Vermont lawmakers back in Montpelier for 2020 session

January 7, 2020 GMT

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Both chambers of the Vermont Legislature were gaveled back into session Wednesday, kicking off the second half of the two-year session, with lawmakers in many cases picking up where they left off in May.

Both the House and Senate took the floor about 10 a.m.

In opening comments to the state Senate following a series of procedural moves, President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Progressive and Democrat, from Burlington, said senators would be dealing with unexpected issues throughout the session.

“Each day while we face all of the unexpected things that pop up and make our work here more difficult, the one thing we can control is at the end of the day feeling that we have conducted ourselves in a way that the voters of the state would be proud of,” he said.

The Senate calendar for the opening day included veto-override votes on two bills that were passed by the Legislature, but vetoed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

The votes will come later in the session, Ashe said.

One of the vetoes was of a proposal that would have given people exposed to toxic substances the right to sue the polluters to cover their medical monitoring costs. Scott said the legislation lacked clarity for businesses and noted that many steps to ensure safe drinking water have been taken since he became governor.

Ashe said lawmakers would have to consider the implications of a ruling by a federal court judge who allowed residents seeking damages for chemical groundwater contamination in their Bennington neighborhood to seek the costs of medical monitoring.

The legal ruling is part of a class action lawsuit filed by Bennington residents seeking damages for chemical contamination in the groundwater in their neighborhood.

The second veto was of a bill that would have established a 24-hour waiting period to buy handguns and make other changes to the state’s gun laws. In his veto message Scott said he felt the state had passed a number of gun safety reforms and more weren’t needed.

“We will be regrouping trying to be sure we have a plan to continue with gun safety efforts in the state,” Ashe said.

Ashe said that other issues that lawmakers expect to take up this year include criminal justice reform, including trying to find ways to reduce the prison population, housing and establishing retail market for the sale of marijuana, which is already legal in Vermont for recreational use.