State House Report: The 2019-2020 Session Begins
The Vermont General Assembly convened on January 9th to start the 2019-2020 biennium session. The first few days were taken up mostly with necessary procedural and ceremonial activities. In the House of Representatives, we all took the Oath of Office, we elected Mitzi Johnson to a second term as Speaker, and we received our committee assignments. In a joint House-Senate session, we witnessed the Oath of Office being administered to our Constitutional officers, Treasurer Beth Pierce, Secretary of State Jim Condos, Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer and Attorney General T.J. Donovan. Governor Phil Scott was sworn in for his second term as Governor, and we heard his Inaugural Address.
Being in the building further emphasized for me what I already knew, and that is the enormous number of new House members who were elected this past November and in the election two years earlier. Since my previous term in 2015-2016, at least half the Representatives are new to me. I’ve known a few of them from past connections, but mostly, I am working hard to connect names and faces and to remember where people are from. A significant number of veteran House members, including several committee chairs, chose not to run again as well. I am also struck by how many younger House members there are now, people in their twenties and thirties. Although we are living in difficult times in our nation, democracy still works in Vermont, people with different viewpoints and priorities respect and talk to each other, and our Legislature is made up of real people from all kinds of backgrounds and experience, who know and care about their own communities and our State of Vermont.
House Energy and Technology and Committee.
I will be serving on this committee, whose responsibilities include all aspects of energy and utility issues, oversight and legislation regarding telecommunications including telephone, internet and cell service, as well as state government’s information systems. In the last session, committee functions were restructured, and these areas and issues were assigned to one committee, in part to allow greater focus on telecom and internet than in the past. Having been deeply involved in energy issues as a utility general manager, board member, and in policy/management positions in state government, I am committed to energy efficiency first and foremost, to renewable energy development, and to tackling how we use energy for heat and transportation. After many years of deep immersion in these issues, I needed a break, but am ready to get to work in this committee. And I know that telecom and broadband access are big concerns in our communities (including at our house).
This is a big change for me, having served on the Health Care Committee in my previous term. Health care will continue to be a personal focus for me at the State House, as it’s an issue I have cared deeply about for many years, including those two intense years of committee work.
Act 46 Forced Mergers
The four towns in our House district are in three different school districts and each one of those districts is subject to a separate forced merger order from the State Board of Education. The situations, history and issues are completely different in each of those three forced mergers. However, there are significant issues and questions in common. Does Act 46 give the Board more discretion and flexibility to not order a forced merger than the Board says they have? Is the Board overstepping its Constitutional authority? Does Act 46 as passed give the Board authority that should actually rest with the Legislature?
A non-partisan group of House members representing many of the communities across the state affected by forced mergers has been meeting to consider what action the Legislature might take. Options include legislation that would simply allow more time, so that no action occurs before litigation now before the court is resolved. Other options include changes or clarification to Act 46 itself. I will be reviewing bills that are drafted by members of this group to consider how these would affect our communities and their situations, and as of this writing, have signed on as a co-sponsor to three bills that should be introduced in the coming days.
Keeping in Touch
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