By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
SINE DINE: Gov. Peter Shumlin told lawmakers at the Capitol that the 2014 legislative session was a major success.
MONTPELIER, Vt. — As the gavel fell ending the 2014 legislative session Saturday, Gov. Peter Shumlin said the Vermont Legislature had “one of the most successful sessions in recent memory.”
“We came into this session determined to grow jobs and prosperity, to improve opportunity for the middle class and for hard-working Vermonters, and to strengthen our quality of life,” Shumlin told lawmakers in the House chamber. “Together we made this biennium one of the most productive, successful sessions in recent memory.”
Aided by supermajorities in both the House and Senate, the Democratic governor achieved many of his legislative priorities, from raising the minimum wage and labeling GMOs to addressing opiate addiction and launching statewide pre-K education.
On the economy, Shumlin touted the state’s pickup of 11,000 new jobs since 2011, offering special recognition to the solar sector.
“Since 2011 we have quadrupled the number of solar installations in the state of Vermont, leading the nation in per capita solar job creation. We’ve created nearly 1,000 new jobs in solar energy in this state,” he said.
“Vermont is the national leader on clean energy because of your hard work.”
On the issue of wages, lawmakers followed Shumlin’s leadership and agreed to hike the minimum wage from $8.73 to $10.50 an hour by 2018. In the near term, low-wage workers can expect to earn $9.15 an hour in 2015 and $9.60 in 2016.
“Anyone who puts in a full day’s work deserves to make a wage that will give their family a fighting chance,” Shumlin said. “We raised the minimum wage to ensure that Vermonters who work hard don’t live in poverty.”
Lawmakers also approved a $5.6 billion budget for 2015, and they gave the governor a $4.5 million Enterprise Incentive Fund to help retain jobs in the state.
On the issue of opiate addiction, an issue that occupied much of the governor’s state-of-the-state address in January, Shumlin praised lawmakers for offering treatment instead of jail time for drug offenders.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: House members on Saturday worked to tie-up loose ends before the final gavel fell on the 2014 session.
“Thanks to your hard work, we are now leading the nation in being honest and innovative as we address our addiction crisis. We’ve done that by expanding drug treatment centers to ensure that in the near future no Vermonter will be denied treatment and recovery opportunities when they most need it,” he said.
Before wrapping up his speech, the governor thanked lawmakers for giving Vermonters two years of free college education, GMO food labeling, and 370 miles of much-needed road repairs.
Not everyone was enthusiastic about the session.
House Minority Leader Don Turner, while thanking colleagues for their work, said many new policies were bad for Vermonters.
“We’ve done so much stuff that is going to negatively impact our economy and businesses. We didn’t really deal with the cost of living in Vermont,” he said.
Gun owners were miffed over the passage of H.735, a fees bill that empowers police to confiscate weapons from Vermonters who receive a restraining order from a judge.
Gun Owners of Vermont president Ed Culter said the legislation was unprecedented.
“There hasn’t been a gun vote in the state of Vermont in the past 50 years, and now that there has been, we know who is our friend and who isn’t,” he said.
Cutler identified top supporters of the anti-Second Amendment legislation.
“Shumlin was supposed to be a pro-gun guy. Now that he’s shown his true colors, we’re going to remember it come next election.”
Cutler called Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson, D-Chittenden; Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Windham; and Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden; the state’s top “anti-gun lawmakers.” He said his group would inform the public on how lawmakers voted.
Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, also didn’t agree with the governor’s assessment of the session. Harrison’s group was one of the most vocal in opposing the minimum wage increase.
“Did we support it? No. We would have liked to continue with current law, which automatically goes up each year.”
Harrison said the only positive was that the new increases go up incrementally, instead of all at once. Even so, he told Vermont Watchdog the wage increase was part of a broad union agenda in the state.
House Speaker Shap Smith, before slamming the final gavel on the 2014 session, offered words of gratitude.
“None of use can do it without our families. We do not recognize them enough,” he said.
Addressing his colleagues, the Speaker said, “I say to you, work well done, and thank you.”
Contact Bruce Parker at email@example.com