Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday vetoed a pair of bills that would have granted local voting rights to noncitizen residents of Winooski and Montpelier, asserting that the topic needed "further consideration and debate."
Scott based his rejection on the argument that the two charter change proposals lacked clarity on who exactly would be able to vote and would lead to inconsistent election policies across the state. He urged the legislature to develop a statewide policy or "uniform template" for municipalities seeking to expand voting rights.
"I understand these charter changes are well-intentioned," Scott wrote in a letter to lawmakers Tuesday evening. "But I ask the Legislature to revisit the issue of non-citizen voting in a more comprehensive manner."
Scott took a slightly more favorable view of a proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the opioid-addiction drug buprenorphine, signing that bill on Tuesday despite his concerns over whether it was necessary.
Under the new law, people 21 and older found with less than 224 milligrams of “bupe” would not be criminally punished. Those under 21 found with that amount or less would be ticketed and referred to a drug diversion program. Advocates say Vermont will be the first state in the country with such a law.
In a letter detailing his decision, Scott said he feared there was not enough data on whether decriminalizing buprenorphine actually reduces overdoses, as advocates say. He also expressed concerns that it could undermine official treatment methods.
"However, we know addiction is a chronic illness and continue to see the devastating impacts on individuals, their families, and communities," he wrote. "Although I remain skeptical, I signed this bill because it is well-intentioned and offers another potential approach to reduce the impacts of substance use disorder."
Scott commended the legislature for sunsetting the law in 2023 so that experts have time to assess its impact. To that end, he signed an executive order Tuesday that directs Vermont's chief prevention officer to create a task force charged with setting performance metrics and collecting data on the impact of bupe decriminalization.
The task force will be required to hold an initial meeting this month and must make recommendations by the end of next year on whether the policy should be continued.
"It is important to me that we do not unravel previous progress, increase abuse of diverted drugs, or jeopardize the success of the hub and spoke system," Scott wrote.
In a statement Tuesday, the governor said he'd also signed 10 other bills, including one that will expand health care coverage to undocumented children and pregnant women through a state program known as Dr. Dynasaur.