2019 Session Journal
Week 14 : April 16th to April 19th
Signs of Spring
The weather is warming and the session is hitting that crucial end-o-session scramble. They're spreading grass seed in front of the capitol, the front doors were opened for the first time and my committee chair spent more time out of committee. The vice-chair (Rep. Butch Shaw) takes over and does well.
A Legislator's Funeral
On Wednesday of this week many legislators boarded buses for Springfield and Rep. Bob Forguites's funeral. His unexpected death (though is was 80 years old) has been rough on my committee chair. He was her district mate and a good friend. All this jostled the week's schedule. I didn't attend the funeral, but spent the day in Montpelier getting other work done.
Controversies on the Floor
There are several controversial and complicated bills working their way through committees. On the floor there was debates concerning two bills: changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day and a charter change for the city of Montpelier. I hadn't really thought these would be controversial so hadn't given them a lot of thought. The floor debate woke me up.
S.68 changes Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day and H.207 is a charter to Montpelier's charter that would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. I wrote about these two bills for the local paper. Here's what I wrote:
Last week two votes took me by surprise: one changes Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. The other was a Montpelier charter change. The holiday name change sounded like a liberal feel-good thing and a thumb in the eye to Republican conservatives yearning for the good ole days. Montpelier Charter Change? Who cares? If Montpelier wants to change its charter, let ‘em.
But during the floor debate each turned complicated. We know now that Columbus was not the fabled hero of my grade school history book: ridiculous costume, hand-held telescope, bold assertions that the world is not flat. To many he exemplifies the very real atrocities perpetrated by white Europeans on the indigenous people of the Americas. Do we still honor him with a day of celebration? In what context do we judge those that came before us? Five-hundred years from now, will we be condemned for eating cows and driving vehicles that spew poison into the air?
Montpelier’s charter change would allow non-citizens to vote in that city’s local elections. They would have to be legal residents of the city and the United States. But US citizenship is an honor that should not be taken lightly. Voting is not a fundamental right granted to everyone upon birth. Though many take it for granted, I am fully aware that both my parents fought in a terrible war in order to pass that right on to me. I voted “no” when this bill came up for its first floor vote. But as I write this article, I ask myself, “What have ¬I done to deserve citizenship and the right to vote.” Have I really done anything more than those residents of Montpelier who would be able to vote by approving this charter change? And isn’t it a little ironic that after touting how important voting is, I am willing to reverse the two-to-one favorable vote by Montpelier’s citizens?
I still debate the questions raised by the bills I first thought trivial. But legislators have to make decisions; I voted “yes” on replacing Columbus Day and changed to a “yes” on the final Montpelier charter change vote.
Readers outside Vermont may not know what a charter change is, so I'll give a quick explanation. Skip this if you really don't care.
Vermont is a Dillon State rather than a Home Rule state. That means that local municipalities can't do much without the State's permission. If a city or town wants to do something different from what state law says towns and cities can do, then the municipality must have a charter describing that difference. the charter is essentially a section of state law saying "This town get's to do this." Charters and charter changes must be approved by the state legislature. When Colchester wanted to change the position of town clerk from being an elected position to one that is appointed, we had to vote first on a charter change, then a bill was written to make that change in state law. The Bill went through the same process as any other bill and was finally signed into law by the Governor.
Behind the Scenes
There's a lot going on behind the scenes and I can't say I like it much. Because I'm on a money committee involved with state funds (the Capital Budget) I am aware of some of the issues shifting through the background as various senators and representatives try to assure that their initiatives get funded. I don't know all the ins and outs and have no idea where things will end up, but I have developed enough confidence to be wary and voice my opinion when things seem to be getting out of hand. We'll see.
A Small Accomplishment
One of my constituents has consistently voiced his concern that offenders leaving Corrections often do not have any governmental ID that can be used for bank accounts, loans etc. The process of obtaining a valid ID can take several months and costs bucks. It seems reasonable to expect that the Department of Corrections could help inmates obtain such an ID while they are incarcerated.
The committee has been trying to get DOC, the Department of Labor, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration to work together to figure out a solution. Last week we made some progress with the DMV, DOL and DOC. And we've been putting together a letter from the committee to Vermont's congressional delegation in hopes of prodding the Social Security Administration into cooperating. The letter, after many revisions and consultation should go out this coming week. It might help.
We're all waiting to see what happens with Paid Family Leave, Minimum Wage, an Act 250 revision, the Budget, Marijuana Tax and Regulate, school consolidation delay, lead testing, P-FAS testing (don't ask), and who know what. All that with less than a month to go.