaries. Under the legislation passed by the Senate in March, towns and cities would have to go out of their way to “opt out” to prevent dispensaries from setting up shop.

24-hour waiting period for handguns

Sen. Phil Baruth speaks at the Statehouse

Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, explains a bill in the Senate in February. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

On Thursday, the governor said that he is waiting for the House to act on S.22, legislation that would establish a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, before he weighs in on the matter.

When asked about the issue at the beginning of the session, the Scott administration signaled the governor would not be inclined to further tighten the state’s gun laws after approving sweeping restrictions last year.

“I’ve said all along I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for those who have had to go through this. I’m not sure that this is the answer,” he said on Thursday.

The governor said that he has met with the Rob and Alyssa Black who have been pushing for a gun purchase waiting period since the beginning of the session. The Blacks’ son, Andrew, killed himself with a gun last year.

Doubling the fuel tax for home weatherization

Last month, the House voted to double the tax on heating fuel to raise about $4.6 million in additional revenue to fund weatherization for low income households.

But Scott, other Republicans and Senate leadership have indicated they do not support the measure, included in the House revenue bill, H.541. They believe that increasing the tax on heating fuel from two cents to four cents would harm the population it aims to help: those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. If it reached his desk, the governor would likely veto the proposal.

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Tags: $15 minimum wage, Andrew Black, firearm waiting period, H.107, H.541, heating fuel tax, paid family leave, Phil Scott, S.22, S.23, S.54, tax and regulate, Vermont legislature, weatherization

Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger’s political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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