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Readers: This story was updated at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept 21, to reflect that the Lt. Governor debate will be held Thursday. 

The finish line is finally in sight for the 2019-20 Vermont General Assembly.

But there's one more busy week ahead for the House and Senate before everyone hangs up their Zoom accounts and focuses on family, home life and day jobs.

And once it's over, there's an election in less than two months, so there will be no rest for elected officials hoping to return for another two years.

2020 is that kind of year.

BUDGET

There are a few differences between the House and Senate version of the $7.15 billion spending plan for fiscal 2021. The Senate made a few changes, and none of them are enormous, but they include the source of funding for the $5 million equity stimulus package, on the amount of federal coronavirus relief funds for education and hazard pay, and on the amount of funding set aside for the first year of the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Will a conference committee be necessary to settle those differences? Or can they be hashed out in leadership discussions and then handled through floor votes? We will find out soon.

Also: Don't discount lawmakers' desire to finally end a seemingly endless legislative session.

BIG VOTES

Thursday, the House of Representatives tackled the override vote on Gov. Phil Scott's veto of the Global Warming Solutions Act and the vote on a compromise version of the marijuana tax-and-regulate bill in a two-hour span. This week, it's the state Senate's turn.

Both votes are on the Senate calendar for Monday, but state Sen. Brain Campion, D-Bennington, tells us that the vote will be Tuesday at the earliest.

The easier of the two votes would seem to be the GWSA, since it passed the Senate easily in June by a 22-6 tally.

The tax-and-regulate marijuana bill also seems likely to pass, but perhaps not by as wide a margin. The Senate gave up a lot of ground from its version of S.54 to make that compromise happen, including its preferred positions on the use of sales tax revenue and its opposition to a saliva test. But then again: This is as close as tax-and-regulate has come to reaching the finish line. And there seems to be recognition that if this is ever going to happen, the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good.

If there's a veto, which is being actively sought by a coalition of activists on racial justice and economic equity grounds, things could get cloudier. The compromise passed without a two-thirds majority in the House, 92-56. Getting a two-thirds majority vote for an override could be tougher.

Meanwhile, the House this week gets a crack at H.926, the slimmed-down version of Act 250 reform now addressing only forest fragmentation and recreational trails.

It seems like a lifetime ago — the time before COVID-19, perhaps you remember those halcyon days — since the House first passed its far more ambitious version of the bill. If the Senate's recent debate on the bill is any indication, expect more debate on the forest fragmentation language.

If adjournment comes Friday as expected, it's full speed ahead on the campaign from here to Nov. 3.

CAMPAIGN

The election season starts in earnest this week, with the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor scheduled to debate the issues.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive, are scheduled to debate on Thursday on Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS.

In the lieutenant governor's race, Democratic nominee Molly Gray and Republican Scott Milne are scheduled to debate on Thursday in a forum hosted by VTDigger.org.

Meanwhile, vote-by-mail ballots are due to arrive in Vermonters' mailboxes between Monday and Oct. 1.

A lawsuit filed by five Vermonters sought to block the plan, but U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford brought that to a screeching halt last Wednesday, denying a motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissing the lawsuit. The plaintiffs, all Republicans, have 30 days to appeal, but Crawford's one-page order left little doubt about their long odds of prevailing in court.

"These are sophisticated voters who have gone to considerable lengths to obtain counsel skilled in election law and to file a lawsuit in federal court," Crawford wrote of the plaintiffs. "Of all people likely to be confused about how to vote, these plaintiffs may be last on the list."

With that out of the way, Secretary of State James Condos' office wants you to make a voting plan. "Whether you vote by mail or in person is up to you, but we encourage you to vote by mail and vote early — by October 24th — to reduce contact at polling places and to ensure clerks and postal workers have ample time to deliver and process your ballot," the department's website says.

More information is available at the Secretary of State's voter resources page.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Reach him at gsukeinnik@reformer.com.


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