Op-ed: Rep. Bock on wrap up of legislative session Covid funding, Global Warming Act, cannabis marketplace

By Tom Bock

The Vermont House of Representatives passed its final bills and adjourned on Friday, Sept. 25. This concluded an historic 2-year session in which Covd-19 tested our state, causing numerous disruptions, including the closure of Vermont’s State House.

The main purpose of the final session, which began on Aug. 25, was to finalize the state budget for fiscal 2021, which runs from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 and appropriate the remaining $223 million of the $1.25 billion Cares Act allotted to Vermont.

In developing the state budget, we had to struggle with a $180 million budget hole caused by the pandemic. However, the House working collaboratively with the Senate and the governor’s  administration, put together a balanced budget without raising taxes or fees.

We’ve done so while ensuring there are no cuts to the services Vermonters count on. At the same time, we have kept our two primary reserve funds — the so-called rainy day fund and unemployment insurance fund — intact to ensure we are in a strong financial position heading into the uncertain months that lie ahead. We gave final approval to the $7.15 billion state budget bill on Friday, Sept. 25.

Coronavirus Relief Funds helping colleges, hospitals

Included in the budget bill is the remaining $223 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds. These federal dollars will be used to fund public post-secondary education, including $23.8 million in bridge funding for the Vermont State Colleges System and $10 million in pandemic relief for UVM.

With the relief fund dollars, we were also able to set up a program to provide Covid-19 stimulus checks to immigrants in our state, and spend more than $30 million to help schools cover the costs of reopening during the pandemic.

$88 million will be spent on additional grants for businesses strained by the pandemic and $5 million to help ski areas make Covid-related modifications needed to stay open this winter.

We also allocated relief fund dollars to all hospitals in Vermont, including $6 million to Springfield Hospital.

House overturns veto Scott veto of Global Warming Act

In this final month-long session the Global Warming Solutions Act was enacted to lower our carbon footprint and move us toward our climate goals.

The GWSA converts Vermont’s emissions goals into requirements at a rate that’s achievable and realistic. To accomplish this, the GWSA sets up a Climate Council to develop a climate plan. The plan must prioritize strategies that are fair and equitable, that are technologically feasible and that reduce the energy burden and impact on rural, low-income and marginalized Vermonters.

With passage of the act by both House and Senate, the bill moved to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk, where he vetoed it, as expected. However, the House had enough support, including mine, to override a Scott veto.

Cannabis marketplace commission OK’d

The House also passed the cannabis bill (S.54). The bill creates a commission to establish a retail cannabis market in Vermont. Although I did not vote in favor of this bill, Gov. Scott has allowed it to pass into law without his signature.

Our work will continue into the winter as we prepare for the next legislative session in January. My focus is on the needs of our community and on ensuring no one falls behind during this pandemic. If you need any assistance, please reach out. I can always be reached at tmbock@vermontel.net or 802-875-2222.

Tom Bock of Chester represents Windsor District 3-1 — Andover, Baltimore, Chester and North Springfield — in the Vermont House.

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