Liberally Speaking (5/28/09)

The legislative session: triumph and compromise

May 28, 2009

By Steve Mount

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” said baseball sage Yogi Berra. So it is with this year’s legislative session. Though they have adjourned, they will be back.

At least one act of the Legislature will have a lasting and profound effect on Vermont and, perhaps, the nation.

That act, S.115, has a deceptively meek title: “An act relating to civil marriage.” Known colloquially as the Same-Sex Marriage Act, it will give same-sex couples marriage equity as of Sept. 1, 2009. Plan on extensive news coverage of wedding ceremonies that day.

The act also protects religious institutions, specifically allowing almost any such institution in the state to refuse to perform any marriage that violates its beliefs.

The act, in just 10 printed pages, made Vermont a vanguard in the effort to bring marriage equity to the entire nation. Vermont is the first state to have its Legislature open up marriage to same sex couples, rather than have it imposed by the state’s judiciary. After Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed the act, there was uncertainty whether the Legislature could garner the votes to override. On April 7, however, the Legislature was able to override the veto, by the absolute narrowest of margins.

S.115 was the most high-profile bill the Legislature worked on, but not the only one.

For young hunters, H.64 eliminates Youth Hunting Day for Vermonters 16 and under, and expands Youth Hunting Weekend to anyone 15 and under who has taken a hunter safety course.

An important act for wine producers, S.27 allows “manufacturers or rectifiers of vinous beverages” to hold wine-tastings on their property, as long as they provide 14-day notice of the event to the department of liquor control. The act also allows producers to sell products they did not produce, which could increase networking opportunities for this burgeoning industry.

Notably for Williston, H.31 approves our charter changes, including one that allows the town manager to appoint and discharge the zoning administrator. Also important for the Williston community, teacher Al Myers was honored with House Concurrent Resolution 160, the passage of which was witnessed by many Williston students.

Despite all this good work, though, it ain’t quite over yet. The governor is recalling the Legislature into a special session to deal with the budget. The budget approved by the Legislature, in bill H.441, has come under fire from the governor as being irresponsible and unsustainable.

This is the governor’s job — to use his judgment to determine if bills passed by the Legislature are appropriate for the state and to veto them if they are not. Since the budget passed the Democrat-controlled House by a comfortable margin, but not by enough to override a veto, the threat of a veto is being taken seriously. The governor’s proposal is being looked at closely by legislative leaders as they prepare for the special session.

According to news reports, though, those leaders are not happy with what they’ve seen. The governor’s budget has cuts that the Legislature does not want to see, but worse, it envisions savings that have no definite source.

Democrats want to tax higher-income Vermonters, placing a $5,000 cap on itemized deductions and replacing the 40 percent exemption on capital gains tax with the $5,000 cap. The additional funds raised allowed the legislative budget to cut across-the-board taxes and to avoid additional budget cuts. The governor argues against the adjustment because he opposes new revenue in general and wants to see more cuts to the budget.

The budget is an essential part of the running of the government, which is why this dodge and parry is even taking place at all. The governor’s veto pen is his leverage, but the Legislature is not without some leverage of its own. Without a budget, the wheels of government will grind to a halt and, as the executive, the governor will shoulder much of the blame if a compromise cannot be reached.

State Auditor of Accounts Tom Salmon has volunteered to help mediate the differences between the two proposed budgets. This would certainly be a positive step. The best scenario for the state would be for the two sides to come to a compromise before the special session, and then have the session simply rubber-stamp that compromise.

Then, it would be over.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at