Vermont House Republicans on Wednesday mustered the votes to sustain Gov. Phil Scott's veto of a bill that would have expanded state regulation of toxic chemicals in consumer products.
The bill would have expanded the power of the commissioner of the Department of Health to regulate products that pose a risk of exposing children to toxic chemicals. The commissioner, who is appointed by the governor, would have been able to require health labeling on products or even ban their sale.
The House's vote to override the veto failed to get approval from two thirds of the representatives present, as required by the state's constitution. Ninety-four representatives voted in favor of the bill and 53 voted against it.
One of those standing with the Republican governor was Rep. David Ainsworth (R-South Royalton), who had been out sick. He returned to the chamber to help the GOP's cause, casting his first votes of the session.
Ainsworth's first vote of the day, on an unrelated bill, drew extended applause from House colleagues who were glad to see him. He told Seven Days after the vote that part of the reason he returned was to support Scott's veto.
"I was hoping to be here earlier in the month, but I'm still recovering from my autoimmune system attacking my body after my kidney transplant two years ago," Ainsworth said.
Numerous complications, including a staph infection, affected Ainsworth's recovery from the transplant and left him unable to stand as recently as January. He said he is recovering, though not as fast as he'd like.
House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) said the bill Ainsworth helped defeat, S. 103, "is not needed and will do nothing to improve children’s safety in Vermont.”
Turner's criticism echoed the governor's. When he vetoed it last week, Scott said the bill would hurt manufacturers and other businesses without making children safer. Scott and Turner said the state's existing regulations are sufficient.
The Senate voted 22-8 to override the veto, clearing the two-thirds threshold.
Republican leaders subsequently lobbied House members to support the governor in what was expected to be a close vote. The efforts paid off.
Six representatives voted against the bill Wednesday after supporting it when it originally passed the House last year: Reps. Fred Baser (R-Bristol), William Canfield (R-Fair Haven), Martha Feltus (R-Lyndonville), Jim Harrison (R-Chittenden), Richard Lawrence (R-Lyndonville) and Terry Norris (I-Shoreham).
That made the difference. The House tally was just four votes shy of a two-thirds majority.