MONTPELIER – With passage of a $7.3 billion budget, Vermont lawmakers closed out the 2021 Legislative Session last week. But with more Vermonters getting vaccinated, legislators are eager to log off Zoom and hear directly from constituents.
Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint said a listening tour is in the works for all senators and house members, and state leaders will also be gathering feedback on an eventual return to the Vermont State House next year.
Balint said while it will be refreshing to meet face-to-face with people again and learn how they’ve been impacted by the pandemic, some aspects of remote legislating could stick around next session.
“We’re going to be looking ahead at how we integrate both systems, the in person, People’s House, doors open with people in committee rooms, while also not letting go of the greater access Vermonters have,” Balint said.
Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray said it’s important for Vermonters to have a significant role in deciding what the state should do with remaining relief funds from the American Rescue Plan.
“The most important thing in my mind moving forward is that we have Vermonters at the table every single day,” Gray said. “I look forward to getting across the state, meeting Vermonters where they’re at, and making sure as we enter this next phase we’re working to recover stronger together.”
The promise of business-as-usual for legislators, constituents and businesses this summer stands in stark contrast to how the session began. In January, the Legislature convened via Zoom for what may prove to be one of the most consequential sessions in the state’s history.
“I for one can’t help but think of this session as historic in so many ways,” said House Speaker Jill Krowinski, addressing her colleagues for the final time this session Friday.
With a long list of challenges caused by or worsened by COVID-19, the only option was to turn on their cameras and get to work.
“There’s no playbook for a COVID pandemic session,” Lt. Gov. Gray said.
Looking back, the leaders of both chambers of the Legislature had a positive outlook on what was accomplished this year.
“When I step back and look at the amount of work we were able to do despite being over Zoom, I feel very proud of that,” Sen. Balint said.
“These are truly incredible investments, and they will have ripple effects for generations of Vermonters to come,” Speaker Krowinski said on Friday.
The state’s budget came together last week after some give-and-take with Governor Phil Scott’s administration. On Monday, Governor Scott had some parting thoughts on the 2021 session:
“He gave a little bit, we gave a little bit, and we ended up investing in broad topics we all agree on,” Sen. Balint said. “I’m feeling pretty confident he’s not going to veto the budget.”
Among other areas of focus, Vermont’s 2022 budget takes aim at the struggling economy, broadband, affordable housing and climate change. Nearly $600 million in federal relief dollars contributed to the $7.3 billion total.