The 2022 Legislative Session adjourned in the early evening on Thursday, May 12th. For me, it was a special day culminating twenty-four years serving in the Vermont House. The day was extra special because my son, Ben Partridge, travelled to Montpelier to play his bagpipes for the morning devotions. Most everyone loves the pipes and Ben has played almost every year since he was a young teenager. Typically, the day before, I make an announcement that he will be playing and folks should consider it a heads up or a warning, depending on how they feel about bagpipes. Most every seat was filled!
I am really proud and happy with what we were able to accomplish this year. The Legislature worked hard to use the influx of federal money to make wise investments in Vermont’s future, knowing they would be one-time opportunities. For years, it has been our policy to not fund on-going programs with one-time money or we run into problems in the out years.
It is the custom on the last day of the biennium for leadership to make speeches that thank all of the people that help us do our work and to summarize our accomplishments. This year was no exception but was especially poignant because it was a reminder of what we have been through these past two years. Operating on Zoom and YouTube due to the pandemic was challenging but had the positive outcome of making our work more accessible to the public.
One accomplishment that I am particularly pleased about is the enactment of the Weighting Study to rectify the unfairness of the education funding system for the past twenty-six years. It will take several years to phase in but will ultimately more accurately support the costs of educating children who live in poverty and in sparsely populated towns, as well as English language learners. In the meantime, the spending penalty threshold, which has plagued smaller schools that do not have an economy of scale, will be suspended.
Some of the investments we have made with the federal dollars we received include housing, broadband, our State College system, workforce development, our public pension system, mental health and substance misuse, climate change, and water quality.
Stabilizing the public pension system was nothing short of a miracle. Stakeholders from all sides got together to come up with a solution that everyone could agree with, with one exception, the governor. The governor vetoed the bill and in a remarkable turn of events, the veto was overridden unanimously 148-0. Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint deserve great credit for their persistence that we work the problem out and solve it.
Many of the investment choices that were made were thoroughly studied and considered. We realize the influx of federal money is a once in a lifetime sort of thing and we wanted to make sure that our investments will have an impact long into the future.
In terms of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee, we achieved much of what we set out to do. The governor still has to sign our work into law, but we are cautiously optimistic that he will. We amended one of the housekeeping bills with language that clarifies and updates the definition of agricultural activities as a potential precursor to a full-on update of the Vermont Right to Farm Law, which has been judged on a national level to be relatively weak. We amended S.188, the bill relating to regulating licensed small cannabis cultivation as farming, to include the transition of the Vermont Hemp Program from the authority of the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets to that of the Cannabis Control Board. This will have benefits in terms of streamlining administration and inspection processes and cost less for our hemp growers.
In a last-minute move, we were able to get some of the language that would benefit agriculture and forest products industries into a bill focused on housing. It had originally been part of a bill we passed out of committee that was taken into House Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife. They included modified versions of it in S.234, the Act 250 bill, which the governor threatened to veto. As a result, the forestry hours of operation permit conditions and the study of the Accessory On-Farm Business was included in the housing bill as a Hail Mary pass to get it over the finish line. We have been waiting for at least four years to get the hours of operation permit conditions changed as a reflection that forestry operations do not necessarily work on bankers’ hours and need leeway to do their work.
Our work on the Franklin County Airport prime agricultural soil mitigation paid off in that $400,000 was included in the budget to pay the mitigation fee. This will incentivize significant economic development and job creation in Franklin County, while still allowing the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to conserve agricultural land for farming.
On a personal note, I was deeply gratified that H.244 made it across the finish line. Formally known as an act relating to authorizing the natural organic reduction of human remains, I refer to it as human composting. There are many Vermonters who have contacted me from all over the state saying how much they appreciate my sponsorship of the bill.
As I announced a couple of weeks ago, I will not be running for office this year, but I want to be clear that I will still serve the people of the Windham-3 district until next January. I will still stay involved and may occasionally write about things that I think are important to the future of Vermont.
When I arrived home on Friday after packing up my Montpelier apartment and my committee room that had twenty-four years of memories, I had a lot to unload. Saturday morning, I ventured outside to lovely fresh air, budding greenery, my vegetable garden that I need to plant, and happy pollinators feasting on dandelions. I will begin shearing my sheep and goats in the next few days and have dates to take care of my grandchildren. I am truly blessed and thankful for my life, especially given the situation in Ukraine.
All that being said, I encourage folks to reach out to me with questions, thoughts, and concerns. I thank the Brattleboro Reformer for printing my articles these last many years and wish everyone a healthy, safe, and happy summer. Together, we govern!