Updated at 5:34 p.m.
Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday released a flurry of decisions on bills awaiting his signature, signing 11 into law and vetoing two others.
Scott also allowed a gun control bill, H.230, to take effect without his signature.
Among those that earned his approval were S.135, a bill establishing VT Saves, a state-run retirement program for employees in the private sector.
Struck by the veto pen was S.6, which would have prohibited the use of threats, physical harm, deception or “psychologically manipulative interrogation tactics” by law enforcement while interrogating people under age 22 — drawing the ire of the ACLU.
The other veto was to H.305, a bill that made a variety of changes to laws related to the Secretary of State’s Office of Professional Regulation.
VT Saves is expected to give Vermonters without access to a program with an employer a mechanism to save toward retirement through the state.
Under the plan, the state treasurer will oversee an individual retirement account, or IRA, on behalf of the 88,000 to 100,000 Vermonters over 18 who do not have access to an employer-sponsored plan.
Businesses that have five or more employees and do not offer a retirement savings plan will be required to set up accounts for their workers or face fines. Employers will have to enroll all employees by default. If employees do not want to stay in the plan, they could opt out.
Employers could not contribute to the plan.
The program will use an after-tax retirement plan, called a Roth IRA, meaning that employees will be taxed on earnings before they contribute, but then will not have to pay taxes when they withdraw money from the plan.
Employers would automatically deduct contributions and send them to whichever private company ran the plan.
A 2019 study by the Vermont Department of Labor found that 45% of Vermont employers and 55% of employers who have fewer than 20 employees do not offer a retirement plan.
California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Oregon offer plans similar to VT Saves.
In his veto letter, Scott said he opposed the police interrogation bill because, in addition to kids, it would cover people ages 18 to 22. That would make Vermont an outlier in expanding protections to young adults, he said.
He was also concerned that it would remove tools for investigating “serious crimes, such as narcotics trafficking, sex offenses, including sexual assaults that happen on college campuses and child sex abuse cases, and internet crimes against children,” he said.
The governor said the bill was opposed by “the entities charged with promoting public safety, including crime victim services and child advocacy centers.”
In a statement, ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Lyall called the veto of S.6 “appalling.”
The police tactics covered in the bill “are known to elicit false confessions, derail investigations, and result in wrongful convictions of innocent people,” Lyall said. “An extensive body of research confirms that youth are particularly susceptible to deceptive tactics. In addition, Black people and people of color are overrepresented in exoneration databases and in instances of false confessions.”
In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden Central, said that he was surprised by the governor’s veto of S.6. A member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Baruth had a front row seat to the bill’s negotiations and testimony. Of the testifiers who argued against the bill — particularly law enforcement — Baruth said, “It’s hard to even make the case with a straight face.”
“We had witnesses who were arguing that this was a necessary tool. And we would ask them, ‘So, you’re saying that you need to lie to people?’ And they were like, ‘Well, not exactly lie, but, you know’ — they got tongue tied, because that is what they’re saying.”
The other veto, to H.305, was made because Scott opposed the increase to licensing and other fees across the board within the bill. He said he was concerned about “adding to the affordability challenges Vermont employees and employers already face.”
The bill would allow public health dental hygienists to independently apply a decay- and cavity-halting sealant after they are trained in silver modified atraumatic restorative technique, or SMART, once the Board of Dental Examiners adopts rules governing the procedure, expected this summer.
Also, pharmacy technicians would be able to administer immunizations and tests for Covid-19 upon meeting specific training requirements under the supervision of a pharmacist at the same location.
Legislators have scheduled a session later this month when they can try to override the governor’s vetoes. Overrides require a two-thirds vote of those present in both chambers.
Baruth told VTDigger that legislative leadership is whipping the votes for each override attempt because “I don’t think it does anybody any good to have a successful and unsuccessful veto override.”
“My intention, if we have the votes, is to override every one of the vetoes,” Baruth said. “We’ve put our blood, sweat and tears in there and … we feel like they’re necessary changes, or we wouldn’t have passed them. So the only thing that would keep us from doing that is if we find out we don’t have the votes.”
Signed into law
Several of the bills that Scott signed into law are intended to increase or supplement the state’s health care workforce, either by making it easier for professionals to be licensed to practice in Vermont or by increasing the scope of independent work allowed.
H.62, H.77 and H.86 authorize the state to join three different interstate licensing compacts: one for clinical mental health counselors, one for physical therapists and one for audiologists and speech-language pathologists. Membership in these compacts means Vermont agrees to standardized licensing practices and will recognize a provider’s license in another member state as its own.
H.282 authorizes Vermont’s membership in an interstate licensing compact for psychologists, which operates somewhat differently. The Psychology Interstate Compact regulates the practice of telepsychology across state lines and allows for temporary in-person psychological practice in another member state.
H.473 allows radiologist assistants to work in locations where a supervising radiologist is not physically present, as long as the supervisor is readily available for consultation.
Scott also signed into law H.517, a bill dissolving Duxbury-Moretown Fire District No. 1, as well as several others.
Sarah Mearhoff contributed reporting.
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