BENNINGTON — Lawmakers are considering whether to override Gov. Phil Scott's veto of a bill that would have provided for stricter regulation of toxic substances.
The bill, "An act relating to the regulation of toxic substances and hazardous materials," passed the Senate and House late last month. Scott vetoed the bill Monday.
Scott, in his veto message Monday, said bill S. 103 "is duplicative to existing measures that already achieve its desired protections" and "will jeopardize jobs and make Vermont less competitive for businesses."
Brian Campion, D-Bennington, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday that the Senate is discussing an override.
The pending question, "Shall the bill pass, notwithstanding the Governor's refusal to approve the bill," is on the Senate's action calendar for Thursday.
To override the veto, a two-thirds vote is needed in the Senate (20 votes) and the House (100 votes).
The Senate bill would have given the health commissioner new authority to ban children's products containing certain "chemicals of high concern." Current law allows the commissioner to issue bans "upon the recommendation of" a committee that includes leaders of several state agencies. The change would have allowed the health commissioner to do so "after consultation with" the committee. Any such rules are reviewed by a legislative committee before they take effect.
"The regulatory process is working and should proceed as originally envisioned," Scott said in his veto message. "With a robust process in place, children will not be any safer as a result of the proposed changes contained in this bill."
The bill was proposed after widespread PFOA contamination was discovered in some drinking water wells in Bennington and North Bennington. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a man-made chemical formerly used to manufacture products with the non-stick coating Teflon. It's been linked to cancers and other diseases.
Scott drew criticism from some lawmakers and activists for the veto. It was the first time Scott has used his veto power this legislative session.
Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said in a statement Tuesday that "it's unfortunate" that Scott "is prioritizing corporate interests over public health and the safety of Vermont families."
"When the choice came down to protecting kids or pleasing industry lobbyists, Gov. Scott went with the lobbyists," said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which advocated for the bill. "It's really a shameful decision."
Scott took issue with the bill establishing an Interagency Committee on Chemical Management and Citizen's Advisory Panel. A committee and advisory panel created by an executive order last summer "has similar membership and responsibilities," he wrote. The committee, made up of legislators and representatives of state agencies, is already due to make a report to Scott by July 1.
Scott, in a statement detailing his decision, highlighted his top priorities. "To achieve these three goals, I feel it is important to promote clear and understandable regulations that protect the public and support a strong economy through more predictability and stability for our businesses," he said.
Legislative counsel Michael O'Grady, in a memo issued Monday, reviewed the differences between the committee established by the executive order and that described in the bill.
The "key substantive difference," he wrote, is that the order requires the committee to report to the governor, not lawmakers. "Requiring such recommendations to the General Assembly is logical because the General Assembly is, under the Vermont Constitution, the entity in state government with the power to formulate and enact laws."
O'Grady wrote that "it was likely that... the General Assembly would act to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House versions of [the bill], and thereby establish new law and policy for the state."
Material from a VTDigger story by Dave Gram was used to compile this report. Ed Damon can be reached at email@example.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.