Jilted by House, Vermont Senate Adjourns for the Year | Off Message

Jilted by House, Vermont Senate Adjourns for the Year


Senators held a caucus Wednesday to discuss the accomplishments of the session. - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Senators held a caucus Wednesday to discuss the accomplishments of the session.
Like a bride left at the altar, the Vermont Senate dutifully convened Wednesday, but their colleagues in the House stood them up.

The Senate had hoped that House members, frustrated by the collapse of negotiations on a minimum wage and paid family and medical leave package, would reconsider their abrupt Friday decision to adjourn until January 7.

Alas, it was not to be.

“We are sorry that we had to ask you to come back for this,” Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint (D-Windham) told her colleagues during a caucus before the brief afternoon floor session, “but it felt important enough for us to leave that possibility open.”

After a few speeches, a recounting of legislative accomplishments and well wishes for the summer, the upper chamber of the general assembly did the only thing it really could do: It accepted the lower chamber's adjournment resolution and went home.

Before the final gavel fell, however, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) gave his colleagues a pep talk.

“In my opinion, this Senate can really stand proud of all that it has achieved,” Ashe said.
In one of the few references made during the brief afternoon session to the turmoil and discord of a week earlier, Ashe noted he’d previously described himself as a Senate sponge.

“Sometimes, it turns out, I’m also a punching bag,” he said. “But I’m happy to be a punching bag, or suffer any abuse, when I know that the Senate has done what it believes is right, and I believe is right.”

Both Ashe and his counterpart in the House, Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), have come under intense scrutiny for their inability to negotiate versions the other chamber could accept of bills to increase the minimum wage and create a paid family and medical leave program.

Both were top Democratic priorities for the session, and there was optimism that the strong and theoretically veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate would give the legislature enough leverage to get the bills passed into law.

The Senate has long prioritized raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, while the House has favored a family and medical leave program. Versions of both proposals secured approval in both chambers, but in recent weeks, the House slowed the pace of the wage increase and the Senate watered down the paid leave program.

The intense effort to find common ground fell apart last week in spectacular fashion, with Johnson sending Ashe an ultimatum to agree to a deal by noon last Friday or wrap things up for the year.

Ashe, who had been on the podium when he received the letter around 10:30 a.m., made his way to Johnson’s office at 2 p.m., where she told him he’d missed the window for a deal.

“I know the past week has been tough for some, but we all know from time to time, stuff like this happens,” Gov. Phil Scott told the Senate in his parting address Wednesday. “What we must not do is let the last week define the entire session.”

He urged them to be proud of the work done to dedicate funds for clean water; boost investments in child care and higher education; increase funding for weatherization, mental health and substance abuse programs; combat lead in water; and address the rise of vaping among teens.

And, in a line that was surely written before the acrimony and disappointment of the previous week, Scott praised legislators for how well they worked together.

“This session, we have proven that the spirit of civility and respect are important, productive and, hopefully, contagious for the rest of the country,” the governor said.

Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure.